News / Asia

Weak Government and Poor Security Blamed for Afghan Rights Situation

Gary Thomas

The U.S. government's annual human rights report calls Afghanistan's human rights record poor but says much of that is because the security situation deteriorated sharply in the past year.  But, the Afghan government continues to engage in some controversial practices.

The State Department's annual report says Afghanistan racked up a poor human rights record with extrajudicial killings, torture, restrictions on the press, and violence and discrimination against women.  

But it says that increased insurgent attacks, particularly in previously unaffected areas of the north and northeast of the country, have hampered effective government and hindered humanitarian efforts.  The report says the Taliban and other insurgent groups exploited or sometimes manufactured reports of human rights abuses for propaganda reasons.

The report notes that President Hamid Karzai's re-election last year was marred by reports of widespread vote manipulation, but falls short of calling the election fraudulent.

President Karzai recently issued a decree claiming power to name all members of the Electoral Complaints Commission which investigated the complaints of electoral fraud.

Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch says the disputed election and President Karzai's takeover of the Electoral Commission are troubling.

"This is really dirty politics, and it's not about good governance, rule of law, and it's a very worrying sign," said Brad Adams. "So I think the Electoral Commission is a big problem.  And if the U.S. doesn't come out hard on the election, then this will not be an honest report."

The Afghan parliament also recently passed a law granting members of parliament amnesty for all human rights violations committed before December 2001.

Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Michael Posner said that while both developments happened after the report was written, they are not being ignored.  But, he added, Afghanistan is in the midst of a war.

"There are real subjects here for ongoing concern," said Michael Posner. "Look, Afghanistan's in the middle of a violent conflict.  It creates all sorts of tensions.  But it is - this report and our ongoing advocacy and diplomacy in Afghanistan, is very much focused on making sure that the country begins to move in the direction of more democratic rights respecting policies and actions."

But Brad Adams claims President Karzai is no longer standing up to some of the warlords responsible for many of Afghanistan's human rights abuses.

"He did this to curry favor, it seems, with very powerful warlords in the government and in parliament and outside of government, when in the past he had been willing to confront some of them," he said. "So these two things signal, I think, that Karzai has become part of the problem, no longer a moderate and part of the solution."

The report calls corruption endemic in Afghanistan, spurred on a lack of political accountability and low salaries.

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