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July 4, 2013 Update

Afghanistan: Fire Human Rights Commissioner
Ex-Talib Denouncing Law on Violence Against Women Cannot Defend Rights

(Kabul) – President Hamid Karzai should immediately dismiss Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) member Abdul Rahman Hotak, who Karzai recently appointed, following Hotak’s statements expressing opposition to Afghanistan’s Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Human Rights Watch said today. Afghanistan’s Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women is known as the EVAW Law. 

Hotak told the New York Times that “The people who have written that law do not know Afghanistan and Afghan society very well – perhaps they think Kabul is Afghanistan.” He told Reuters that in his view the EVAW Law is “violating Islam” and there needs to be a law that people are “comfortable” with.

Hotak previously served as a member of the Taliban government that was in power until 2001 and pursued practices that routinely violated and restricted the fundamental rights of women. President Karzai appointed Hotak, along with four other new commissioners, to the AIHRC in June 2013. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch both criticized the appointments for failing to comply with the standards required of appointments to national human rights institutions, under human rights norms.

Afghanistan’s 2009 EVAW Law criminalizes abuses of women, including rape, child marriage, forced marriage, sale of women, and domestic violence, and in many cases is the first Afghan law to do so. While enforcement of the law has been slow and uneven, the law is widely recognized as one of the most important achievements in the effort to rebuild women’s rights in Afghanistan in the post-Taliban era.

“There were many questions about Mr. Hotak’s suitability for this job – and Mr. Hotak has just answered them,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “President Karzai has appointed a fox to guard the henhouse. The only solution is for him to be removed and replaced with a new commissioner who will actually protect human rights.”

Representatives of donor nations met in Kabul this week to discuss follow up to the July 2012 Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan. At the Tokyo Conference, the Afghan government and donors agreed on a “Mutual Accountability Framework” that would govern future aid contributions to Afghanistan. As part of that framework, the Afghan government, in return for donor assistance, pledged to enforce the EVAW Law and to allow the AIHRC to perform its functions.


(Kabul) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s appointment of a weakly qualified human rights commission with little public consultation raises concerns about the country’s most important rights body.

On June 15, 2013, Karzai announced the appointment of five new commissioners to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), most of whom appear to have little or no record defending human rights.

Donors supporting Afghanistan and the AIHRC should closely monitor the effectiveness and independence of the commission and insist that it be allowed to do its work free of political pressure, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission plays an absolutely crucial role in protecting the rights of all Afghans, and it needs to have the right leadership to continue its crucial work,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The five new commissioners have huge tasks ahead of them and need to show Afghans that they will be strong champions of their rights. Donors need to watch the work of the newly constituted commission every step of the way.”

The 1993 Paris Principles, which set out standards for national human rights institutions, 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, emphasized in its general observations the critical importance of the selection and appointment process of the governing body and stressed the need for a transparent process and broad consultation as part of that process.

The appointments were unexpectedly announced after a process that involved no discussion with or input from civil society organizations involved in human rights. While President Karzai had some limited discussions earlier in the process with members of civil society, he never engaged broadly with the large and diverse Afghan human rights community, and there is no evidence that the concerns raised by numerous human rights groups were reflected in Karzai’s appointments.

“The Paris Principles are the recognized rule book for institutions like the AIHRC,” Adams said. “Karzai has thrown out the rule book and selected people without regard for expertise or a proven record of fighting for human rights.”

The AIHRC has been in limbo since December 2011 when the most recent five-year terms of all nine previous commissioners expired, Human Rights Watch said. At that time, 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. A fifth position became vacant when a commissioner was removed from his post.

Karzai came under pressure from donors to appoint new commissioners during the follow-up to the July 2012 Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan. The Tokyo Conference produced a document called the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework, which set out commitments by both the Afghan government and donors. Among those was a commitment by the Afghan government to “Ensure respect for human rights for all citizens, in particular for women and children, and allow the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and civil society organizations to perform their appropriate functions.”

Established in accordance with the Bonn Agreement of 2001, which reestablished 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.

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

“Afghanistan’s human rights situation could become even more critical as the world turns its attention away,” Adams said. “Maintaining a free and independent human rights commission will require constant vigilance by Afghanistan’s donors.”

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