The Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
Dear Foreign Secretary,
In advance of next month’s conference on Afghanistan—as you consider the policy and resource commitments that you will make there—we urge the UK government to strengthen its support for the protection and promotion of human rights.
Human Rights Watch has been documenting human rights abuses in Afghanistan since the early 1980s. We believe that the coming period will be a particularly critical time for human rights in Afghanistan and for the future direction of the country. With the election of a new government and the withdrawal of most international forces by the end of the year, there is a real risk that international partners will reduce their commitment to Afghanistan, on the basis that the core security mission has been accomplished. We hope that you and other international donors will not adopt this approach, but rather recognize that safeguarding human rights is crucial for a more stable, inclusive, and prosperous Afghanistan.
Defending the human rights gains of the last decade, especially for women and girls, will require continuing international support to, and pressure on, the new administration of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. Without this involvement there could easily be a worsening of the human rights situation, not least because of the very real domestic pressures on President Ghani to limit or further curtail women’s rights, appoint known human rights violators to high office, tolerate the widespread use of torture by the country’s security forces, and to leave unreformed abusive Afghan police and militia forces and the criminal justice system.
We wish to make a number of specific recommendations—measures that we hope that the UK government and other international donors can commit to at the London Conference. These recommendations relate to three main areas: security force accountability, women’s rights, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
In order for donors to be able to effectively promote greater respect for human rights and strengthen human rights institutions, we recommend that they jointly establish an independent monitoring and reporting mechanism for the purpose of:
• Providing an independent assessment of developments in various areas including accountability, treatment of detainees and prisoners, legislative reform, the right to education, women’s rights, children’s rights, corruption, misappropriation of land, and media freedom;
• Providing public reporting on a biannual basis;
• Advancing accountability for Afghan government pledges made to international donors;
• Identifying areas of concern and providing recommendations to both the Afghan government and donors; and
• Advancing donor accountability with their own governments and constituencies.
Such a donor monitoring and reporting mechanism should be chaired by a person with experience, dedication, and a strong record with regard to human rights, good governance and the rule of law, and be staffed by similarly qualified individuals.
Accountability of State Security Forces
We were encouraged that during the election campaign, Dr. Ghani pledged to prosecute members of the Afghan security forces responsible for torture and other human rights violations. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has published regular reports that show that torture and enforced disappearances by the security forces continue unabated, and that not a single member of the Afghan security forces has been prosecuted for such abuses. Human Rights Watch recognizes that Afghanistan’s security forces are under great pressure from the Taliban and other insurgent groups. However, abuses by the security forces violate Afghanistan’s international legal obligations, bring great harm to the general population, and fuel the insurgency by alienating local communities. To curtail impunity, consistent with his election commitment, we urge you to press President Ghani to commit to:
• Ensuring that Afghan security force personnel implicated in serious human rights violations, including those having command responsibility over abusive forces, are credibly and impartially investi gated and disciplined or prosecuted as appropriate;
• Creating effective accountability mechanisms, with the recognition that future international support will be linked to demonstrated improvements in security force accountability;
• Establishing an independent oversight and accountability mechanism empowered to conduct investigations into allegations of torture and other mistreatment of detainees and prisoners;
• Creating a national civilian complaints mechanism covering all Afghan security forces, including the armed forces, national police, the Afghan Local Police, and government-backed militias; and
• Disbanding and disarming irregular armed groups, focusing on those most responsible for abuses, and holding their leaders accountable for abuses.
Women’s and Girls’ Rights
President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah have signalled their support for reforms enumerated in the Afghan Women’s Six-Point Petition. These include enforcement of the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) Law; support for women’s shelters; increased recruitment and retention of women in the security forces; increased appointments of women in judicial and legal posts and the civil service; and implementation of a plan to include women in peace-building in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 1325. To make sure these reforms take place, we urge that you press President Ghani to commit to:
• Issuing a decree directing all police and prosecutors to fully and vigorously enforce the EVAW Law, and to speak out publicly about the importance of access to shelter for women and girls fleeing violence;
• Monitoring and making more transparent the Afghan government’s enforcement of the EVAW Law by providing an annual report on the number of cases reported, investigated, and prosecuted, with data on resulting convictions and sentences, as well as information on cases resolved outside the courts;
• Supporting specialized EVAW prosecution units within the Attorney General’s Office in all provinces, and monitoring the work of these units;
• Ensuring sufficient support to establish at least one women’s shelter in each province, and creating public awareness programs to ensure that all women and girls know how to access shelter; and
• Increasing the number of women at all levels of Afghanistan’s judicial and law enforcement institutions, including the Supreme Court.
There is also an urgent need to end all prosecution of women and girls for “moral crimes,” including “running away,” and zina (sex outside of marriage). Human Rights Watch has estimated that 95 percent of girls and 50 percent of women imprisoned in Afghanistan are accused of such “crimes”; most are actually victims of domestic violence or forced marriage, and the numbers have been increasing. Afghan authorities also subject women and girls accused of crimes to invasive, abusive, and scientifically meaningless “virginity examinations,” without regard to the consent of the woman or girl. President Ghani should be pressed to commit to:
• Prohibiting all prosecutions for “moral crimes” and ending the use of “virginity examinations”; and
• Establishing strict guidelines permitting the use of vaginal examinations solely for evidence collection in rape cases, with clear protocols for informed consent and support to the woman or girl being examined.
Your government can also do more to ensure that crimes against women are investigated by urging the new Afghan administration to increase female participation in the Afghanistan National Police. We urge that your government:
• Tailor assistance to police training programs to enforce the EVAW Law through: earmarking funding for the recruitment and retention of female police officers, funding construction of safe toilets and changing rooms for female police officers, urging careful management of the role and career progression of female police officers, monitoring the functioning of police Family Response Units, and linking overall funding to benchmarks including the number of female police.
We also urge you to monitor the Afghan government’s compliance with the recommendations made by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission
While the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has played a vital role in advocating for human rights for more than a decade, weak appointments have reduced its effectiveness and damaged its reputation. Given the longstanding support to the commission from the donor community, we urge the UK government and other international partners to:
• Press President Ghani to review commissioner appointments to ensure that commissioners are actively contributing to the achievement of the AIHRC’s mandate, and to dismiss those who have failed to do so;
• Ensure that the AIHRC has the funding necessary to perform its functions; and
• Urge President Ghani to fulfil the pledge he made to make public the AIHRC’s Conflict Mapping Report, which the AIHRC provided to President Hamid Karzai but was unable to publish without the President’s support.
We also urge you as donors to meet regularly with the AIHRC to signal both continuing support for its work and international interest in its role as the most important institutional advocate for human rights in Afghanistan.
Thank you for your consideration of these issues. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss them with you or your staff in advance of the London Conference.
UK Director, Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch