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Afghanistan: Police Beat Students in Hospital
Abuses highlight security concerns
(New York, November 14, 2002) - Kabul police have beaten and threatened students following protests at Kabul University earlier this week and are holding several injured students incommunicado at a hospital, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on the special government commission appointed to investigate the protests to protect students and witnesses from police abuse.

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"We have serious concerns about how the police are treating the students now. We welcome President Hamid Karzai's call for an investigation into the protests and the police response, but the government needs to take action to protect students now."

Saman Zia-Zarifi
Director of the Academic Freedom Program at Human Rights Watch

"We have serious concerns about how the police are treating the students now," said Saman Zia-Zarifi, director of the Academic Freedom Program at Human Rights Watch. "We welcome President Hamid Karzai's call for an investigation into the protests and the police response, but the government needs to take action to protect students now."

On Monday night, November 11, protests broke out at Kabul University after students began complaining about ongoing lack of electricity and poor living conditions. The protest started peacefully and evolved into a march by approximately 250 students on the presidential palace. When some students refused to stop marching, police forces fired warning shots, and then started firing into the crowd. More than 20 students were shot and injured. Human Rights Watch has confirmed that three were killed.

On Tuesday, a second demonstration took place at the university to protest the police violence the night before. This protest turned violent as students attempted to march the center of Kabul. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that at around 11:45 a.m. police used water hoses to disperse the crowd. Without firing warning shots, the police began firing directly into the crowd and wounded three students.

Human Rights Watch interviewed eyewitnesses who said that police beat students in the university dormitory and threatened injured students at the hospital. In one case police beat and slapped a student in his hospital bed after he had spoken with other students and an investigator from the Afghan Human Rights Commission, a body set up under last year's peace agreement signed in Bonn, Germany. The police warned him not to complain about police behavior or the government to anyone else.

"It's bad enough that the police fired into a crowd of unarmed students," said Zia-Zarifi. "Now they are going into hospital rooms, beating injured students, and telling them not to talk about what happened. This is unacceptable."

The U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials states that law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials should use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence. The legitimate objective should be achieved with minimal damage and injury, and preservation of human life respected. The use of force during interrogations or to threaten detainees is prohibited.

Human Rights Watch called on the government to take special measures to protect injured students and witnesses from further police threats and brutality, and urged the Afghan Human Rights Commission to conduct a vigorous investigation.

"This is a big test for the Afghan Human Rights Commission," said Zia-Zarifi, "The question is whether the commission can investigate human rights abuses by the current police - the forces that are in power now." Zia-Zarifi urged the U.N. mission to Afghanistan to assist the commission in helping to arrange protection of witnesses and to monitor the students' security during the investigation. Human Rights Watch also called on international peacekeeping forces to monitor the security of witnesses and students.

Human Rights Watch said that the problems with the police response to the protests were emblematic of a general failure to improve security in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban last year.

"If the police can't properly handle a protest by unarmed students, in Kabul, a year after the fall of the Taliban, it raises serious questions about the government's ability to provide security in the rest of the country," said Zia-Zarifi. Human Rights Watch called on nations involved in army and police training, including Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States, to expand police training programs and increase peacekeeping forces around the country.