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Afghan Governor No Friend of Human Rights, Organization Says - 2002-11-05

A human rights group says the situation in most of Afghanistan remains grim, especially outside of Kabul. Human Rights Watch says widespread abuses have taken place in part of western Afghanistan under the command of the local governor Ismail Khan.

In its 51-page report, Human Rights Watch said Ismail Khan may be a friend of the international community but he is an enemy of human rights. The report focusing on western Afghanistan and the city of Herat documents a pattern of widespread political intimidation, arrests, beatings and torture by police and security forces ruled by Ismail Khan.

John Sifton is one of the co-authors of the report and was recently in Herat. He said Ismail Khan, who took power in late 2001, has created his own ministate there, and the abuses under his power are very serious.

"These are not just lingering parts of the past. This is a deteriorating situation. It was better, in fact, earlier in the year. Ismail Khan is cracking down even more than he was before. He is essentially a tyrant. He suffers no criticism, his opponents are arrested and beaten, local journalists have been intimidated, no independent newspapers, no independent television or radio - everything is under his control.

Human Rights Watch has said much of Afghanistan is still under the hands of violent commanders and undisciplined troops and that the international community has helped provide these "warlords" with weapons and power.

Mr. Sifton says when driving out the Taleban was the most important goal, such action may have been necessary but now Afghanistan is in need of international human rights monitoring. He says much attention has been paid to Kabul with international media and foreign presence there, but the rest of the country cannot be forgotten.

"In the short term, peacekeeping forces need to be expanded from Kabul. They are the ones who can do this best. You can't entrust warlords with peacekeeping, it's impossible. And we would also like to see the U.N. mission vastly expand its monitoring mechanisms. We really feel it is much too small right now," Mr. Sifton said.

Mr. Sifton said the ultimate goal is to help Afghanistan establish a strong central authority, an army, a legitimate police force, and civil institutions that will guarantee human rights.

But he said that cannot happen while the country remains an "undemocratic collection of fiefdoms." He said his organization is almost expecting the human rights situation in western Afghanistan to get worse before it gets better.

"We (Human Rights Watch) have this cynical view that the best thing that could happen right now is for the situation to get worse because it would show the United States and its allies that Afghanistan was not liberated as they thought, but in fact that it is facing serious, serious problems," he said.

Human Rights Watch has called on international donors to ensure that aid does not go through Ismail Khan or his government. In its report, the organization asks that assistance be channeled through the national government or non-governmental agencies.