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Afghanistan: Press Karzai to Sever Links with Warlords

Foreign Ministers at Inauguration Should Make Rights a Priority

(New York) - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other foreign ministers attending the inauguration of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan on November 19, 2009, should press for concrete action to sideline warlords, criminals and human rights abusers, Human Rights Watch said today. Warlords, criminals and rights abusers should not hold positions of authority in national or local government, or the security forces, Human Rights Watch said.

"The new if belated US and European focus on governance and the rule of law in Afghanistan is welcome," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "It shouldn't have taken a failed presidential election, rampant corruption, and deteriorating security to realize that this is important. Karzai and his international backers should realize that it's now or never to regain the trust of the Afghan people."

The Karzai government came to power after the defeat of the Taliban government in 2001. But over the past eight years, neither the US nor other donors and supporters have confronted the problem of warlordism and criminality permeating the current Afghan administration. Human Rights Watch called on the US and other nations engaged in Afghanistan to review all of their political and military relationships in Afghanistan to ensure that they are not providing financial or political support to individuals or groups known to be engaged in criminal activity or with a record of human rights abuse. This includes addressing Afghan perceptions of corruption in foreign aid programs, distancing all diplomatic and military personnel from criminal actors, and ending contracts with private security contractors and unregistered armed groups that are tied to criminal networks.

"President Karzai is rightly coming under immense pressure to break his dependence on former warlords and criminals who terrorize local populations, abuse women's rights, flout the law, and steal from the state," Adams said. "Influential governments should set a good example by cleaning up their own acts and stop dealing with the wrong people."

Human Rights Watch called on Karzai to make the following commitments at his inauguration and in the coming days and weeks:

  • Ensure that no known human rights abusers or corrupt individuals are appointed to his cabinet, as advisers, or to provincial or local government.


  • Create a strong and independent vetting body and mechanism to exclude known human rights abusers and corrupt individuals from all levels of government. Create an independent vetting process for the 2010 parliamentary elections.


  • Make a strong and principled commitment to women's rights by appointing women to key positions in the cabinet, and to not relegate them to second-tier or isolated positions. Repeal the discriminatory Shia Personal Status Law and strengthen the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law now under consideration in parliament.


  • Ensure that any build up of the Afghan security forces is sustainable through adequate training, oversight, and accountability. Otherwise, new recruits are likely to commit abuses and engage in corruption, further alienating them from the public.


  • Train the police in crime prevention and crime-solving instead of using them primarily as paramilitaries in order to strengthen the rule of law.

"Systemic and politically painful reforms will be required by President Karzai to tackle the rot at the heart of government," Adams said. "But foreign supporters should also end their short-term thinking and dubious deals, or they will undermine sustainable progress and expose themselves as hypocrites to Afghans taking risks to reform their country."

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