Detained American aid worker’s life at risk if no urgent medical care, says UN expert: Afghanistan

OHCHR

A United Nations expert said the Taliban must give detained United States national Ryan Corbett immediate access to medical treatment for his deteriorating health, warning the aid worker’s life could be at risk. No charges appear to have been brought against him.

“The Taliban must provide Ryan Corbett with medical treatment in a civilian hospital without delay,” said Alice Jill Edwards, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

“The conditions in which this humanitarian worker is being detained are utterly inadequate and substantially below international standards. This is having a significant impact on his physical and mental health, which is declining rapidly. Without adequate medical care he is at risk of irreparable harm or even death.”

Corbett has reportedly been detained in tiny cells with no sunlight, sometimes underground, which are locked for 24 hours a day. He is only released for short bathroom visits and then always under armed guard. At one stage Corbett was placed in solitary confinement for several months. He has no access to effective legal assistance and has had very limited phone calls with his family.

Corbett has developed several medical problems, including numbness in his feet that has prevented him from sleeping, ringing in his ears, and severe weight loss. His mental health has been severely impacted, and he has repeatedly expressed intentions of suicide and self-harm.

Corbett has lived and worked in Afghanistan since 2010, running and supervising humanitarian projects for several non-governmental organisations. He left Afghanistan in August 2021 and was arrested when he returned a year later, hoping to continue his humanitarian work. He has since been held in various detention facilities and is thought to be in Kabul.

“Persons deprived of liberty must always be treated humanely,” Edwards said. “The conditions of detention and treatment under which Mr Corbett and many other detainees have been held violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Being held without charge or procedure is exacerbating his physical and mental health and presents an immediate or longer-term danger to life.

“Should it be found that he is being arbitrarily deprived of liberty, or in a manner inconsistent with international human rights standards, he should be released unconditionally, without delay.”

The call of the Special Rapporteur on torture was endorsed by other UN human rights experts. They have raised this case directly with the Taliban in Afghanistan and will continue to follow future developments closely.

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