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Afghanistan: Rights at Risk as Military Drawdown Advances

Foreign Donors Should Bolster Civil Society, Protections for Women

(London) – Afghanistan’s human rights situation remained poor, with deterioration in some areas, and growing concerns for the future, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2013. In 2012, US-led foreign military forces began a drawdown as part of a major reduction set to be reached in 2014.

In its 665-page report, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including an analysis of the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

The Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai continued to allow rights-abusing warlords and corrupt officials to operate with impunity in government-controlled areas. The rights of Afghan women and girls, which improved significantly after 2001, suffered rollbacks in 2012 due to security deterioration in several parts of the country. Taliban and other insurgent forces continued to commit unlawful attacks targeting civilians and failing to discriminate between civilians and combatants.

“The future of human rights protections in Afghanistan are in grave doubt,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Corruption, little rule of law, poor governance, and abusive policies and practices deprive the country’s most vulnerable citizens of their rights.”

Growing international fatigue with Afghanistan has reduced political pressure on the government to protect and promote rights, Human Rights Watch said. Despite pledges of goodwill and support, international commitments to defending basic rights in Afghanistan have already shrunk and are backed by less political pressure. Cuts in international aid are already leading to closure of schools and health clinics.

Afghanistan’s justice system remains a potent threat to the rights of Afghanistan’s women, Human Rights Watch said. As of spring 2012, 400 women and girls were in prison and juvenile detention for the “moral crimes” of running away from home or sex outside marriage, despite running away not being a crime under Afghan law and serious deficiencies in due process in these cases. Large areas of Afghanistan still rely on traditional justice mechanisms that can subject women to gross brutality.

Although women have attained some leadership roles in Afghan government and civil society since 2001, including as judges and members of parliament, Afghan women and girls continue to face everyday abuses. Many have been specifically targeted by Taliban and other insurgent forces.

Najia Sediqi, the acting head of the Afghan government’s Department of Women’s Affairs in the eastern province of Laghman, was shot and killed by an unknown gunman as she traveled to work in December. That same month, Anisa, a 22-year-old student and polio vaccination campaign volunteer, was shot to death in Kapisa province. Numerous other women in public life were targets of attack in 2012.

In July, a 22-year-old woman was publicly executed in Parwan province for alleged adultery. Under-age and forced marriage remain common in Afghanistan. Infant mortality and maternal mortality remain among the highest in the world, with one in ten children dying before the age of five, and a woman dying of pregnancy-related complications approximately every two hours.

“Afghanistan needs donors who will support women’s rights as a long-term priority,” Adams said. “Declining foreign interest in protecting the gains of the past decade will increase the risk that women will face greater systemic abuses in the future.”

The Taliban and other insurgent forces continued to commit human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war in 2012. Insurgent forces launched at least 34 attacks against schools in the first six months of 2012, half of which involved targeted assassinations of school staff or education officials.

“Many Afghans are now stuck between insurgents who would roll back rights and a government that doesn’t care about protecting human rights,” Adams said. “The Afghan government needs to explain how it plans to ensure rights protections in the aftermath of any negotiated settlement it might reach with insurgents.”

Warlordism and its attendant rights abuses remained one of the country’s most serious problems, Human Rights Watch said. The government has failed to prosecute high-level officials for corruption, criminal offenses, and other abuses, while the 2005 Action Plan for Peace, Reconciliation and Justice remains unimplemented. Abuses perpetrated by the US-backed Afghan Local Police and other militia groups ostensibly under government control – including extortion, rape and killings – remain routine and widespread.

In September, the government appointed Asadullah Khalid, implicated in serious human rights violations including the operation of a private, unlawful prison in Kandahar, to head the country’s abusive intelligence service. Reports by the United Nations and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) have implicated the intelligence service in arbitrary detention, torture, and other abuses.

Afghanistan broke with recent practice by executing 14 people over two days, November 20 and 21, nearly doubling the number of government-sanctioned executions in the country since the fall of the Taliban government. The hangings cast doubt on hopes that the Karzai government was committed to bringing Afghanistan in step with the increasing international consensus to ban the death penalty.

The AIHRC, a nine-person independent government agency recognized internationally for its effective human rights research and advocacy, remained hobbled by Karzai’s failure to fill five commissioner positions. The government has also stalled the release of the AIHRC’s 1,000 page report mapping war crimes and crimes against humanity committed from 1978 to 2001.

“The Afghan government has become synonymous with corruption, torture, and impunity,” Adams said. “Afghanistan’s foreign donors should be prepared to link direct support to the government to benchmarks for improving human rights and accountability for past abuses.”

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