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US Demands Afghan Soccer Official Be Brought to Justice for Sexual Abuse

Fugitive former Afghan football chief, Keramuddin Karim, wanted for the sexual abuse of women footballers in Afghanistan, speaks during a defiant public appearance in the village of Malaspa near Bazarak in Panjshir province, north of Kabul, Sept. 4, 2020.

The United States is pressing authorities in Afghanistan to bring to justice an influential former head of the South Asian country’s soccer federation who is on the run from criminal charges of sexually assaulting multiple female players.

Washington’s acting U.S. Ambassador to Kabul Ross Willson tweeted Thursday that victims of Keramuddin Karim, the accused person in question, were “entitled to see justice done through a fair trial.”

Karim was serving as the president of Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF) before being investigated and found guilty of the allegations in June 2019 by the sport’s global governing body, FIFA. The organization banned Karim for life from all football-related activities at national and international level and fined him about $1 million, which he still owes to FIFA.

The verdict prompted the Afghan attorney general’s office to issue an arrest warrant for Karim after indicting him on multiple counts of rape, sexual assault, and harassment of female players. But Afghan authorities have since failed to detain and put the strongman on trial.

Two weeks ago, on August 23, Afghan security forces conducted a raid to capture Karim in his native Panjshir province, which he once governed, but local officials and his armed supporters helped him to again evade the arrest.

The botched raid came just weeks after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in a nationally televised speech called on the residents of Panjshir to “enforce the rule of law” and “expel” Karim from the province.

At least five members of the Afghan female team accuse Karim of repeated sexual abuse from 2013 to 2018 while in office. The victims alleged that the AFF president had threatened them with ruin if they did not comply when he sexually assaulted them in a locked room in his office.

“Women who rebuffed his advances were labeled “lesbians” and expelled from the team, according to eight former players who experienced such treatment. Those who went public faced intimidation,” the U.S. State Department noted in its human rights report for 2019.

Critics say Kabul’s inability to hold the former soccer official accountable underscores long-running concerns that Afghan warlords and influential officials, known for committing abuses, remain powerful and operate outside the law.

“Widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses were serious, continuing problems. The government did not prosecute consistently or effectively abuses by officials, including security forces,” said the U.S. annual report.

The controversy surrounding the former Afghan football official comes ahead of U.S.-backed direct peace talks between an Afghan government-appointed team and representatives of the Islamist Taliban insurgency to negotiate an end to the nearly two-decade long war.