(New York) – Afghanistan’s newly elected president, Ashraf Ghani, and chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, should focus efforts on tackling the country’s persistent human rights problems, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the new unity government.

Human Rights Watch made specific recommendations to strengthen accountability for the security forces, advance women’s rights, protect the media, revitalize the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and address the need for transitional justice.

“The new Afghan administration should make rights reforms a priority and expand on gains made in the past 13 years,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The new president and chief executive need to send a loud signal that their unity government will protect the rights of all Afghans, particularly rights for women and girls, which remain under threat.”

Afghanistan’s new unity government comes into power at a precarious time, Human Rights Watch said. Members of the state security forces remain unaccountable for their role in serious human rights abuses. A 2013 government investigation into allegations of ill-treatment and torture has not resulted in a single prosecution of a member of the security forces.The new leaders should speak out against human rights violations by the security forces, and ensure that those implicated in serious abuses, regardless of rank, are investigated and appropriately disciplined or prosecuted.

A dangerous rollback on women’s rights puts at risk significant gains made over the past 13 years to expand rights protections for women, Human Rights Watch said. Women and girls are prosecuted for abusive “moral crimes.” President-elect Ghani and Chief Executive-elect Abdullah should take stronger measures to address violence against women, including issuing a decree directing all police and prosecutors to fully and vigorously enforce Afghanistan’s Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) Law.  

Afghanistan’s media have been one of the successes of the post-2001 period, but many journalists have expressed concern that threats from both insurgents and powerful political actors are increasing. The new leaders should ensure that all attacks on journalists are promptly and thoroughly investigated, and those responsible brought to justice. The Access to Information Law, passed by the lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, in 2012, should be signed into law immediately.

While the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has played a vital role in advocating human rights for more than a decade, weak appointments have blunted its effectiveness, Human Rights Watch said. The new government should review appointments to ensure that commissioners are actively contributing to the achievement of the commission’s mandate, and dismiss those who have failed to do so.

Many serious human rights abuses have been committed in Afghanistan over the past 35 years, yet no major perpetrators have been prosecuted or convicted for any of these abuses, Human Rights Watch said. An important step toward justice for past abuses would be to release the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission’s Conflict Mapping Report, which was provided to outgoing President Hamid Karzai earlier this year and which documents severe violations of human rights in Afghanistan from 1978 to 2001.

“Afghanistan’s new unity government of President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah has an important opportunity to address the corrosive climate of impunity that has denied Afghans redress for human rights abuses for decades,” Kine said. “The people of Afghanistan rightly expect the new government to deliver on human rights that have been denied to them for far too long.”