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Afghan President Speaks Out for Human Rights at UN

But Ignores Afghanistan’s Torture Scourge

Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

On Tuesday at the United Nations General Assembly, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani promoted his country’s bid to join the UN Human Rights Council.

To make his case, Ghani cited the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, condemned the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Burma, and said that Afghans were “keen to add our voice in support of human rights.” He also called insurgent attacks on civilians in Afghanistan crimes against humanity. Yet, while welcoming the Trump administration’s ramped-up military strategy in Afghanistan, he said nothing about the rising number of civilian casualties from the fighting. Nor did he discuss human rights concerns his own government has failed to address.

Ghani didn’t seem to recognize that the purpose of the Human Rights Council is to promote the protection of human rights throughout the world, not to shield its members from criticism.

Ghani’s pitch for a Human Rights Council seat was undermined by his government’s poor performance before the UN Committee against Torture in April. Committee members grilled Afghanistan’s delegation about the government’s well-documented failure to curb torture. One committee member pointedly asked Afghanistan’s Attorney General Farid Hamidi, what the government was doing about Gen. Abdul Raziq, whose name has become synonymous with systematic torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances.

Raziq serves as the police chief of Kandahar, and the committee noted numerous reports of detainees in Kandahar who alleged torture or ill-treatment, including “suffocation, crushing the testicles, water forcibly pumped in the stomach and electric shocks.”

Despite Ghani’s 2015 vow to end torture in the country, United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan data indicates it’s on the rise, its statistics demonstrating that 39 percent of detainees of the police and intelligence agency are tortured in custody.

Ghani’s impassioned human rights rhetoric falls far short in practice. Afghans won’t take Ghani seriously on protecting rights until he begins to bridge the yawning gap between rhetoric and reality by taking meaningful steps to end systematic torture, and hold police and other security forces accountable. 

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