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Afghan Police Criticized for Alleged Human Rights Abuses - 2003-06-11

As Afghanistan's transitional government works to set up a viable justice system, some international observers are concerned about reported human rights violations by the police. In some cases, Afghan law enforcement bodies are more a source of fear than of safety.

The human rights group Amnesty International says it is receiving numerous accounts of rights violations at the hands of Afghan police officers.

Margaret Ladner, the group's representative in Afghanistan, says allegations against police include arbitrary detention and acts of torture.

Part of the problem, she says, is a lack of proper training and adequate pay.

"You have police across the country, most of whom have never had any proper training," she said. "They are many former mujahedin, former soldiers, and they've been folded into the police force. There have been a number of problems of getting salaries to them and the salaries that they are paid - when they are paid - are inadequate."

Ms. Ladner, who is working on a report on Afghan prisons due out early next month, says conditions in the countryside are especially troublesome. She says police there often report to local warlords rather than to the central government.

But even in the capital, Kabul, the police force has drawn criticism. The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch alleges that officers putting down a student protest in the city late last year fired shots into the crowd of demonstrators, killing at least three people.

Ms. Ladner adds that Amnesty International is also looking into cases of troops from the U.S.-led coalition forces detaining terror suspects without legal process.

"This results in a system that's very arbitrary, where people who are detained have no idea why they're detained and their family members have no idea why they're being detained," said Ms. Ladner.

She says that while Amnesty International understands the need for U.S. action against terrorism and insurgency in Afghanistan, such goals can be achieved while still meeting international human rights standards.