Permanent Missions to the United Nations Office at Geneva
We are writing to you in connection with the report of the High Commissioner on Human Rights on the situation in Afghanistan, which is scheduled to be presented to the Human Rights Council on 24 March 2010. We urge your delegation to use the opportunity of the debate of this report under agenda item 10 of the Council to raise concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. Given the gravity of the violations taking place in the country and the need for more robust action on the human rights front by the international community, we also call on your delegation to consider supporting the creation of a Special Rapporteur mandate on Afghanistan.
In her report the High Commissioner concludes that "the year 2009 was a difficult one for Afghanistan as hard-won gains, particularly in relation to human rights, were put in jeopardy. Confidence in the state-building project diminished as many Afghans questioned the commitment of elected authorities and their international partners to safeguarding their core rights and freedoms."
Human Rights Watch is concerned that human rights has not been enough of a priority of the international effort in Afghanistan. In the early years of engagement the argument was frequently made that stability and security took priority over justice and rights. As a result, warlords and serious abusers were given official positions and allowed to commit abuses with impunity, bringing the government into disrepute among Afghans. The insurgency has been in part fuelled by the abusiveness and corruption of powerful local government figures and warlords. The UN, foreign military powers, and donors are still not prioritizing the problem of impunity and absence of the rule of law. Efforts at reform in these areas remain slow and under-resourced and, though critical to good governance and public support for the government, a much lower priority than military efforts.
Recent trends suggest that an already poor human rights environment could worsen. The gazetting of an amnesty law, which only came to light in January 2010, has been met with a muted response by the UN and donors. The law was written to protect those in government and their warlord supporters, but also provides a future amnesty for those engaged in current hostilities who agree to join a reconciliation process. The Afghan government has done little to implement the Action Plan for Peace, Reconciliation and Justice, a plan for implementing transitional justice in Afghanistan that the UN previously was deeply involved in crafting. While public opinion surveys suggest strong public support for justice, the government and international community appear to have abandoned the Action Plan.
Since the London conference of January 2010, reintegration and reconciliation with insurgent groups has moved high up the agenda. The UN has expressed firm support for the development of reconciliation initiatives. However, in the current environment, where rights and justice are so low on the agenda, there are significant fears among women, religious minorities and civil society that reconciliation and reintegration could result in a worsening of their basic rights. Although most Afghans would welcome peace and reconciliation, unless the process is national, inclusive and has justice at its core it could result in further abuses and lose the support of the Afghan people.
The vulnerability of women's basic rights was demonstrated by the passing in 2009 of the Shia Personal Status Law, which the High Commissioner's report noted "legitimizes discriminatory practices against women" and puts women's safety at risk.
The High Commissioner's report notes that "the escalation and spread of armed conflict resulted in the highest number of civilian casualties recorded since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 and in the further erosion of humanitarian space. While the armed opposition was responsible for the majority of civilian casualties, deaths as a result of air strikes by international forces continued to be a high-profile and contentious issue." Explosive devices caused most deaths, with assassinations, including beheadings, adding to the death toll and levels of fear in communities.
In 2009 the Human Rights Council reviewed the situation in Afghanistan. During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), numerous governments raised concerns about the violations of human rights in the country. In particular governments identified the lack of progress in fighting impunity, their concerns regarding high civilian casualties in the armed conflict, and the need for stronger protection of women's rights, as key issues that should be addressed as a matter of urgency in the country. In the context of the review a number of recommendations were made to improve Afghanistan's compliance with its international legal obligations. Of the 143 recommendations made to the government of Afghanistan, the government accepted 117 and rejected 10. Sixteen recommendations remained pending as the government gave no clear position on their implementation.
The Human Rights Council's mandate, as stated under General Assembly resolution 60/251, is to contribute to the prevention of human rights violations by responding promptly to human rights emergencies. The Council is also mandated to "address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, and make recommendations thereon" and to "promote effective coordination and mainstreaming of human rights within the UN system."
Concerns raised during the UPR and by the High Commissioner in her report on Afghanistan confirm the need for more decisive action by the Commission beyond the framework of the UPR. Close and regular independent examination of an already volatile and deteriorating situation is necessary. The Human Rights Council can be instrumental in profiling the key challenges facing Afghanistan in the area of human rights in order to ensure that these challenges are adequately addressed, by all actors involved.
A Special Rapporteur would be instrumental in bringing the urgently required attention to the situation and would help assist the government to implement its commitments under the UPR, while keeping the Human Rights Council informed of developments. Such a mandate would also help shape an independent assessment of the shortcomings of some of the policies and practices implemented in Afghanistan to date, which have not helped improve the state of human rights in the country. The Rapporteur would provide public reporting and independent advice on the way in which key actors should engage to prevent further deterioration of the situation. The mandate would also function as an early warning mechanism to alert the Human Rights Council of emerging threats to the human rights environment in the country.
We urge your delegations to take up these concerns during the debate on the High Commissioner's report on 24 March and to consider explicitly supporting the call for the creation of a Special Rapporteur mandate on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan.
Brad Adams (Director Asia Division)
Julie de Rivero (Geneva Advocacy Director)