(Kabul) – Presidential candidates’ positions on human rights should be a central focus in the run-up to the April 2014 presidential elections in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing candidates’ responses to a new human rights questionnaire.
Four of the 11 candidates in Afghanistan’s scheduled April 5, 2014 presidential election responded to a Human Rights Watch questionnaire on the country’s key human rights challenges. Topics covered include accountability for war crimes, women’s rights, and torture.
“The four presidential candidates who responded to this survey deserve credit for sharing their views on these critically important issues,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Afghan voters need to know what commitments the prospective future presidents of Afghanistan are willing to make to address torture, women’s rights, militias, and accountability. The responses to our questionnaire are part of that process.”
On December 2, 2013, Human Rights Watch sent a questionnaire on human rights to all 11 presidential campaigns. The questionnaire contained 17 questions regarding key human rights issues (see the full questionnaire in appendix 2). Human Rights Watch set a deadline of January 2, 2014, for the campaigns to return the completed questionnaire. Human Rights Watch contacted each campaign multiple times between December 2, 2013, and January 2, 2014, to ensure that they had in fact received the questionnaire and to remind them of the deadline.
The campaigns of Abdullah Abdullah, Qutbuddin Helal, and Qayum Karzai submitted completed questionnaires by the January 2 deadline. After Human Rights Watch contacted the eight presidential candidates who had not responded and extended the deadline to January 14, the campaign of Daoud Sultanzoy responded on January 18 in the form of a long email, rather than a completed questionnaire. Summaries of their answers are provided as appendix 1. The full responses from these four campaigns in their original Dari and Human Rights Watch’s English translation (except for the Sultanzoy campaign which replied in English and for which we have provided a Dari translation) are provided in appendixes 3-6. The other seven candidates did not respond.
The Human Rights Watch survey of Afghan presidential candidates is part of a broader effort in Afghanistan to assess candidates’ views on key human rights issues. In December 2013 the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission held a forum for all presidential candidates to discuss their positions on a range of human rights issues. Five candidates – Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah, Helal, Sultanzoy, and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf – attended. A sixth, Zalmai Rassoul, sent one of his vice presidential running mates in his place. The Women’s Political Rights Advocacy Group organized a January 26, 2014 forum for presidential candidates on women’s rights. Four of the candidates – Sultanzoy, Abdullah, Naem, and Karzai – attended. Two other candidates, Sayyaf and Gul Agha Sherzai, sent representatives.
Term limits in the Afghan constitution bar the current president, Hamid Karzai, from reelection. Karzai has presided over some positive developments on human rights, including greater media freedom, significant progress on women’s rights, and the establishment of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
However, the Karzai government has failed to address accountability for past and ongoing grave crimes, torture and ill-treatment in custody, efforts to curtail press freedom, and serious erosion in the past year of women’s rights improvements.
“Afghan presidential candidates should make their positions and plans for defending human rights clear and transparent,” Adams said. “Afghan voters should go to the polls with full knowledge of their prospective leaders’ positions on these life-and-death issues.”