(New York) -- Human Rights Watch today urged President Bush to offer more U.S. assistance for Afghanistan's reconstruction needs when he meets Hamid Karzai, the head of the interim administration, in Washington on January 28.

Human Rights Watch also said President Bush should stress the need for a broad-based government that fully respects the human rights of all Afghans.

"After decades of civil war, the people of Afghanistan need a government that is committed to protecting the rights of everyone - including women and ethnic minorities," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division. "President Bush should offer more U.S. assistance to ensure that the necessary political and judicial structures are in place, and that human rights are central to the reconstruction effort."

At the international conference on Afghanistan's reconstruction recently held in Tokyo, the U.S. committed $296 million in assistance this year. Bilateral and multilateral donors, including the European Union, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and the World Bank, pledged a cumulative total of $4.5 billion in aid in 2002. Human Rights Watch urged the administration to join members of Congress who are calling for a much larger U.S. contribution.

In Tokyo, Mr. Karzai said he spoke "as a citizen of a country that has had nothing but disaster, war, brutality and deprivation" for many years. His administration pledged to build a representative government, repatriate refugees and the internally displaced, clear landmines, and restore and protect the rights of Afghan women.

"It will take years to rebuild the country. But at the same time, steps must be taken now to lower the risks of renewed conflict along sectarian or ethnic lines," said Jendrzejczyk. "Local and national institutions must be created to guarantee the rights of all Afghan citizens so they feel they have a stake in the future and their interests will be protected."

Human Rights Watch urged President Bush to use the occasion of Mr. Karzai's visit to express concern about press reports of looting and other abuses against Pashtun civilians in the northern provinces of Balkh and Faryab, where they form a local minority.

"Without adequate security, there is no chance for reconstruction to take place, for refugees or displaced persons to return, or for humanitarian aid workers to give the kind of assistance that is now urgently needed. Women feel particularly vulnerable," said Jendrzejczyk.

Human Rights Watch urged Bush to make the following commitments in his meetings with Mr. Karzai:

  • Funding and technical assistance for the rebuilding of Afghanistan's legal and judicial system, including reform of the rural legal system, construction of new courts, prisons and jails, the drafting of a new constitution, and the recruitment of women Afghan judges and lawyers from within the country and from the diaspora.
  • Support for the establishment of a domestic human rights commission, provided for in the Bonn agreement, which can play a crucial role in monitoring, education, and training of Afghan police and security personnel.
  • Assistance with reconstruction programs aimed at reintegrating Afghan refugees and those displaced by the war, with special attention to the needs of women and the disabled. President Bush should stress the U.S. commitment to working with the interim Afghanistan administration, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and governments in the region to ensure that refugees are not forced back against their will. No repatriation program should begin without mechanisms in place to identify those who are unwilling or unable to go home and who continue to need international protection. President Bush should affirm and expand aid for millions of Afghan refugees now in neighboring countries
  • Strong backing for the key role of women in the country's reconstruction. President Bush should offer assistance with educational, employment and health programs for Afghan girls and women, while affirming U.S. support for the full participation of women in the political process and reform of the Afghan legal system. Women leaders at the local level are already playing a critical role, disseminating information through women's rights NGOs. It is essential that Afghan women be appointed to senior positions in the new government.
  • Assistance in the clearing of landmines and unexploded ordinance that threaten to maim and kill Afghan civilians. Here the U.S. has a special responsibility. Since last October, thousands of missiles and bombs have been launched or dropped by U.S. and British forces, many of which failed to detonate. Even before the U.S. attacks began, Afghanistan was littered with landmines. The U.S. should make an emergency commitment of funds and technical assistance for mine clearance, public awareness programs, and new training programs for clearance personnel, including how to deal with cluster bombs.