Afghanistan: NATO States Shouldn’t Shirk on Rights

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Commitments to Women, Justice Reform Crucial Post-2014 Withdrawal

The political and military turmoil in Afghanistan over the past year has shown the need for renewed international support for human rights. NATO governments need to make solid commitments to protect rights by supporting good governance and rule-of-law initiatives long after NATO combat forces leave the country at the end of 2014.

Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director

(London) – North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member countries should make a firm commitment to support human rights protections in Afghanistan beyond the end of the NATO combat mission post-2014, Human Rights Watch said today. The NATO Summit in Casnewydd, Wales, on September 4 and 5, 2014, is slated to discuss future alliance support for the Afghan government.

The failure of the outgoing government of Hamid Karzai to institutionalize rights protections, the current electoral crisis, and inroads by Taliban insurgents pose a threat to the rights of women, the treatment of people in custody, and other areas of rights reforms since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.

“The political and military turmoil in Afghanistan over the past year has shown the need for renewed international support for human rights,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “NATO governments need to make solid commitments to protect rights by supporting good governance and rule-of-law initiatives long after NATO combat forces leave the country at the end of 2014.”

Increased fighting in Afghanistan highlights the security concerns for much of the population. The United Nations recorded a 24 percent rise in civilian casualties for the first six months of 2014 compared with 2013, most caused by insurgents, with the Taliban deliberately attacking civilians they consider to be supporting the government. The long-drawn-out election process for Karzai’s successor as president, still unresolved, adds to concerns of unstable governance.

At the Casnewydd summit, NATO countries should call for strengthened human rights monitoring and effective prosecutions for gross abuses by security forces. Despite consistent and compelling evidence of torture, the Afghan government has not prosecuted any police or intelligence officials for the abuse of detainees. 

NATO countries should urge the new government to:

  • Establish an independent oversight and accountability mechanism empowered to conduct investigations into all allegations of torture and other mistreatment in custody; and
  • Create a national civilian complaints mechanism covering all Afghan security forces, including the armed forces, national police, the paramilitary Afghan Local Police, and other government-backed militias that would recommend cases for prosecution, and assist in vetting security forces’ personnel.

NATO countries should also speak out on continued abuses against Afghan women and girls, including domestic violence, child marriage, forced marriage, and severe constraints on freedom of movement and association. The Karzai government had been unwilling to take serious steps to curtail violence against women and girls, and continued to prosecute them for so-called “moral crimes.” The government took inadequate measures to combat the escalating physical assaults, including killings, of female government officials and other high-profile women.

NATO countries should make a commitment to monitor closely the situation for women in Afghanistan in the years ahead. Possible negotiations between the government and the Taliban should not come at the expense of rights gains by Afghan women and girls over the past decade.

NATO countries should urge the new Afghan government to:

  • Hold security force personnel accountable for abuses against women and girls and fully integrate female officers into the police force;
  • Ensure that women are adequately represented in any negotiations with the Taliban and that women’s rights should not be sacrificed as part of any agreement;
  • End the continued prosecution of women and girls for “moral crimes”; and
  • Revise or abolish discriminatory laws and regulations and enforce existing laws to curb violence against women.

“Afghan women are at risk from both insurgent forces and a government that has been willing to trade away their rights for political gain,” Kine said. “NATO countries should act to ensure that the protection of women’s rights is a sustainable component of NATO’s legacy in Afghanistan.” 

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