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Afghanistan: Break Deadlock on Rights Appointments

Donors Should Push for Prompt Selection of Qualified Commissioners

(Kabul) – President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan should promptly end a nine-month stalemate by appointing independent and experienced human rights experts to fill empty seats on the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Human Rights Watch said today. The president’s selections of new commissioners should ensure that the commission maintains its credibility and effectiveness.

The most recent five-year terms of all nine commissioners expired in December 2011. At that time, President Karzai announced his plans not to reappoint three of the commissioners. A fourth position has been vacant since the commissioner responsible for children’s rights, Hamida Barmaki, her husband, and their four children were killed in a suicide bombing at a Kabul supermarket in January 2011.

“The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has proven to be one of the most important and effective institutions created since 2001, but it cannot fully perform its duties with so much uncertainty about its leadership,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The human rights situation in Afghanistan is extremely fragile and the national human rights commission should be at full strength to do its part to protect all Afghans.”

Established in accordance with the Bonn Agreement of 2001, which re-established the Afghan government, and codified in the Afghan constitution, the commission is the main institution within the Afghan government responsible for promoting human rights. Although the commission is a government body, with commissioners appointed by the president, it is by law independent.

The commission’s responsibilities include monitoring the general human rights situation in Afghanistan, making recommendations to the government on human rights, investigating specific human rights violations, and assisting individual Afghans whose rights have been violated.

The Paris Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, set out standards for appointments to national human rights institutions such as the AIHRC. They provide that appointments should be made according to a procedure that ensures the broad representation of civil society involved in the protection and promotion of human rights. The Sub-Committee on Accreditation, which monitors compliance with the Paris Principles, stated in its general observations that a transparent process and broad consultation for appointments were of critical importance.

Karzai should fully consider the views of Afghan human rights activists and organizations in selecting new commissioners, Human Rights Watch said.

Current commissioners who are performing their functions effectively should be reappointed, Human Rights Watch said. New commissioners should have a proven record as effective advocates for human rights. All candidates should also be screened carefully to ensure that they have not been involved in human rights abuses.

Foreign donors, including Nordic and European Union countries, currently provide most of the commission’s annual budget.

“President Karzai should demonstrate his commitment to the human rights commission by appointing highly qualified members as soon as possible,” Adams said. “Donors who fund the commission should insist on the appointment of capable commissioners with no further delays.”

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