Afghanistan: Donors’ conference must prioritise human rights at critical moment

With Afghanistan at a critical moment, the international community must remain fully committed to protecting and building on the country’s significant yet fragile human rights gains, said Amnesty International, ahead of a major donors’ conference on 23-24 November.

The Geneva Quadrennial Pledging Conference on Afghanistan, co-hosted by the United Nations and the Finnish and Afghan governments, will be attended by representatives of more than 70 countries and international organizations and agencies. The conference will set development objectives and secure funding commitments for Afghanistan for the period 2021-2024.

Now is not the time for international donors to be scaling down or stepping back
Omar Waraich, Head of South Asia at Amnesty International

“Afghanistan is at a critical moment. Even as there is talk of peace, violence continues to surge, claiming hundreds of civilian lives, the protection of human rights is nowhere on the political agenda, and COVID-19 continues to run rampant in a country with one of the weakest health systems in the world. Now is not the time for international donors to be scaling down or stepping back,” said Omar Waraich, Head of South Asia at Amnesty International.

“International funding has been crucial to the limited but important progress we have witnessed on human rights in Afghanistan over the past two decades, but much more remains to be done. To ensure that these advances are not reversed, the Geneva Conference must maintain a focus on human rights objectives.”

“For its part, the Afghan government must demonstrate its ongoing commitment to defending human rights, safeguarding freedom of expression, and protecting minority groups.”

Amnesty International is calling on participants at the Geneva Conference to set objectives and commit funding to key areas including the rights of women and girls, conflict and civilian casualties, internally displaced people, human rights defenders, and access to justice.

Women and girls

The situation for women and girls in Afghanistan has vastly improved compared to under the Taliban regime. There are now 3.3 million girls in education and women are politically, economically and socially engaged. However, there remain major obstacles and challenges.

Violence against women is rife, the participation of women at all levels of government remains limited and, according to UNICEF, 2.2 million Afghan girls still do not attend school. Meanwhile, two decades of progress on women’s rights are at risk of being compromised through the peace talks.

“The Afghan government and donor partners must build on the hard-won gains made by Afghan women over the past two decades by making clear commitments to support programs to eradicate violence against women, strengthen women’s participation at all levels of government and increase girls’ access to education across the country,” said Omar Waraich.

Conflict and civilian casualties

The four-decade old conflict in Afghanistan continues unabated. During the first nine months of 2020, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented 5,939 civilian casualties in the country, including 2,117 killed and 3,822 wounded. Against the backdrop of peace talks, fighting between Afghan government and Taliban forces has intensified in recent months, claiming hundreds of civilian lives. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently investigating war crimes alleged to have occurred in the country since 2003.

The Geneva Conference is a key moment to reassert the central role that human rights must have in a future Afghanistan
Omar Waraich, Head of South Asia at Amnesty International

“Afghan civilians are paying a heavy price in this bloody conflict. The Geneva Conference participants must ensure that the protection of civilians and respect for international humanitarian law is at the centre of the ongoing peace negotiations,” said Omar Waraich.

“The conference should also emphasize that there must be accountability for serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by all sides in the conflict.”

Internally displaced people

The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Afghanistan continues to rise, with approximately four million people now displaced by conflict. IDPs are living in densely populated camps with limited access to clean water, healthcare, sanitation and employment.

With social distancing impossible in the camps, the situation of IDPs has worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Afghanistan. Living in small rooms with many family members, those testing positive are unable to safely quarantine. IDPs earning through daily labour work have also lost their income due to lockdown measures.

Amnesty International is calling on participants at the Geneva Conference to set objectives and make funding commitments to alleviate the plight of IDPs, through the provision of safe habitation and equal access to basic services.

Human rights defenders

Afghanistan’s brave and active human rights community continues to be threatened, harassed, and attacked. Despite promises made by the Afghan government in January, there is no accountable and implementable mechanism in place to protect human rights defenders.

“The Afghan government made a pledge at the start of this year to establish a mechanism to protect human rights defenders, yet activists are still risking life and limb by speaking out. The Geneva Conference must push the Afghan government to deliver on its pledge and make a funding commitment to help roll out the mechanism across the country,” said Omar Waraich

Access to justice

Despite the millions spent on improving access to justice for people in Afghanistan, the judiciary and legal system remains weak and unresponsive. Afghans face delays, intimidation and corruption when accessing formal justice mechanisms while the implementation of the law is patchy at best, with perpetrators frequently going unpunished and their crimes uninvestigated.

Amnesty International is calling on the Geneva Conference to commit to improving Afghanistan’s judicial system. The judicial system must be strengthened so that it provides immediate support to victims, investigates crimes and brings perpetrators to justice.

“The Geneva Conference is a key moment to reassert the central role that human rights must have in a future Afghanistan. To achieve this, it must commit to credible and measurable benchmarks to monitor human rights progress and, crucially, make clear to all parties to the peace talks that human rights are non-negotiable,” said Omar Waraich.

Background

For more information on the Geneva Conference, see here.

For more information on the rights of women and girls, see here.

For more information on civilian casualties, see here.

For more information on IDPs, see here.

For more information about the mechanism to protect human rights defenders, see here.