Villagers gather at the site of a car bomb attack that killed at least 89 people in Urgon district, eastern province of Paktika, on July 15, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

(Kabul) – Afghanistan’s fraught political transition and intensifying armed conflict have generated uncertainty placing the rights gains of the past decade at risk, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2015. The power-sharing deal naming Ashraf Ghani as president and Abdullah Abdullah as chief executive officer, growing pressure from Taliban insurgents, and the decline in foreign assistance complicate the human rights agenda to protect civilians, hold abusive forces accountable, and protect the rights of women and the media.

“Afghanistan’s new leaders made specific campaign promises to promote human rights,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to translate those promises into decisive action to combat rights abuses, uphold basic freedoms, and provide justice to victims of rights violations.”

In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.

The Taliban and other insurgents launched attacks during the two rounds of presidential elections and frequently targeted civilians throughout the year. The United Nations recorded a 24 percent rise in civilian casualties in the first six months of 2014 compared to 2013, most due to insurgent attacks. Intensified fighting and diminished security displaced 38,000 people from January through September 2014, bringing the total number of internally displaced people in Afghanistan to over 755,000. While many countries pledged to continue aid to Afghanistan, political engagement waned as international forces completed their withdrawal from the country.

Impunity for abuses by government security forces remained the norm, Human Rights Watch said. The police in Kandahar, in particular, were cited in numerous reports of torture, summary executions, and forcible disappearances through 2014. The Afghan Local Police – a network of local defense forces established largely by the US military in cooperation with the Afghan government – continued to be responsible for serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions. During an offensive against the Taliban in August in Zhare district, Kandahar, an Afghan Local Police unit under Brig. Gen. Abdul Raziq’s command reportedly captured and executed six men it accused of working with the Taliban.

Women’s rights remained under threat in 2014, Human Rights Watch said. In January, parliament passed a provision in the draft criminal procedure code that would undermine prosecution of domestic violence. The provision was ultimately amended, but still exempts many family members from being called as witnesses in domestic violence cases. Other setbacks for women’s rights in 2014 included attacks on high-profile women, including police officers and activists. Implementation by the authorities of Afghanistan’s landmark 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women remained poor, with many cases of violence against women ignored or resolved through “mediation” that denied victims their day in court.

Attacks on the media, particularly by pro-government entities, increased, with some 68 attacks on journalists in the first six months of 2014, compared to about 41 attacks in the same period in 2013.

“Donors should press the new government to take stronger measures to address threats to women’s rights and end the impunity of the security forces,” Kine said. “The government needs to follow through on its pledges to protect the human rights gains of the past 13 years.”