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Afghanistan: Return of the Warlords
Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper
June 2002

(download PDF version - 20 pages)
Key Sections

I. Introduction

II. Subversion of the loya jirga process

III. Threats to women's security and their rights

IV. General Insecurity and Lawlessness

V. External Factors in the Reemergence of the Warlords

VI. Conclusion and Recommendations

  • Halt assistance to the warlords
  • Expand security forces
  • Counteract the influence of warlords during the loya jirga process
  • Institute a system of accountability for violations of human rights in Afghanistan

Related Material

A Human Rights Watch Question and Answer on Afghanistan's Loya Jirga Process
April 17, 2002

Afghanistan: History of the War
Backgrounder, October 2001

"Taking Cover: Women in Post-Taliban Afghanistan,"
A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, May 9, 2002

Afghanistan: Human Rights Watch Key Documents

III. Threats to women's security and their rights

As recently as May 9, 2002, Human Rights Watch reported its concern about the effect of the ongoing insecurity in Afghanistan on women.48 Afghan women of all ethnicities have been compelled to restrict their participation in public life to avoid being targets of violence by armed factions and by those seeking to enforce repressive Taliban-era edicts. Afghan women, especially outside Kabul, continue to face serious threats to their physical safety, denying them the opportunity to exercise their basic human rights and to participate fully and effectively in the rebuilding of their country.

A handful of women in southern Afghanistan have been undeterred by such intimidation and made progress toward election to the loya jirga. At least 160 of the 1,500 seats at the loya jirga are reserved for women, with five seats set aside for delegates from Kandahar. According to U.N. observers in Kandahar, twenty-eight women were selected during the first phase of the loya jirga. Across the southern region, one woman was selected in Helmand province, and four in Oruzgan.49

A.B., a female observer for the loya jirga commission, indicated that for the most part, the loya jirga process for females in southern Afghanistan had gone smoothly, but admitted that in many rural areas, local authorities and commanders had tried to intimidate potential female candidates.50 Strong efforts by the loya jirga commission and U.N. observers seem to have helped combat some of these instances of intimidation. Despite these modest successes, only increased security conditions can establish an enabling environment for Afghan women, and thereby ensure the inclusion of women's rights in all aspects of governance, including post-conflict reconstruction, justice, and accountability.

An example of intimidation against women candidates, and women in general, came from Candidate X, who was a candidate for the loya jirga from Kandahar city. After winning a spot in the first round of the loya jirga selection, she spoke with Human Rights Watch on May 28, 2002, a day before the second-round election for women in Kandahar.

We received a letter, it was not clear who it was from. It was addressed to my husband. It said: "If your wife participates in the loya jirga, we will kill you, and if we do, it is your sin, not ours."51

In her case, the threat appears to have failed. "I am not afraid. I am afraid of God, and not of anyone else."52 Nevertheless, when asked about security for women in Kandahar city, Candidate X was reluctant to speak openly about the situation. She described incidents of general violence and intimidation of females:

I meet about 250 women every day [through my work]. There are many mental problems with these women, because of the violence everywhere: they are afraid for their lives. There are warnings about women not to do this or that: "Do not go to school, we will kill you if you do. Do not go to work, we will kill you." Rickshaw drivers drive past, and they hit women on the back of the head, and they say, "do not go to school, we will kill you." Or: "Do not go to work."53

Human Rights Watch asked if regular troops in the city were creating problems for women.

Well, the women say these things, but I cannot. The situation is not good. There have been problems. But I cannot talk about them now. They will threaten me again. I do not want to speak about it now. After the loya jirga process, I will tell you about these things.54

An independent journalist assessing security conditions in Zabul province visited a girls' school in Qalat and found continuing restrictions on education and pervasive insecurity for female students.

I went to the only girls' school in the district and spoke to the female teachers in the office. The female students I interviewed complained about the curriculum and security. They said they did not feel safe walking along the streets, from fear of the gunmen. They said the gunmen and soldiers were all Taliban. They said books printed by the interim government were not being provided to them to distribute among the students. All of the books were being kept in storage, with the door sealed. "We are compelled to teach the curriculum published by the Taliban," they said.

The school's teachers also told the journalist that the head of the provincial education department appointed by the Kabul authorities had been rejected and threatened with death if he tried to occupy his position.55

48 For further information on the conditions for Afghan women in northern Afghanistan and in Kabul, see Human Rights Watch, "Taking Cover: Women in Post-Taliban Afghanistan," A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, May 9, 2002, http://human rights

49 IRIN, "Successful Turnout for Women's Election in Afghanistan," May 28, 2002.

50 Human Rights Watch interview with XX, female member of the loya jirga observation team, Kandahar, May 25, 2002.

51 Human Rights Watch Interview with Candidate X, Kandahar, May 28, 2002.

52 Ibid.

53 Ibid.

54 Ibid.

55 Human Rights Watch interview with Journalist N.