Finland ignored warnings of prisoner prostitution in Afghanistan
Väyrynen: “Problems inevitable in chaotic situations”
When the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs became involved in the funding of a women’s prison in Afghanistan, it ignored warnings by one of its own experts of the risk that inmates might be turned into prostitutes.
In the spring of 2007 a Finnish advisor on development cooperation issues warned the Foreign Ministry and the Finnish Embassy in Kabul that there were suspicions that female inmates were being sexually exploited at a prison in nearby Maimana.
Last week it was revealed that there were suspicions of prostitution taking place at another women’s prison in the north of Afghanistan, which had been built with the help of Finnish development funding. Five of the 23 prisoners being held there are suspected of involvement in the activities.
Eini von Becker, a development cooperation advisor working with peacekeeping forces in Maimana says that in the spring of 2007 she proposed to the Foreign Ministry that if a prison is to be built, experts in the field should also be recruited to supervise the project.
She emphasised that simply building a new facility would not sufficiently improve prison conditions.
In her report she mentioned the need to ascertain the possible sexual exploitation of the women who are incarcerated before additional funding for the prison project is applied for.
The International Red Cross had also sent a report on the poor prison conditions in the north of Afghanistan to possible partner countries, including Finland.
In an e-mail sent to Helsingin Sanomat, von Becker quotes an e-mail that she got from the Finnish Embassy in Kabul in 2007:
“The prison project may include ONLY construction and repair, in other words, in this connection, no Prison Advisers or new surprises.”
At the Foreign ministry, Rauli Suikkanen, the head of the ministry’s South Asia group and Timo Oula, the Ambassador in Kabul did not remember seeing any such report.
They denied that they knew about suspected abuse of prisoners, which had been investigated by Norwegian penal experts.
Afer a search, the report was found on a flash drive of the advisor who gave the warning. The employee who wrote the e-mail in October 2007 is still in Kabul.
Both Suikkanen and Oula now admit that the possibility of prostitution would be constitute significant background information in the planning of a prison.
“Coordination and exchange of information have not worked in the matter of the Sheberghan prison. We have perhaps trusted too much what the other international players have said”, Oula says.
A prison expert might have been able to point out the problem, but according to Oula, hiring an expert would have been “extremely expensive with all of the security arrangements”.
Suikkanen points out that constructing the prison was a small project and part of civilian crisis management.
“If we were to start implementing big bilateral projects, supervision would be handled in the same way as in other development cooperation projects.”
Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Paavo Väyrynen (Centre) says that the only result of the matter was that Finnish financing of prisons in Afghanistan has come to an end, and that the money will be used instead for repairs to police stations. He adds that shortcomings are possible there as well.
Väyrynen points out that supervision and dealing with problems are very difficult in chaotic situations. “If our starting point is that under no circumstances can there be any problems, then we would not be able to operate in Afghanistan.”
Previously in HS International Edition:
Following furore at women´s prison, Finland reallocates funds to Afghan police stations (8.5.2009)
Prostitution alleged to be taking place in Finnish-funded Afghan prison (7.5.2009)