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Afghanistan: Make Rights a Priority at Tokyo Conference

Donors Should Put Women’s Rights, Justice at Center of Assistance

(Tokyo) – Donors meeting in Tokyo to discuss Afghanistan’s future should make human rights in the war-torn country a top priority. Representatives of about 70 countries will meet on July 8, 2012, at the Tokyo Conference to discuss support for Afghanistan in the critical years following the departure of most international forces in 2014.

“The human rights situation in Afghanistan is poor and could become even worse,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The decisions that donors make today will have huge implications for the lives of ordinary Afghans in the years ahead.”

Women’s rights should be a major focus of the conference, Human Rights Watch said. While there has been important progress since 2001 for women in areas including access to education and health care, employment, freedom of movement, and participation in public life, Afghan women still face enormous challenges.

Half of all Afghan girls are not in school and very few complete high school. Maternal mortality remains among the highest in the world. Attacks on girls’ schools are common. Women in public life, or simply working outside the home, face threats and sometimes violence. Violence against women goes largely unpunished, in spite of a 2009 law meant to curtail it. About 400 women and girls are imprisoned for “moral crimes,” including the mere act of fleeing domestic violence or forced marriage.

Donors in Tokyo should make it clear to the Afghan government that continued progress on women’s rights is linked to continued international support, Human Rights Watch said. They should also ensure that adequate funding remains available to support schools, clinics, hospitals, shelters, and other essential services.

Neither the Afghan government nor its international partners have taken adequate steps to ensure that Afghan women are at the table in decision-making processes about the country’s future, Human Rights Watch said. The NATO Summit in Chicago in May was only the latest example of women being excluded from key discussions. This failure to include women increases their fears that the desire to bring peace through a compromise with the Taliban may lead to women’s rights being bargained away.

The Afghan government and its partners at the Tokyo Conference should make commitments to include more women in discussions of the country’s future.Afghanistan's justice system is dysfunctional and unable to protect human rights. Prosecutors and judges often lack legal training, corruption is endemic, and bias against women is the rule not the exception. Donors at the Tokyo conference should call on President Karzai to take immediate steps to root out corruption in the justice system and to compel full enforcement of the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women by prosecutors, judges and police, Human Rights Watch said.

Afghan security forces have become more professional in recent years, but they still commit serious abuses, including killings, torture, and arbitrary detentions, with little fear of consequences, Human Rights Watch said.

At the Tokyo Conference, donors should call for strengthened human rights monitoring and effective prosecution of human rights abusers. The Afghan government should make a commitment to 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 force personnel.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) remains a critical institution for the protection of human rights in Afghanistan and should be better supported by international donors, Human Rights Watch said. The work that the commission does, both through investigations and advocacy and through assisting individuals, is crucial and will become more so as the international presence in Afghanistan is reduced.

President Hamid Karzai has taken several actions recently that have been harmful to the commission. In December 2011, he announced plans to dismiss three commissioners, but then took no further action, leaving the commission in limbo for many months. The terms of all of the commissioners expired in December, and while they continue to report to the office, the commission’s work has been undermined and largely frozen until the issue of appointments is resolved. Donors at the Tokyo Conference should press President Karzai to reappoint or replace the commissioners, Human Rights Watch said. They should ensure that he keeps capable commissioners and that any new appointments are of people with impeccable backgrounds of protecting and advocating human rights.

Impunity for serious human rights abuses is a serious problem in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch said. Karzai has also undermined efforts by the commission to combat impunity by refusing to support its release of a conflict-mapping report that documents human rights abuses in Afghanistan back to the Soviet era. If made public, the report could play a critical role in helping to end impunity for past human rights abuses in Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch calls on donors at the Tokyo Conference to urge Karzai to support the commission in releasing the full unredacted report immediately.

“Unchecked human rights violations are as great a threat to Afghanistan’s future as insecurity and poverty,” Adams said. “The Tokyo Conference should be a chance for Afghanistan’s donors to make it clear that there can be no further backsliding on human rights. President Karzai should make clear and enforceable commitments to improve his government’s record on rights in the years ahead.”

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