An Afghan boy watches an Afghan National Army soldier observing the area while on patrol in Logar province, east Afghanistan, Thursday, May 17, 2012.

© 2012 Reuters

(Chicago) – NATO governments at the May 20-21, 2012, summit in Chicago should endorse measures to bolster oversight and accountability of Afghan security forces and to protect women’s rights. 

“Many Afghans worry that NATO’s departure from Afghanistan will put basic rights under increasing threat,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Unless urgent steps are taken to address Afghanistan’s governance crisis, NATO’s legacy may be a country run by abusive warlords and unaccountable security forces.”

While Afghan security forces have become more professional in recent years, they still commit serious abuses, including killings, torture, and arbitrary detentions, with little fear of consequences, Human Rights Watch said. At the Chicago summit, NATO should call for strengthened human rights monitoring and effective prosecutorial offices. NATO and Afghan officials should create a national civilian complaints mechanism covering all Afghan security forces, including the armed forces, national police, the paramilitary Afghan Local Police, and other government-backed militias. This civilian body would investigate alleged rights abuses and recommend cases for prosecution, and assist in vetting security forces’ personnel.

“Governance failures have been a main driver of the insurgency in Afghanistan,” Roth said. “NATO members should take human rights and good governance as seriously as more traditional security issues. They should leverage security assistance to the Afghan government to press for institutions able to bring its security forces under the rule of law.”

Possible backsliding of Afghan women’s rights remained a serious concern, Human Rights Watch said. Important advances have been made for Afghan women over the past decade, but these are under threat from both the Taliban and conservative elements in the government. The continued imprisonment of women and girls for “moral crimes” and the government's endorsement of discriminatory laws and regulations have heightened concerns among women’s rights activists about whether current and future governments will keep Afghanistan’s commitments to women’s rights.  

Women’s rights activists have urged the government of President Hamid Karzai to include more women on the commission appointed to hold political negotiations with insurgent groups so that women’s rights are not ignored or bargained away. NATO should press Karzai to quickly appoint more women to the commission to address these concerns.

“Many Afghan women feel that they are stuck between hostile insurgent forces and an indifferent government,” Roth said. “A good step forward would be to give women a far weightier role in the government institutions that are making vital decisions about the country’s future.”