Your Excellency,

Human Rights Watch greets yesterday's signing of the Bonn agreement on provisional arrangements in Afghanistan with great hope. We are impressed with the range of issues it covers and the way it handles them. Especially because it addresses Afghanistan's most pressing and persistent human rights problems, we feel it constitutes a firm foundation for building a better future for the country.

In the near future the Council is likely to be making decisions regarding several arrangements called for in the Bonn agreement. We take this opportunity to present to you recommendations regarding aspects of these arrangements that have a particular impact on human rights.

The UN-Mandated International Security Force for Afghanistan

The Bonn agreement, in Annex I point 3, requests the Council to authorize the early deployment of UN-mandated force. We welcome this provision and call on the Council, when designing such a force, to stress the importance of including personnel with appropriate training in international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, including child- and gender-related provisions. Personnel should also have good cultural awareness and be skilled in negotiation, communication, and civilian-military coordination.

Noting that the agreement calls for an immediate security force only for Kabul and surrounding areas, we also call on the Council to take note of future security requirements, including the security needs of ongoing humanitarian operations and future UN-monitoring missions. We urge the Council to mandate the creation of a security force that is capable of expanding to other provincial capitals in Afghanistan and linking roads, so that the force could be rapidly deployed upon direction of the Secretary-General or his representative.

Given urgent security needs elsewhere in Afghanistan, we also ask that the Council consider deploying military advisors or observers now to assist all local commanders and security forces throughout the country and to gather information on security.

Assistance in the Training of the New Afghan Security And Armed Forces

Annex I point 2 of the Bonn accord foresees the possibility of international assistance in the creation of the new Afghan security and armed forces. As the Council designs this assistance program, we urge it to insist that persons who have been implicated in serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law be disarmed and prohibited from joining the new armed forces and civilian police. This is imperative to prevent a continuing culture of impunity and abuse. As a practical matter, such sidelining should occur at all levels of the military and police power structures. Screening should be carried out by local authorities in conjunction with international monitors. Similar screening has been conducted in other contexts, such as El Salvador, where the UN assisted in efforts to disqualify military personnel from service on the basis of their past records, and Bosnia and Hercegovina, where the UN vetted applicants for the civilian police.

The Creation of an International Commission of Experts

Annex II point 6 of the Bonn accord states that the United Nations will have the right to investigate human rights violations and recommend corrective action. We welcome this provision and urge the Security Council to establish an international commission of experts for Afghanistan to investigate crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in that country. Documenting the most serious human rights crimes should be an essential aspect of the reconstruction process in Afghanistan. Experience worldwide demonstrates that accounting for past crimes is indispensable to stability and a just and durable peace.

The United Nations has already had extensive experience creating such commissions of experts, such as the one formed during the armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia (Resolution 780 (1992)). As it has done in the past, the Council could request the Secretary-General to establish an impartial commission of experts to gather and analyze information, conduct investigations, and report evidence of crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Afghanistan.

The commission would be expected, among other things, to undertake field missions and to gather and preserve evidence. After consultation, its investigative efforts could focus on certain geographical areas, certain incidents, certain types of crimes, or a combination of thematic and geographical emphases. The commission could also serve as a depository for information collected by governments, intergovernmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations (the Yugoslav Commission compiled 64,000 pages of such documents). The commission should be tasked to issue interim reports on particular investigations that have been completed as well as a final report that would recommend what further steps are warranted.

The commission should treat as a priority alleged crimes committed by senior figures in custody. Human Rights Watch knows of three senior Afghan Taliban commanders who are now in Northern Alliance custody for crimes allegedly committed against civilians in Afghanistan in 1998, 2000 and 2001.

An international commission offers several distinct advantages. With a diverse staff of experts, both international and Afghan, the commission would ensure the impartiality necessary for a credible accounting. By creating an accurate record of the most serious atrocities committed in Afghanistan, the commission could help to end the climate of impunity there. The commission's findings could lead to the initiation of criminal proceedings before a competent national court or a special international tribunal, or support a truth commission -or both. Its fact-finding would help lay the groundwork for the restoration of rule of law in Afghanistan.

The commission would require sufficient funding and staff to meet its objectives. The commission could be funded through assessed contributions and supplemented by a voluntary trust fund. To carry out its functions the commission's staff would require adequate security protections.

Refugee Issues

Human Rights Watch takes note that the Bonn agreement, in Annex IV, establishes a Department of Return of Refugees in the new transitional government of Afghanistan. We urge the Council to request that UNHCR immediately begin cooperating with this department on all refugee issues and that UNHCR work with the department to create a multilateral Refugee and Repatriation Commission, consisting of representatives of the Interim Authority, Iran, Pakistan and UNHCR, to discuss repatriation and refugee screening issues. We urge the Council to stress to UNHCR the importance of incorporating the views of independent refugee representatives and aid organizations. The Council should also urge this commission to ensure that all future refugee screening and repatriation operations are conducted on a voluntary basis, and under conditions of safety and dignity. The fluidity of conditions on the ground inside Afghanistan should be taken into account, and all individuals who remain in Pakistan, Iran, or elsewhere in the region who continue to be in need of international protection should be allowed to remain in safe countries of refuge until conditions on the ground allow for safe and voluntary returns. The Commission should represent the interests of all regional and ethnic groupings contained within the refugee population in all of its activities. In addition, the specific needs of women, children, and demobilized soldiers should be taken into account in any repatriation exercise.

Reiteration of the UN's Commitment to International Justice

We urge the Council to reiterate in its resolutions concerning Afghanistan the principle that there must be no amnesty from prosecution for persons who have committed crimes against humanity or serious violations of international humanitarian law, in accordance with UN policy under Secretary-General Kofi Annan, articulated, inter alia, in his report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict presented last March.

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We firmly believe that by immediately addressing the above issues the Council would signal the international community's commitment to ending impunity for crimes against humanity and the most serious violations of the laws of war. That commitment would contribute significantly to the building of a climate of trust and hope in the new Afghanistan.

We look forward to discussing this proposal with you. We will be contacting your office shortly to arrange an appointment.

Sincerely,

Sidney Jones
Executive Director
Asia Division

Joanna Weschler
U.N. Representative