Latest update: 30 September 2013
There has been a mixed picture in the human rights sphere in the last three months. The passage of electoral legislation and preparations by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) further strengthened the opportunities for all Afghans to exercise their right to vote in April next year. But away from the electoral process, human rights defenders, whether women activists or those working in the media, continue to be subject to abuse.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, visited Afghanistan in mid-September. She met the President, senior ministers, civil society activists, and the Chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, amongst others. At her departing press conference, she said she was leaving with mixed feelings. She recognised the significant progress made in the protection of human rights in recent years, but she feared that the momentum was waning. Pillay went on to say that Afghanistan had to brace itself for the tumultuous change that will occur as the end of 2014 approaches.
On 3 July, senior officials from the Afghan government and international community, including DFID’s Permanent Secretary and the UK Ambassador to Afghanistan, attended a meeting in Kabul to discuss progress against reform and aid commitments made at the Tokyo Development Conference in July 2012. Forty countries and eight international organisations took part alongside representatives of Afghanistan’s Cabinet, Parliament and civil society. The meeting provided an opportunity to discuss priority issues including electoral legislation, corruption, and economic growth and human rights, including women’s rights. The international community made clear that aid levels are at risk unless the Afghan government continues to make progress on these and other issues.
The UK welcomed the passing by Parliament of the IEC Structure and Duties Law on 13 July and the Electoral Law on 15 July. This is the first time that Afghanistan has set down a legal framework for the management of elections through parliamentary debate and vote, rather than adopted by presidential decree. During negotiations on the Electoral Law, the quota for women in the Provincial Councils was reduced to 20% from 25%. Following passage of the two pieces of legislation, selection committees produced shortlists of candidates to act as commissioners for the IEC and Independent Electoral Complaints Commission. The President appointed commissioners from those shortlists.
In August, the UK launched a £4.5m programme to support training for women to enable them to participate fully in the electoral process, both as candidates and voters. In Helmand, the UK has funded a new programme aimed at encouraging greater women’s political participation in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014.
“The UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict” mid-year report for 2013 was published on 31 July. It noted that in the first six months of 2013, the number of Afghan civilians killed or injured rose by 23%, compared to the same period last year. The report observed that the main factors driving this increase were the increased use of improvised explosive devices by anti-government elements and an increase in civilian casualties from ground engagement between Afghan security forces and anti-government elements. Considerable efforts have been taken by international security assistance forces to minimise the risk of civilian casualties occurring, and to ensure any incidents are properly investigated.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women published its first ever report on Afghanistan’s implementation of the Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on 23 July. The Committee’s concluding observations recognised the significant progress made since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, but expressed concern regarding the risks to women’s rights when international combat forces leave Afghanistan next year. The Committee made a number of recommendations to address the issues highlighted in the report, including on violence against women, moral crimes, and women’s participation in the peace process and education.
In Helmand, the Afghan-led Community-Based Dispute Resolution conference took place from 24–26 August. Its aim is to reduce the gaps between the traditional and statutory justice sectors. The conference focused on the legal framework around human rights – including women’s rights and children’s rights – in the Afghan constitution, and the compatibility of these with Koran teachings. Of the 200 attendees, 10% were females drawn from District Community Councils.
The Joint Secretariat and High Peace Council (HPC) held Peace and National Unity Week 20-27 September, which marked the second anniversary of the assassination of former HPC Chairman Burhanuddin Rabbani. This is the largest peace-focused event of the year and seeks to engage Afghans from across the provinces in shaping the debate about what reconciliation means for them. Activities included a women’s shura (consultative council or assembly) in Jalalabad. Keynote speakers, including HPC member and Human Rights Commissioner Hawa Alam Nooristani, led panel discussions with women’s groups’ representatives, civil society activists and Provincial Peace Councils about the role women can play in advocating a peaceful approach to local issues.
In June, the Secretary of State of Defence announced his intention to resume transfers of UK captured detainees to the Afghan authorities at the Afghan National Detention Facility in Parwan. Following subsequent legal proceedings that were discontinued, transfers resumed that same month.
Update: 30 June 2013
There were many notable developments both positive and negative over the last three months. In June, President Karzai formally announced the start of the transfer of the last group of districts to Afghan security lead. We continue to work closely with Afghan forces and provide training to ensure they operate as effectively as possible and in a manner that upholds human rights. The Afghan Parliament debated revisions to the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) Law, without reaching any final conclusion. This stimulated wider debate about the status of women in Afghanistan. Elections preparations continue and Afghan authorities are making efforts to ensure that the largest possible number of voters, and especially women voters and minorities, can participate freely. President Karzai ended a long impasse by appointing new Commissioners to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), but civil society representatives were concerned about a lack of promised consultation.
The Prime Minister visited Afghanistan in June and emphasised to President Karzai and other interlocutors the great importance the UK attaches to peaceful and credible elections next year, in which Afghans across the country can vote freely. The Defence Secretary also raised the importance of the election process with the President when he visited in June.
On 18 May, the Afghan Parliament debated possible revisions to the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW). The debate ended swiftly; some MPs strongly objected to elements of the Law as they believed it contravened the tenets and provisions of Islam. It is unlikely that there will be a further debate in Parliament any time soon about revising this Law. The existing EVAW Law, passed by Presidential Decree in 2009, continues to apply. We are working with the Afghan government and civil society organisations to ensure that the objections to a revision of the Law expressed in Parliament do not undermine implementation of the existing Law. We would also like to see increased expertise especially at provincial level on how best to prosecute those who commit violence against women.
President Karzai appointed a new Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) on 14 June. Five of the nine members are new to the Commission and the other four, including the Chair, Dr. Sima Samar, are existing Commissioners who have had their terms extended. The appointments bring an end to a long impasse between the AIHRC and the President about the membership of the Commission. We will work closely with the AIHRC over coming weeks. Following the appointments, Sima Samar expressed concern that some of the new appointees might not have the necessary expertise to perform effectively. We hope that the AIHRC will take steps to retain its ‘A’ accreditation from the International Coordination Committee of National Human Rights Institutions.
The AIHRC released a report in June on honour killing and rape which documented a worrying level of serious violence against women. This study was based on a national inquiry by the AIHRC. This found that many crimes were hidden or went unreported, due in part to the persistence of conservative cultural attitudes towards women.
On 6 June, the Secretary of State for Defence announced his intention to resume transfers of UK captured detainees to the Afghan authorities at the Afghan National Defence Facility in Parwan (ANDF-P). The ANDF-P is a US mentored, purpose built detention facility run by the Afghan National Army. This follows a decision in April 2012 by the Secretary of State for Defence to impose a temporary suspension of transfers due to credible allegations of serious mistreatment or torture in Afghan facilities. It has been our priority since that date to work with the Afghan government to identify a safe transfer route for UK captured detainees into the Afghan judicial system. This decision is currently subject to legal challenge in the UK courts.
In April, the UK agreed to provide funding of up to £4.5 million to help strengthen women’s political participation ahead of and during the presidential and provincial elections in 2014 and parliamentary elections in 2015. Support will be provided for female candidates, including workshops and direct training, so that they can reach out to voters and improve their prospects in the 2014/15 elections.
In April, the Afghan Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) launched the first stage of its outreach activity designed to encourage women’s political participation. The IEC’s nationwide voter registration exercise, which began in May, also includes measures designed to encourage a high turnout or women and minorities.
We were concerned that on 20 May two individuals were executed following their conviction for the kidnapping and murder of a young child. We have made clear to the Afghan government the UK’s opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances. In another case, a man charged with rape and murder of a two year old girl was sentenced to death by the Primary Court in Herat province in the west of Afghanistan.
Update: 31 March 2013
We welcomed statements during the last three months by the President and Foreign Minister of Afghanistan reaffirming their commitment to the promotion of human rights. There is a growing sense of determination among Afghan civil society groups to defend the gains made over the last decade. However Afghanistan’s young and somewhat fragile institutions still offer insufficient protection to the most vulnerable. The UK and other leading members of the international community have provided capacity building assistance, and will continue to do so. The last three months has seen a particular focus on putting in place the conditions for a credible, inclusive and transparent election in 2014.
Baroness Warsi, Senior Minister for human rights and Minister with responsibility for Afghanistan, paid her second visit to Afghanistan from 4 – 6 March. In all her meetings the Minister stressed the importance of consolidating progress made over the last ten years on human rights, including women’s rights. She held meetings with the Afghan Government and wider Afghan authorities, leading female parliamentarians, young future Afghan leaders and other representatives of civil society. In Helmand she visited the provincial police headquarters and met female police officers who are contributing to the provision of security in their community. In Kabul she held discussions on the forthcoming elections with opposition leaders and the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, Fazel Ahmad Manawi, highlighting the importance of a credible, inclusive and transparent electoral process in 2014. She raised women’s rights with the Afghan Foreign Minister, Dr. Zalmai Rassoul, who offered assurances on the Afghan Government’s commitment to ensuring that progress made on women’s rights is not lost. In her discussions with women in positions of leadership such as Fawzia Koofi MP, Sima Samar of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and Habiba Sorabi, the Governor of Bamiyan, the Minister was encouraged to hear that some progress has been made on women’s rights, but noted that more needed to be done to achieve a cultural change in attitudes towards women and to address violence against women and children.
On 4 March the Secretary of State for Development, Justine Greening, set out her commitment to make tackling violence against women a greater strategic priority in the Afghanistan country plan, which will be refreshed later this year.
At a reception in the Afghan Embassy in London hosted by the Afghan Ambassador Mohammad Daud Yaar to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, Baroness Warsi gave a speech on the vital role of women and girls in Afghanistan. She reaffirmed the UK’s long term commitment to Afghan women, recognised the achievements of women in Afghanistan over the last decade and emphasised the essential role of women in securing a stable and prosperous future for Afghanistan.
We were pleased that in his speech at Georgetown University in January President Karzai included a clear statement that any political settlement in Afghanistan must ensure the continuing presence of women in politics and of girls in schools. Foreign Minister Rassoul reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, and in particular the rights of women, girls and children in his statement at the 22nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 25 February. Minister Rassoul made clear Afghanistan’s support for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on women, peace and security and confirmed that the Afghan National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325 will be launched in early 2014.
Preparations for the 2014 elections have continued. A UN Needs Assessment Mission (UNAMA) visited Kabul in January for the second phase of fieldwork to assess the most appropriate forms of UN electoral support in line with UNAMA’s mandate to improve the sustainability, integrity and inclusiveness of the election. The Afghan authorities have also reached a decision on voter registration, with plans to use existing voter cards and conduct a limited registration campaign designed to ensure high levels of participation.
The UNAMA report on “The treatment of conflict related detainees in Afghan custody – one year on” issued on 20 January. We were disappointed that despite the considerable training and mentoring support provided by the UK and the rest of the International Community UNAMA found only a slight improvement in some areas since October 2011 and was critical of the standard of human rights compliance in Afghan detention facilities. We welcomed President Karzai’s decision to assign a delegation to investigate its findings and his instruction that its recommendations be implemented by his government and that those found guilty of mistreatment be brought to justice.
The UNAMA report on “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict” issued on 19 February. It found that there were 7559 civilian casualties (2754 deaths and 4805 injuries) in Afghanistan in 2012, 12% fewer than in 2011. The report attributed 6131 (or 81%) of the civilian casualties to the insurgency, many caused by indiscriminate attacks including the use of improvised explosive devices. This is 9% more than in 2011. Protecting the Afghan civilian population is an important part of our military strategy in Afghanistan. The International Security Assistance Force has made considerable efforts to minimise civilian casualties and to ensure that any incidents involving civilians are properly investigated.
On 3 March the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) issued their report “Citizens’ Access to Justice” monitoring the implementation of Presidential Decree 45 of July 2012. Decree 45 is concerned with good governance and anti-corruption measures within the Afghan government. The AIHRC say that the Decree has not yet had a significant impact on the process of law enforcement and the implementation of justice, including for human rights violations. Their report includes a number of recommendations to address issues surrounding the rule of law and reform of the country’s judicial systems.