International Agencies Express High Concern over Human Rights in Afghanistan

Since the success of the first parliamentary election in Afghanistan in mid-September, international agencies have expressed high concern over the progress of human rights.

Since the success of the first parliamentary election in Afghanistan in mid-September, international agencies have expressed high concern over the progress of human rights, calling on further improvement for a stable democratic new government to be achieved.

According to a press briefing by U.N. spokesperson Adrian Edwards and by U.N. agencies in Afghanistan on Oct. 24, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), Louise Arbour, is due to present a report on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan to the U.N. General Assembly next week.

The report noted that the human rights situation in the country "remains of great concern" even though it has made great strides since the hard-line Islamic Taliban government was overthrown by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.

The report highlights the problem of impunity, exploitation of women’s rights and child abuse, according to Agence France Presse (AFP).

Under the traditional Islamic social setting, Afghan women often face discrimination and abuse. They were refrained from basic education and health care during the Taliban regime. The report noted that the situation of women has improved, but only in certain respects.

Although more of them are in the paid workforce and education system, “the stark reality is that women in Afghanistan, especially outside of Kabul and urban areas, and particularly among the poor, are generally still viewed as the property of men," the report continued, according to AFP.

Women are also killed in the name of honor, forced into prostitution, raped and subjected to sexual and domestic violence, the report added.

Concerning the lives of Afghan children, child marriage is being identified by Arbour as a major challenge. The U.N. High Commissioner pointed out that in order to settle debts or disputes, "girls as young as seven years of age are made to marry much older men, sometimes 30-40 years older," AFP reported.

In addition, cases of children who have started working as young as six and boys being recruited by the Taliban as soldiers are very prevalent, according to the report.

About 20 percent of Afghan children are dead before their fifth birthday, with most children dying from preventable diseases, the report added.

Meanwhile, violence in Afghanistan has been escalating despite of the United Nations’ peacekeeping operation. Even though the Taliban was removed from power, they vowed to topple the new government and play a major role in an insurgency that has claimed about 1,400 lives this year.

"Factional commanders and former warlords remain major power brokers, and the activities of anti-government entities and of the government and international forces combating them continue to take a toll on civilians," the report was quoted by AFP as saying.

There is now a worrying trend that the non-government organizations have been increasingly targeted by insurgents, a statement from the UK-based human rights agency Christian Aid revealed.

According to Christian Aid, a staff member from the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (CHA) relief agency, one of Christian Aid’s partner organizations in Afghanistan, was allegedly attacked and killed by Taliban guerrillas in the north-western province of Faryab, on Oct. 20.

Twenty-five other aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan in this year. Christian Aid pointed out that Afghanistan suffered the highest number of NGO casualties in the world last year.

"These attacks reduce the process of development and cut humanitarian services to Afghan communities," warned Dr Mohammed Fareed Waqfi, the head of CHA in Kabul. "This incident was not the first or the last…"

The Christian Aid lamented the lack of coordination between Afghan national forces and international military forces, giving opportunities for the militants’ misbehaviors.

"It is imperative that all countries who have committed troops and money for reconstruction in Afghanistan work harder with the Afghan government to put in place an effective and coordinated security strategy," urged Ben Hobbs, Christian Aid’s advocacy officer.

Hobbs added, "The rule of law needs to prevail over the existing culture of impunity - indeed no lasting economic and political development can take place without this."

Arbour’s report also echoed the problem of impunity, stating that "little progress has been made to date towards bringing to account those most responsible for serious human rights violations during the decades of conflict, some of whom remain in positions of influence if not authority."

"… violations continue to be perpetrated with apparent impunity by armed strongmen in many parts of the country," the report stated, according to AFP.

In its conclusion, Arbour’s report stated, "No matter how many elections are held in Afghanistan, the people will not be able to enjoy their human rights until the rule of law is a fact, impunity is a feature of the past, state institutions are credible and effective, and women are treated equally with men."

"Enjoyment of human rights is a key indicator of the transition of a nation from a state of armed conflict to one of peace and stability," wrote the human rights envoy, as quoted by AFP.

Arbour’s report is now available on the U.N. documents website. An accompanying statement by Arbour to the Third Committee of the General Assembly will be available after next week's session, AFP reported.

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