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Afghanistan women’s football team.

(New York) – Two recent cases in Afghanistan highlight the failure of authorities to prosecute sexual assault implicating powerful people, Human Rights Watch said today. The Afghan government should take immediate steps to provide justice, support victims, and protect witnesses.

The Afghan authorities have failed to arrest senior officials of the Afghan Football Federation indicted for sexually assaulting female players and for participating in a cover-up of the abuse. In another recent case, provincial officials in Logar province are seeking to end an investigation into the sexual abuse of hundreds of schoolchildren and have threatened the activists who reported the abuse. 

“Prosecuting sexual violence has long been difficult in Afghanistan, but the problems are magnified when the suspects are powerful people,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director. “These two horrific cases are a litmus test of the Afghan government’s commitment to ending impunity for sexual violence.”

In November 2019, an Afghan advocacy group disclosed evidence that government officials in Logar province, including teachers and police, had sexually assaulted hundreds of boys at state schools. In response to a Guardian report on their findings, the activists received threats on Facebook, some from local officials. A spokesman for the Logar police threatened to punish the activists. The National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, detained two activists who had reported the abuse. The NDS later released a video in which one of the men, clearly under duress, apologized for the report. The activists were released and subsequently left Afghanistan.

While the Afghan Attorney General’s Office has initiated an investigation into the Logar allegations and 18 people have been arrested, no police or senior officials alleged to have been responsible for abuse were included in the arrests. Activists have told Human Rights Watch that provincial officials are seeking to terminate the investigation, regardless of whether it has made progress. A number of diplomatic missions in Kabul have raised concerns about political pressure to cut short the investigation. Afghan authorities have not put into place any measures to protect survivors and witnesses from retaliation.

“Hundreds of children may have been sexually abused in Logar, yet government officials are threatening to end the case and providing survivors no support,” Gossman said. “Afghanistan’s donors should use their leverage to press the government to prosecute all those responsible and to protect witnesses.”

Afghan authorities have also failed to make progress in the investigation of multiple cases of alleged sexual assault of women football players by the former president of the Afghan Football Federation, Keramuddin Karim. A November 2018 report in the Guardian detailed allegations by 20 female players of repeated sexual assault by Karim going back to 2016. Following media reports, the Afghan government undertook an investigation. On June 8, 2019, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), football’s global governing body, handed Karim a lifetime ban. On June 9, the Afghan attorney general issued a warrant for Karim’s arrest. However, Karim has yet to be arrested. Most of his accusers have left Afghanistan after receiving threats. Some report that these threats have continued.

“The Afghan government is failing women every day that Keramuddin Karim is not arrested,” Gossman said. “The authorities also need to be investigating football federation officials who facilitated the abuse or helped cover it up.”

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