Statement by Dr. Sima Samar, Chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) 19 June 2019
New York City, New York
Mr. President, Distinguished Members,
It is a pleasure to brief you again on Afghanistan and I would like to thank you for supporting efforts towards peace, security and human rights in Afghanistan. I would also like to thank Germany and other member countries who have facilitated this briefing.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
After 18 years of cooperation and support from the international community, Afghanistan is entering a very important point in its history. Hope and optimism for promoting and protecting human rights and human dignity has never been higher. At the same time, the fear of going back to the time when Afghans, especially women and minorities, were denied their rights and freedoms has never been greater. Talks with Taliban have ignited a widespread and nationwide debate over a lasting peace. The popular demand is that the outcomes of talks should be in conformity with human rights, democratic and free society norms and values. The talks have produced concerns about the commitment of parties to preserving the Afghan progress on human rights, freedom, democracy and economic development.
This year the AIHRC launched a National Inquiry on Women, Peace and Security to give voice to the views of women and their expectations from a potential peace deal. The inquiry which took place in 30 provinces and included public hearings, focus groups and surveys of over 3400 women was an honest effort to engage women in peace and security. The results from the inquiry displayed the strong and clear understanding of Afghan women, who desire a lasting peace in which they play a role and are able to express their views and place their demands on the table.
Women from all over the country stressed the importance of the preservation of bill of rights in our constitution and demanded women’s rights, human rights and democracy should not be compromised or put on the agenda as an item for negotiation during any political talks. Women also emphasized the need for accountability, social justice and an end to the culture of impunity.
Women have demanded that a strong will for peace be shown by all parties and that they make commitments to the democratic and human rights norms and values. Afghan women were grateful for the remarks made by the SRSG in support of women’s role in peace and security at joint events that took place in Helmand, Kandahar and Kundoz.
I would like to use this forum today to call for a comprehensive, sustained commitment and strong political will to make it possible for women to continue to make progress and succeed. Women need to overcome the challenges of a traditional and conservative society in addition to the systematic and historic discrimination. I would like to ask the international community to provide long-term support for the promotion of gender equality for sustainable peace and development.
Afghanistan is in conflict. Over 41 years, the people experienced the extreme left government of PDPA and the extreme right of Taliban. The people witnessed the disappearance and killing of their loved ones and destruction of their homes. They were forced to become IDPs and refugees and their rights and freedoms were violated by the regimes without any accountability or justice for the victims. Women and other vulnerable groups suffered the most. The people had no role in choosing their government. After the fall of Taliban regime, we witnessed some progress on the promotion, protection and fulfillment of human rights. This progress includes reform of the laws according to the international human rights conventions, progress on fight against torture, and realization of political, civil, economic and social rights of all the people.
Unfortunately, the continuation of conflict, insecurity and increased level of attacks on civilians, civilian places, mosques and religious minority groups have resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties and IDPs. Last year, the number of civilian causalities was 11,212, which was a 19% increase. The Taliban and ISIS remain the main groups inflicting civilian causalities; in some cases, the Afghan security force and its international partners are also involved.
There must be a mechanism in place to heal the pain and wounds of victims. We need strong institutions and measures in place to prevent the reoccurrence of violence and gross human rights violations. Economic development is key to facilitating and maintaining long-term peace. Economic opportunities must be created and benefit women, youth and poor without discrimination. The prosperity and well-being of women and poor are requirements for lasting peace and stability.
Progress in Afghanistan on holding free and fair elections is also key to stability and security. The presidential election is set to be held in September. The commitment and cooperation of all candidates, political parties, and civil society on monitoring, observing and facilitating free and fair elections is very important to the legitimacy of the election. I would also like to call on the government and international community to support free and fair elections by refraining from interference, safeguarding voter safety and security, and providing financial support for a civic awareness program. I am happy to say that the AIHRC, with the support of UNAMA, will monitor the political rights through the human rights framework. The AIHRC will continue to verify rights to freedom of expression, association, and movement and monitor closely the four principles: impartiality, no interference, no intimidation and no discrimination.
Torture is a serious human rights violation and should not be allowed under any circumstance – against anyone and by anyone. Recently, the Afghan Special Forces rescued some hundreds of prisoners held by Taliban. Reports show that the Taliban has systematically tortured, mistreated or killed detainees and prisoners. While I condemn torture, perpetrators of torture should be held accountable. Despite the decrease in the number of torture cases in the detention facilities run by the government, we still remain concerned about the situation and lack of accountability in this regard.
Civil society and human rights defenders play important roles in promoting and protecting human rights, fostering democracy, and holding the state accountable. They face enormous challenges including security and shrinking space for their activities and programs. Support to civil society and human rights defenders must be in place and sustained.
I also would like to brief you on the situation of justice, accountability, rule of law and anti-corruption efforts. Despite some improvements, the situation still needs political will, investment, capacity building and public awareness. Holding the perpetrators of human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity accountable has been proving hard for our national judiciary mechanisms. The ICC decision to initiate investigation in the situation of Afghanistan created some hope last year, though hopes faded away when the pre-trial chamber rejected the prosecutor’s request for the investigation. Ending the culture of impunity is key for building confidence between people and the state, which, in turn, is necessary to facilitate the peace process. Access to justice is not a luxury; it is a basic human right.
In regard to accountability for corruption cases, some progress has been made. Though many officials were successfully prosecuted, the public perception has remained skeptical regarding the progress; there are concerns that prosecutions have been selective and only against those who don’t have a strong political base. I hope further actions are taken to improve the administration of justice and change public perception.
Last year, the AIHRC conducted research on racial discrimination. More than 20% of Afghans felt they are discriminated against. It is important to improve the sense of social justice and inclusion, so all feel equal and no one is left behind politically, economically, or socially.
Children attending schools in millions is a critical sign of progress in the country. However, many children continue to suffer from being forced out of schools, child labor and different kinds of abuses. The AIHRC National Inquiry on Child Labor shows that little has been done to protect children from child labor and they are exposed to violence and harassment. The Taliban and ISIS continue to use children in conflict and to target girls’ schools.
Members of the Security Council,
Allow me to talk about the millions of people with disabilities and addicted to drugs in Afghanistan. While they make a large number of the population, they suffer from neglect, lack of support and social security, and discrimination. We must work toward the full realization of their rights. I would call on the government to allocate adequate budget to support the people with disability and addiction for their rehabilitation and reintegration in the society.
Finally, while all parties should agree on ceasefire to end civilian suffering and war must be over, healing the wounds and attention to the victims of conflict must be a priority for the Afghan government and international community in order to avoid the continuation of revenge and violence. Accountability and justice include not only criminal justice, but also establishing a realistic mechanism to promote lasting reconciliation.
I would like to call on the Security Council and the United Nations to step up efforts to safeguard a lasting peace, democratic and human rights norms in the country. It is necessary to engage all ethnic, religious and civil society groups, including meaningful participation of women, youth and victims, in the planning, negotiation and implementation of a peace plan for Afghanistan. No one should feel threatened or left outside of the process and all realistic and legitimate expectations and concerns must be effectively addressed. Transparency of the peace process is needed to increase the support of the public for the process and reduce suspicion among the different ethnic groups.
We should learn lessons from the Afghan conflict and peace deals in the past 40 years and other peace processes around the world not to sacrifice accountability and justice for a short-term political deal. We need to have patience and comprehensive strategy for peace-building. In 2004, the AIHRC issued a report, A Call for Justice, based on the National Consultation on Transitional Justice. I would like to request that the UN support the next stage of the transitional justice process to address the people’s desire for peace, justice and reconciliation.
Peace, security and sustainable development are not possible without promotion, protection and respect for human rights, which are a shared responsibility of Afghans and the international community.