Too many missed opportunities: Human rights in Afghanistan under Karzai

The modest human rights gains made over the past 12 years in Afghanistan are increasingly under threat with a resurgence of violence and women’s rights being degraded again, Amnesty International said today in an assessment of the rights record of President Hamid Karzai’s administration.

Ahead of the presidential elections on 5 April, Amnesty International has published a scorecard that assesses the government’s performance on six key human rights issues since Karzai first assumed power in 2001.

“Afghans will head to the polls on Saturday with the threat of violence hanging over them, but have shown they will not be intimidated. The Taliban’s promises to kill voters and election workers are beneath contempt – the authorities must make sure that polling stations and voters receive the protection they need,” said Horia Mosadiq, Amnesty International’s Afghanistan Researcher.

The scorecard notes undeniable progress on some issues, including freedom of expression and protecting the more than 600,000 internally displaced. But other issues have been almost wholly neglected by officials, such as accountability for civilian casualties or transitional justice.

“The Karzai government has to be given credit for some limited achievements on human rights in very difficult conditions. But the situation for millions of Afghans remains dire, and even the progress we have seen is very fragile,” said Horia Mosadiq, Amnesty International’s Afghanistan Researcher.

“Authorities have also spent the past decade turning a blind eye to certain ‘inconvenient’ issues, such as accountability for serious human rights violations and war crimes of the past – this neglect has to end with the next administration.”

On women’s rights, the limited progress of the past 12 years has been mainly due to the tireless work of Afghan women activists themselves. Women are now represented in public life and have better access to education. A landmark 2009 law criminalized many acts of violence against women.

But many of these advances are under threat or have already been rolled back. Few perpetrators of violence against women are brought to justice, while discrimination and domestic abuse are rife.  Women human rights defenders face daily death threats and harassment with minimal official protection or remedy.

“Afghan women have had to fight hard against their de facto status of second class citizens. But even their few gains are under threat, both from conservative elements in the government and armed groups like the Taliban,” said Horia Mosadiq.

“The international community must not leave Afghan women to fend for themselves after 2014. It would be devastating if governments turn a blind eye to the plight of Afghan women just because there are no more international troops in the country.”

The worsening security situation in Afghanistan has taken an enormous toll. Conflict-related casualties are at an all-time high since 2001 with the UN recording nearly 3,000 civilian deaths in 2013 alone.

Although the Taliban is responsible for the vast majority of the civilian casualties from the conflict, there has been little or no accountability for those caused by Afghan and international troops. International forces also look set to leave without having established an independent and effective mechanism to hold Afghan security forces to account for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as to provide reparations to victims.

“Unfortunately, conflict-related violence will likely continue or even increase over the coming years. Accountability for Afghanistan’s own security forces will be vital – today, victims and family members, by and large, live without justice or even compensation,” said Horia Mosadiq.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International published a human rights agenda that outlined key challenges for the next administration.

“Afghanistan’s next president cannot afford to treat human rights as a secondary issue. Any more trading away of rights for short-term gain will move the country backwards rather than forwards after 2014,” said Horia Mosadiq.