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Afghanistan: Constitutional Loya Jirga
Open Letter to President Hamid Karzai
October 29, 2003

Dear President Karzai,

We are writing to express our concern about recent incidents of political intimidation and violence associated with the election process for the upcoming constitutional loya jirga ("grand council"), and to request that you take action to stop these abuses.

Over the last three weeks, Human Rights Watch has conducted dozens of interviews with Afghans standing for election to the constitutional loya jirga, as well as with local journalists, U.N. staff, and human rights monitors. We have heard that a climate of fear exists in every region of the country, and that many representatives and former loya jirga participants are afraid to be involved in the forthcoming constitutional loya jirga.

The election of delegates has not even begun countrywide, but problems are already surfacing. Last week, in the two provinces with special early elections-Badakshan and Ghor-candidates were intimidated and threatened by local armed men to keep them from taking part in the elections. In Badakshan, a nominated candidate who had received support from other candidates withdrew his candidacy after reportedly receiving a death threat from a senior military commander, Mullah Abdul Rahman. Rahman allegedly told the candidate, "Avoid nominating yourself, otherwise we will kill you and throw your corpse into the Kokcha river." As you know, Rahman is firmly allied with former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who maintains a significant grip on power in Badakshan province. After the candidate withdrew his nomination, Rahman and Rabbani were elected as delegates.

Violence in the western city of Herat has seriously affected the integrity of upcoming loya jirga elections there. Several political actors who have vocally opposed Governor Ismail Khan have been targeted in assassination attempts this month. Maulavi Khudadad, a cleric, was shot and wounded earlier this month, after he began criticizing Ismail Khan's rule. Two prominent Hazara community representatives, Kazim Sultani and Din Mohammad Mubariz, who had previously criticized Ismail Khan, were also killed by unknown assailants. A few months ago, as you know, another senior political leader opposed to Ismail Khan, Dr. Aziz Ludin, survived a grenade attack and fled Herat. Local observers and journalists report that regional representatives have been intimidated by Ismail Khan's men to vote for the candidates Ismail Khan will choose. The climate of fear in Herat was exacerbated last week when troops in Ismail Khan's intelligence service severely beat students during a protest, leaving four hospitalized.

In the south, candidates in Kandahar have described preliminary meetings for the loya jirga elections in which they have received death threats from gunmen under the control of local military commanders. One candidate, who spoke critically about problems with warlords at a recent meeting in Kandahar, was allegedly told by a high-level government official, Khalid Pashtun, "Be quiet. Don't speak anymore . . . You can't say these kinds of things." After the meeting the candidate was threatened. As he described it: "Outside, gunmen came to me and said, 'You can't say things like that. And if you say things like that again, we'll hurt you.'" In several other cases, veiled threats were written and left at candidates' homes. One read, "You must consult with the commanders before you make your views known at the loya jirga If you have a family, if you have children, think of them." This was an indirect but clear threat. Local journalists have also told Human Rights Watch that they face restrictions and threats from armed forces working under the former governor, Gul Agha Sherzai, and forces under another commander, Mullah Naqibullah.

We have also received reports from nearby Zabul province that local troops under the command of local authorities have intimidated loya jirga delegates, telling them not to take part in the loya jirga elections. The former governor, Hamidullah Tokhi (whom you recently transferred to Wardak) retains power over many of the troops in Zabul, who continue to intimidate and threaten political opponents and other persons who are critical of local authorities.

Civil society organizers in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif have also faced threats. In two separate instances reported to Human Rights Watch in recent months, local civil society organizers were threatened by gunmen after they criticized the local authorities.

Even in and around Kabul, serious problems have been reported. In several provinces near Kabul, local warlords have been nominating proxies and threatening other delegates. In districts in Kapisa and Parwan, north of Kabul, military commanders tried but failed to force representatives to elect them as delegates to the constitutional loya jirga. Their actions clearly violated the decree you issued in July 2003 banning military commanders from the loya jirga. In one district in Logar province, south of Kabul, a local military commander was nominated for the loya jirga by regional representatives who later said they had been forced to put his name forward. In several districts in Wardak province, west of Kabul, local commanders intimidated candidates, telling them not to take part in the elections at all.

In Kabul, some political organizers have reported intimidation by troops working with Shura-e Nazar, the political and military faction that is led by several members of your cabinet. In addition, last week a grenade was thrown into a Sikh temple in Kabul. A prominent leader for the Sikh community in Kabul recently received anonymous threats on the telephone, telling him not to favor a secular government when he represents the community at the constitutional loya jirga.

We strongly urge you to take action to address these problems by:

  • Speaking out against cases of violence and intimidation and condemning those responsible;
  • Ordering investigations into those accused of making the threats;
  • Affirming publicly the provisions of the July 15, 2002 presidential decree on the convening of the constitutional loya jirga, mandating specifically that the loya jirga elections "must be conducted in a free and fair manner, exempt from political pressure [and] undue interference";
  • Ordering the Constitutional Commission to uphold the provisions of the July 15, 2002 decree prohibiting the election of commanders and governors to the constitutional loya jirga;
  • Urging, through article 9(b) of the July 15, 2002 decree, that anyone found to be responsible for acts of violence or intimidation related to the constitutional loya jirga process be disqualified as a candidate for loya jirga and for the 2004 national elections.

Thank you for your attention in these matters.



Brad Adams
Executive Director
Asia Division