Afghanistan: the blind pursuit of peace and reconciliation (openDemocracy, 6 marzo 2013)

06.03.2013 12:56

Our peace process is a vessel for enabling more human rights violations to ensue in the near future. We need the international community to join us in strengthening the human rights of Afghan women. Let no country stand alone in protecting its people, says Massouda Jalal

Afghanistan remains a cradle of human rights violations. This situation is abetted by many factors, including long-standing armed conflict, the inability of government to impose the rule of law, massive ignorance and disrespect for human rights values and principles, and deeply-rooted traditions that reproduce violence, women’s oppression, and perverted concepts of morality and honour.

As in many other countries, human rights issues in Afghanistan continue to take many forms – extra judicial killings; torture; poor prison conditions; widespread impunity; ineffective government investigations of abuses by local security forces; arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged pre-trial detention; judicial corruption; violations of privacy of rights; restrictions on freedom of the press, religion, speech and movement; official corruption; sexual abuse of children and minorities; denial of workers’ rights; child labour; and all forms of abuses against women - including brazen disregard of their rights and the use of force and violence to elicit continuing subservience and docility are among them.

Unfortunately, unlike other countries that have efficient mechanisms to avert and redress violations of human rights, human rights victims in Afghanistan do not have judicial or political recourse. This is because our justice system is part of the problem, and people in government are either lacking in capacity, or unwilling to face the complications that ensue when the law is enforced. Because of this, the heart of many Afghans is fast turning into a repository of anger, resentment, grief, and a desire for vengeance – very deadly combinations that only await time and cataclysmic events to burst out.  

The current political situation provides yet another impetus to the already alarming level of human rights violations in our country. Presently, amidst the international community’s announcement of a draw down in security, political, and development support, the government is blindly pursuing a peace and reconciliation process with the Taliban in a way that gives political concessions to high officials and extending economic assistance to combatants so that they may return to the fold of mainstream life.  Such peace process has already opened the floodgate for the return of criminals with long-standing offences like execution of innocent civilians, murdering of women under the guise of honour crimes, abduction and assassination of human rights activists, and mass murder through bombing and assault. 

Putting criminals back to the community without making them pay for their human rights offences is like tinkering with a time bomb.  It will not take long before the quench for justice of offended citizens collides with their returning offenders, to the detriment of peace in communities. Our peace process is actually a vessel for enabling more human rights violations to ensue in the near future. Unfortunately, the enormous amount of international assistance that is funnelled to peace in Afghanistan makes the whole process intoxicating. Because of this, many vital decisions are taken with eyes closed to their long-term ramifications. Eve Curie, a French-American writer, could not be more correct when she said that: “We discovered that peace at any price is no peace at all…. And we also discovered that there is something more hideous, more atrocious than war or than death; and that is to live in fear.”

To the minds of many people, the return of the Taliban signals an “open season” once more to extreme forms of women’s rights violations. The latest report of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission indicated that 4,010 cases of violence against women were recorded from March 21 to October 21 of 2012 -  74.42 % more than the 2,299 cases reported for the period 21 March 2010 to 21 March 2011.  UNAMA also reported that prosecutors registered 1,538 incidents - 34.39 % higher than the data for the previous period.  The worst part of it is that crime against women has not only increased, but had taken on more sinister forms.  Honour killing, which somehow rested during the past ten years, are back and so are beheadings, stoning to death, extra judicial prosecution and execution, mutilations, and other Taliban-style crimes.

In the midst of all this, we need you to join us in strengthening human rights watch in our country. We need you to call the attention of our government, and demand that more effective actions be taken to arrest any further increase in human rights violations. There is also a need to further empower women’s organizations in Afghanistan to document human rights violations, build informal support systems in communities for those who are facing threats of human rights abuses, and find effective ways of securing justice for offences committed against them within the framework of the judicial system. 

Likewise, we need to bring our justice mechanisms closer to the people, and increase the capacity of justice personnel to act with dispatch on human rights violations. Our transition process is fraught with loopholes that have to be remedied.  It does not have the support of the people, it works against lasting peace, and it is being pursued with utter disregard for justice or the voice of the majority.  We need the international community to reconsider its support to this peace process and call for a careful review of its strategies. 

Respect for human rights is a requirement for enduring peace. And lasting peace is a requirement to the long term enjoyment of human rights and justice. Let no country stand alone in protecting the human rights of its people. Human rights are not bounded by territory. They are a gift that every human being should keep secure for everybody. 

Dr Massouda Jalal had planned to attend the UN CSW in New York this week. Her sponsorship was withdrawn at the last minute. This article is the text of her presentation, Human rights challenges in the context of  Afghanistan’s peace process - one of four papers she had prepared to deliver in New York.