October 9, 2014
Dr. Ashraf Ghani
President-elect, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Via E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
c/o Dawood Sultanzoy
Via E-mail: email@example.com
c/o Suleiman Khpalwak
c/o Mustafa Omerkhil
Via E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah
Chief Executive-elect, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
c/o Ahmad Massih
Via Email: email@example.com
c/o Ahmad Zia
Via E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: Senior National Security Officials and Human Rights Concerns
Dear President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah,
As you begin the selection process for key government posts in your new government, we would like to wish both of you success in carrying out your duties as President and Chief Executive of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Human Rights Watch would like to remind you of the opportunity – and the responsibility – you and your new national unity government now have to address the continuing human rights concerns in Afghanistan. One of the most crucial ways you can do so in these early days of your administration is by carefully vetting your appointments to key government posts to ensure that those appointees do not have a documented history of human rights abuses.
Over the last 13 years, Human Rights Watch has documented serious and widespread human rights violations by members of the Afghan National Police (ANP), the Afghan Local Police (ALP), and the National Directorate of Security (NDS), including systematic torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearance, and extrajudicial executions. Human Rights Watch has informed Afghan government officials about these abuses, as have the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. However, we remain deeply concerned that to date no member of the security forces has been prosecuted for such violations.
We urge you to carefully consider these concerns in the coming days as you make appointments to the Ministries of the Interior and Justice, the National Directorate of Security, the Attorney General, and other critical official positions.
We understand that the Afghan National Security Forces are under great pressure at this time due to a rise in insurgent attacks on frontline national police and ALP units over the past few months. We are aware that the national police, in particular, has suffered the heaviest losses in its history. However, it is precisely under such conditions that it is critical for security forces to adhere to Afghan and international law. In this regard, there are several measures that your government can undertake immediately to promote respect for human rights.
As you are aware, after the publication of UNAMA’s 2013 report on the treatment of detainees, President Hamid Karzai issued a decree in February 2013 ordering anti-torture measures, including prosecution of officials responsible for torture. However, there have been no prosecutions for such abuses against detainees. While UNAMA reported that torture had been reduced in some facilities, it has continued in others. Lawyers have told Human Rights Watch that some detainees are shifted among detention centers to conceal the prevalence of torture. Without prosecutions, there is no real deterrent to torture.
The police and NDS continue to carry out torture and summary executions with impunity. They have also been cited in reports of sexual violence and enforced disappearances, and reportedly maintain secret detention centers to which UNAMA and international humanitarian organizations have no access. The paramilitary ALP and other militia forces have been responsible for extrajudicial executions, kidnappings, assaults, and other abuses against local civilians.
In some cases, the role of commanding officers in these abuses is evident. In others, where a police or paramilitary unit has been implicated in numerous abuses, commanders will at least be responsible for crimes committed as a matter of command responsibility – that is, when a commander knows or should have known about abuses by forces under his control, but failed to take action to stop them or punish those responsible.
President Ghani, during your election campaign, you committed publicly to ensuring that members of the Afghan security forces who have been responsible for torture and other human rights violations would be prosecuted. Chief Executive Abdullah, you pledged to strengthen disciplinary frameworks and elevate the level of accountability in the security forces. Out of our concern that due process and emphasis on individual accountability contribute to the rule of law in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch makes the following recommendations:
- Appoint as heads of the Ministries of Interior and Justice, the National Directorate of Security, and the Afghan National Police, individuals who are committed to ensuring that Afghanistan abide by Afghan and international law in the treatment of detainees, prisoners, and the local civilian population. People in positions of authority in public institutions should not only bear no taint of involvement in human rights abuses, but should be proponents of respect for human rights.
- Establish an independent oversight and accountability mechanism empowered to conduct investigations into all allegations of torture and other mistreatment in custody.
- Create a national civilian complaints mechanism covering all Afghan security forces, including the armed forces, national police, the Afghan Local Police, and other government-backed militias that would recommend cases for criminal investigation, and assist in vetting security force personnel.
- Remove, discipline, and punish (including by referral to civilian and military prosecutors) all ANP, NDS and ALP officers and their superiors found responsible for committing or condoning torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions. Measures should include suspension, loss of pension and other benefits, and criminal prosecution where appropriate.
- Publicly denounce human rights violations by government officials and security forces and take action against counter-insurgency measures that rely on the unlawful use of force, extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances.
- Disband irregular armed groups and hold their commanders accountable for abuses they have committed.
Human Rights Watch thanks you for your attention to these issues.
We would welcome your response and the opportunity to meet with members of the cabinet to discuss our recommendations.
Executive Director, Asia division
Human Rights Watch