Afghan Human Rights Workers Under Threat
January 23, 2016   By:    Bagram   Comments are off   //   584 Views

Ahmadzai said there were hundreds of prisoners still in detention Bagram prison, a former US facility now back under sole Afghan control, despite having been cleared by court decisions.

 “There is one prisoner who has already served his 20-year period of his imprisonment, but because some of powerful individuals in the government are against his release, he is still in prison despite spending 24 years there,” he said.

Activists accuse the authorities of being unwilling or unable to ensure the rule of law.
 
ByMina Habib

Human rights work in Afghanistan faces a greater threat from elements within the government than from the armed insurgents, according to experts.

They warn that government forces are often unwilling or unable to ensure the rule of law, leading to an increase in violations. Activists also told IWPR that new legislation may further imperil basic rights.

“Our staff members have been threatened even by high-ranking government authorities,” Lal Gul, chairman of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organisation, told IWPR.

He said that influential powerbrokers posed more of a problem than threats from armed insurgents. Assaults on his staff had gone unpunished he added, noting a grenade attack on their head office eight months ago.

Despite his staff cooperating fully with the security forces and petitioning the president’s office, there had been no progress into the search for the culprits, Lal continued.

“If fifth columnists and powerful people were not involved in this attack, why is it being covered up?” he asked.

Political analyst Atiqullah Amarkhail was also convinced that some threats against human rights workers emanated from high-ranking figures within the government.

“As long as there are criminal individuals within the body of the government, the law will not be implemented nor human rights ensured,” he said.

Sima Samar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) told IWPR that weak governance and patchy implementation of the law had led to higher rates of violations.

 “Unfortunately, there is no suitable political commitment from the government to bringing about justice and ensuring human rights, which is our biggest problem. Some individuals currently in power are accused of the violation of human rights.”

The AIHRC came into conflict with the previous government of Hamid Karzai over this issue.

In December 2011, the commission was due to present a major report on three decades of human rights abuses in Afghanistan, which was said to include the names of former warlords who are currently high-ranking government officials.

The report was never published, and at the time Samar said, “When I asked the president to guarantee the safety of commission members once the report was published, Hamed Karzai gave me a negative response”.

GRAVE CONCERNS OVER ABUSES

Experts in the field marked last year’s international human rights day on December 12 by issuing dire warnings of an increase in violations across the country.

Douglas Keh, United Nations Development Program Afghanistan country director, told a ceremony at Kabul university that he had grave concerns about the situation.

 “There are few countries that face such intense conflicts as Afghanistan. Under these circumstances people cannot receive their fundamental rights and have no access to justice,” he said.

Abdul Basir Anwar, minister of justice of Afghanistan, acknowledged that there was a problem.

“The cause for the continuing violation of human rights is the lack of rule of law; I call on all institutions to bring human rights violators to justice and punish them in accordance with the law,” he said.

However, AIHRC spokesman Rafiullah Baidar said that a major problem was corruption across the entire system, particularly in the judiciary.Criminals who are well-connected or in positions of power themselves felt free to act with impunity, he said, adding that legal action was rarely taken against such offenders.

Baidar complained that this unequal implementation of the law meant that justice was impossible.

“Unfortunately, due to the fact that those who violate human rights have powerful friends in government, we have mostly been unable to achieve our aims [as an organisation].” he said.

AIHRC regional head Shamsul Haq Ahmadzai highlighted some specific examples of what he said was corruption in the legal system.

Ahmadzai said there were hundreds of prisoners still in detention Bagram prison, a former US facility now back under sole Afghan control, despite having been cleared by court decisions.

 “There is one prisoner who has already served his 20-year period of his imprisonment, but because some of powerful individuals in the government are against his release, he is still in prison despite spending 24 years there,” he said.

Baidar warned of recent legislative moves that he said completely contradicted human rights principles. 

He gave an example of an annex to the Afghan penal code created in September 2015.

 “This extension means that the security institutions can put someone accused of a crime under surveillance for an undefined period of time and without any documentation. The intelligence service can also keep an individual in prison after their term has ended if [they deem it] necessary.”

Despite repeated requests, the spokespeople of the attorney general’s office and the ministry of interior affairs declined to be interviewed.

Zafar Hashimi, deputy spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, said that the government cooperated fully with human rights advocacy groups.

He said that the president was committed to bringing war criminals and human rights violators to justice and would not tolerate corruption.

 “The duty of the government is to implement the constitution and in the constitution, there is no room for those who betray people and make illegal deals,” Hashimi said, adding that if human rights groups encountered problems they should lodge official complaints.

Some experts said that the only way the situation could improve was through outside intervention.

“The Afghan government should observe the human rights conventions that Afghanistan is party to,” said Gul, of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organisation. “The international community and the United Nations should put pressure on the Afghan government to respect human rights and to ensure the security of the employees of these organisations.”

Political scientist Amarkhail was also convinced that the situation could only be changed through outside pressure.

 “Right now the only way forward is for these human rights bodies to get in touch with international advocacy organisations so that they pressurise the government of Afghanistan to cooperate with the groups working here to ensure human rights,’ he said. “Otherwise, human rights violators will remain within the government, and will always create problems and prevent justice being done.”

This report was produced under IWPR’s Promoting Human Rights and Good Governance in Afghanistan initiativefunded by the European Union Delegation to Afghanistan.

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