(London) – Afghanistan’s foreign donors should press the Afghan government to prevent a further deterioration in the country’s human rights situation and support services crucial to rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today. The groups issued a joint statement ahead of a major donors’ meeting on Afghanistan on December 3-4, 2014, in London. Despite the government’s important improvements in human rights, many serious abuses continue and pose a threat to the fragile gains of the past decade.
Delegations from more than 70 countries will gather for the London Conference on Afghanistan, a follow up to the July 2012 Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan. At that conference, both the Afghan government, then headed by President Hamid Karzai, and international donors agreed on a “mutual accountability framework.” The London Conference will be the first such meeting under Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, and coincides with declining donor engagement in tandem with the end-of-2014 deadline for the withdrawal of the majority of foreign combat forces from Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan needs sustained political and financial backing to strengthen human rights and rule of law,” said Richard Bennett, Asia-Pacific director at Amnesty International. “Donors and the new unity government must ensure that human rights are at the heart of reforms undertaken by the new Afghan unity government and donor assistance to Afghanistan.”
The framework established in Tokyo included 16 specific indicators of progress, only two of which specifically related to human rights. Those concern the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW Law), and the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA).
The Afghan government and its donors should honor the human rights commitments made at the Tokyo Conference, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said. The Afghan government should make specific plans for human rights reform, and urge donors to support these reforms in order to address the following human rights concerns:
- The rights of women and girls: The Tokyo Framework committed to demonstrated implementation, with civil society engagement, of both the EVAW Law and the implementation of NAPWA. However the fragile legislative and policy gains for women’s human rights in Afghanistan are under threat. President Ghani should endorse the action plan immediately, and decree that all police and prosecutors enforce the EVAW Law. He should also support the expansion of Afghanistan’s system of shelters for women and girls fleeing domestic violence and other abuse. Donors should target support toward the action plan, assisting in all aspects of EVAW Law enforcement and shelter expansion. The Ghani government and donors should also make it a priority to improve access to education for girls and protect the security of girls’ schools;
- Including women in any peace negotiations: Afghanistan’s government and donors have paid lip service to Security Council Resolution 1325, which calls for the “equal participation and full involvement” of women in all peace-building efforts. Instead, women have been almost entirely excluded from all processes aimed at seeking a negotiated end to the armed conflict in Afghanistan. Only nine women have been appointed to the 70-member High Peace Council – the body tasked with negotiating with the Taliban and other armed groups. President Ghani should increase the number of qualified women appointed to the High Peace Council and ensure that women are full participants in any peace negotiations;
- Impunity for war crimes: Over the last 35 years of war in Afghanistan, various government forces and armed factions have committed serious human rights abuses and war crimes with impunity. Since 2001, Afghan security forces and militias, as well as the Taliban and other insurgent forces, have been responsible for numerous atrocities. No major perpetrators have been held accountable. In 2013, the International Criminal Court issued its preliminary report on Afghanistan, stating that “war crimes and crimes against humanity were and continue to be committed in Afghanistan.” The AIHRC spent six years preparing a conflict-mapping report that documented serious human rights abuses and war crimes committed by various government forces and armed factions between 1978 and 2001. President Ghani should fulfil the pledge he made to release that report, with a view toward holding those responsible to account in credible trials. Donors should also call for prompt and transparent investigations into allegations of war crimes by international forces;
- Security force accountability: Foreign donors subsidize Afghanistan’s security forces, but these forces commit serious rights abuses, including the systematic and widespread use of torture, as well as sexual violence and extrajudicial executions. Police and other security agencies commit these abuses with impunity due to inadequate government oversight and accountability. The Afghan government and its donors should support the establishment of an independent and impartial mechanism to monitor and investigate allegations of torture and other mistreatment of detainees and prisoners, as well as a mechanism to investigate and report publicly on civilian deaths and injuries caused by the Afghan National Security Forces, and to ensure timely and effective remedies;
- Assistance for internally displaced people and refugees: Internal displacement is increasing, affecting over 750,000 Afghans, primarily as a result of the armed conflict. The drawdown of international combat forces and the accompanying uncertainty over the country’s future political and security situation is likely to trigger further displacement. Afghanistan’s national policy to assist internally displaced people, approved by then-President Karzai in February 2014, requires sustained political and financial backing to succeed. At the London conference, donors should pledge necessary financial and technical assistance to the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation for swift implementation of Afghanistan’s policy on internally displaced people. Donors should also reform punitive policies within their own countries – including unlawful pushbacks, collective expulsions, blocking access to asylum procedures, and failure to adequately consider asylum claims – that deny Afghan asylum seekers a fair opportunity to have their claims heard and deprive Afghan refugees of adequate protection and integration; and
- Support for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission: The AIHRC carries out courageous work by documenting human rights violations and assisting individual victims of rights violations. Former President Karzai had undermined the commission by appointing some commissioners with no known human rights expertise. Donors have provided significant support for the commission and should urge President Ghani to review the qualifications of recently appointed commissioners and pledge to strengthen the commission’s independence and capacity. President Ghani should also ensure that any future appointments of commissioners are in line with the Paris Principles on national human rights institutions and include meaningful consultation with civil society.
“The London Conference is a crucial moment in determining whether the new Afghan government will take concrete steps to end human rights abuses, and whether donors have the will to stay involved in defending the rights of Afghans beyond 2014,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Without international pressure and aid specifically targeted at ending rights abuses, many of the gains of the last 13 years could easily slip away.”