This week, delegations from donor countries to Afghanistan will meet in Geneva to hear Afghan officials report on progress in critical areas of reform. These conferences usually amount to little more than opportunities for donors, fatigued from a 17-year commitment to war-torn Afghanistan, to simply check boxes. But as prospects for peace talks increase, a critical evaluation of the government’s human rights report card is more important than ever .
This year, Afghanistan and its international partners seem particularly eager to sidestep close scrutiny of the government’s lack of progress on human rights, an area that is not even part of the meeting’s main program but a side event.
The Afghan government has instituted some recent reforms, but these have had minimal effect curtailing abuses. In 2017, the government passed a law criminalizing torture and incorporated its provisions in the new penal code. But torture of detainees is still routine. In its 2017 report, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) found the highest levels of torture of conflict-related detainees in police custody since it began monitoring detentions in 2010. And although the government requires personnel to participate in training on human rights, it has not prosecuted them for committing torture.
Violence against women, including rape and murder, is widespread throughout Afghanistan, but perpetrators are rarely brought to justice. Afghan women seeking justice for violence face formidable obstacles. Police routinely refuse to register cases and instead tell women who have been the victims of domestic violence to return to their husbands. In May 2018, UNAMA reported that even the most serious cases of murder and rape often never reach the courts.
While the media remains vibrant, there have been dozens of cases of violence against journalists by government officials and security forces, as well as by insurgent groups. The government has vowed to investigate these, but it has consistently failed to prosecute the perpetrators.
These failures have undermined the government’s legitimacy, and in some cases, fueled support for insurgents. Donors who spent billions in Afghanistan and are looking for an exit should learn from past mistakes and press the Afghan government to make real reforms toward justice. Ignoring accountability is no path to peace.