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Powerful Afghan Leaders 'Hijacking' Country, charges Human Rights Watch - 2003-07-29


A U.S. human rights group has warned in a new report that with less than a year to go before national elections, the human rights situation appears worsening in Afghanistan.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) blames Afghan warlords and influential political leaders for committing most of the human rights abuses. It said these people have "hijacked" Afghanistan outside of the capital, Kabul, and have created a climate of fear that is threatening political rebuilding.

This atmosphere, the report said, is endangering rights improvements made since the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition removed the Taleban from power in late 2001. The report warned that violent attacks and political intimidation toward women and girls are discouraging female Afghans from taking part in political activities.

"One of the most devastating effects is that many Afghans who would otherwise send their girls to schools are afraid to do so," said HRW researcher Zama Coursen-Neff. "They are afraid that their girls will be targeted by troops or gunmen if they let them go to school. It makes it more difficult for women and girls outside of Kabul to move around."

The report alleges the perpetrators are under the control of many high-level Afghan officials and political leaders, including defense and education ministers Mohamed Fahim and Yunus Qanooni and a former Afghan president, Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Speaking to VOA by telephone from Kabul, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad said the government has not yet decided how to react to the report. "I will not be able to - unfortunately at this point - make any statement," Mr. Samad said.

After coming into power, Afghan President Hamid Karzai appointed many warlords as regional governors. These leaders, with their own private armies, run their regions outside of of Kabul's control. Countries such as the United States, Russia, Britain and Iran back some governors.

Ms. Coursen-Neff said her organization is calling on these countries and others to stop supporting warlords involved in human rights abuses. She said that the immediate focus of the peacekeeping forces should be improving security.

"We urge the international community to be involved in disarmament, demobilization and re-integration both through monitoring and through actually collecting their arms, that that not be left to the Afghan government to do that without the heavy involvement of the international community," she said.

The Human Rights Watch report also describes political organizers and journalists being threatened with death and harassed by army, police and intelligence agents.