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Afghan Refugees Protest Human Rights Abuses - 2002-12-10

Hundreds of Afghan refugees have demonstrated outside the United Nations office in Islamabad against human rights abuses in Afghanistan. The protest comes as the Afghan minister for refugees arrived in Islamabad to discuss repatriating Afghans living in Pakistan.

The demonstrators chant "long live democracy, long live freedom and down with fundamentalism." These several hundred mostly Afghan women and children do not want to go back home, saying they are afraid. Some are dressed in shrouds, naming Afghan warlords they said killed their loved ones.

The Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) staged Tuesday's protest to coincide with international human rights day.

Marina Tareen is a senior member of the Afghan rights group and says conditions are not safe for these people to go home. She criticized the United States and its allies for allowing leaders of Afghanistan's factional Northern Alliance to take power after the war on terrorism dislodged the Islamic fundamentalist Taleban. Ms. Tareen asserts that life in areas controlled by the Northern Alliance is not any better than under the previous leaders.

"We want to tell the world and we want to use this opportunity to give this awareness to the world community that by changing the people we cannot change the system. There must by a basic change. We want the world community, we want the United Nations to control Afghanistan. We want first of all the disarmament of all the warring factions because the war is still going on because there are different warring factions in the power and each one of them is thirsty for power," Ms. Tareen said.

She said her group has not witnessed any signs of stability, security, end of war or reconstruction since the fall of the Taleban. Another demonstrator, Ms. Hamasa, expressed similar concerns.

She said that most of the current Afghan rulers are the same thieves of the past. She said that by removing the turban and wearing the neckties does not change their character.

The demonstrators handed a statement to the U.N. officials urging the international community to make its aid to Afghanistan contingent on action against violators of human rights. It also urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai to take action against the corrupt elements and Islamic militants in his government.

The protest comes as Afghan Refugees Minister Enayatullah Nazari arrived in Islamabad Tuesday to discuss the on-going repatriation efforts. More than a million Afghan refugees are still living in Pakistan and the United Nations is assisting with their voluntary return.