(New York) – The new Afghan government should carefully vet appointments to national security positions to ensure they are not linked to human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. The co-leadership should select individuals with strong human rights records for the ministers of interior and justice, director of the National Directorate of Security, and attorney general, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch also called on the government to bring officials in Afghan security forces who are responsible for torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions to justice. Human Rights Watch urged the government to establish an independent oversight mechanism empowered to probe alleged torture and other mistreatment in custody, and a national civilian complaints mechanism covering all security forces, including government-backed militias.

“The new government should signal its commitment to ending Afghanistan’s culture of impunity by appointing people to key posts who will advance human rights rather than abuse them,” said Patricia Gossman, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “By rejecting rights violators from consideration for key positions, the new government will send a strong message it is serious about reforming the justice system, professionalizing the security forces, and ending impunity for abuses.”

The new government is expected to announce key ministerial appointments in the coming weeks. During his election campaign, President Ghani pledged to ensure that members of the Afghan security forces who have been responsible for torture and other human rights violations would be prosecuted. Chief Executive Abdullah had similarly pledged to strengthen accountability in the security forces.

Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission have documented serious and widespread human rights violations by members of the security forces, including systematic torture of detainees, forced disappearance, and extrajudicial executions. Despite a February 2013 decree calling for specific anti-torture measures including prosecutions, no member of the security forces has ever been prosecuted.

Afghan security forces, particularly the national police, have suffered heavy losses and are under great pressure due to a rise in insurgent attacks. However, those conditions do not allow security forces to violate Afghan and international law protecting human rights on security grounds, Human Rights Watch said.

“Afghanistan’s new leadership has correctly identified the need for accountability to bring human rights abusers to heel,” Gossman said. “That accountability needs to start at the top with the government appointing ministers who will work to end impunity – not those who have benefitted from it.”