Thursday, December 30, 2010

Afghanistan - The People’s December Review
December 25, 2010

In the first person voice of Abdulai, a fifteen year old Afghan boy whose father was killed by the Taliban:

“The place where I live is the worst place on earth in which to be born . Good thing my mother survived her pregnancies . But my father -- he didn’t survive the war. Isn’t it strange that there is a graveyard marked out especially for children in my small remote mountain village? A quarter of all children do not live beyond five years of age and they are buried there; we already have to find new space because the graveyard is filled. As 42 percent of Afghans live in poverty , my family could not afford a proper grave for my father for five years. My father would have understood our predicament: in a land with the worst food risk in the world , we make do with whatever food and clean water we can get. Since we don’t have electricity , we are grateful for diesel lamps. And most importantly, my father would have understood that we still struggle to stay away from the killings.

Since War World II, wars have killed mainly civilians and this war in Afghanistan is no exception. In fact, we now have nowhere to turn and nowhere to hide . We face night raids , computerized aerial bombings and the armed players who neither recognize our language nor our faces.

Many of our families and friends have sought refuge in far-away places . What can our people do? Wait to die of sickness or violence? Be pawns in the warlords’ games? I made hand-sewn leather cell-phone peace pouches for our ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ in Kandahar and I know that before the NATO commander had launched the current offensive there, 94% of Kandaharis said they wanted peace talks , not war. But the US led coalition went ahead and launched its deadly military operation. They proved their utterly un-democratic, unimaginative addiction to an unchanging military solution.

Karzai said that more than 42 percent of children in Afghanistan still have no access to schooling : at least, that’s not as fatal as the three children killed daily in the conflict last year . If you don’t grasp how the Afghan state is the third most corrupt in the world , come take our school exams to experience the rampant bribery and cheating this war encourages. Like other war-torn countries, the influx of weapons and un-accounted monetary aid fosters corruption, fuelling deceit at all levels of our society.

Drugs made from poppies grown in our country are everywhere, with more than a million drug addicts in country . Perhaps, being doped is better than putting up with our sheer lack of work and recourse to government services or justice. Last year, estimates are that we Afghans had to pay $2.49 billion dollars in bribes to our own government officials , which is equivalent to 23% of our country’s GDP.

But heck it….we don’t even want your money! Two billion of which you spend on the military weekly and the remaining dirty trickle cannot even be accounted for by your Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) .

My mother and sister say to you that you can forget about promoting ‘women’s rights’ with your uniformed pride. Last year, there were 2300 suicides related to depression among women and girls . And don’t ever claim that a military strategy can stop them from taking their lives. Neither the US-NATO coalition nor our warlords can, with their violence, stop the desperation of our people. In fact, like the people caught in the Helmand operation that was declared a success, the women of Afghanistan want you, with full responsibility, to transition out as soon as possible .
President Obama, please completely rethink the ‘progress’ you declared in the
December review . To Ms. Hillary Clinton and Mr Robert Gates, we’re sorry for
your dismissal of world public opinion . Now, get ready for its flood!

This People’s December Review sought to speak from the ‘hearts and minds’ of ordinary Afghan people, commoners who share the same pain experienced by the impoverished and unheard masses everywhere.

It is a reflection of life as it really is for the people of Afghanistan.

The world should listen.

The people of the world should be listening to one another, because governments are not.

President Obama declared in his administration's December Review that there was ‘significant progress’ for America’s goals in Afghanistan.

He claimed to be ‘on track.’

But, Abdulai’s People’s December Review shows how far off-track Obama is from the people’s concerns and how U.S. foreign policy gives no alternative options for any citizen.

There ARE alternative options and views, a small number of which we’ve listed below, starting off with Prof. Noam Chomsky’s views expressed in the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers’ recent conversation with him.

In the bigger scheme of history, for too long now, the strategies for resolving global conflicts have been built predominantly around military force.

Soul-force must be given a chance.

Excerpts of interview with Prof Noam Chomsky
In a conversation with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers on the 17th of December 2010 for The People’s December Review.

On Obama’s claims of ‘significant progress’
…it’s worth noting that a few days ago the International Commission of the Red Cross released a report which is extremely unusual for them, -they rarely do it,- in which they said that the situation on the ground has deteriorated radically. They gave particulars and said it’s now far worse than it’s been in the past. They’re actually working there and have experience. Plainly that’s not consistent with the picture of progress.

On self-determination by the people
I know for me at least and the people I work with in the antiwar movement the goal for Afghanistan would be for Afghans themselves to take over the planning, the determination of what will happen ,so that there won’t be a review conference in Washington where they have their own goals, --the welfare of the people of Afghanistan is not high among them,-- but rather the decisions will be made by people like you and others in Afghanistan who have the fate of your country and your lives at heart and people of the US here should support your efforts in whatever way we can.

….But there is extensive study that demonstrates that there is a very wide gap between the decisions of the government and the will of the population. That’s true on domestic issues. It’s true on international issues, and it reflects the fact that though the U.S. is an unusually free country by comparative standards, it’s only in a very limited way a functioning democracy.

Power does not lie in the hands of the population except in a very limited way and popular opinion does not determine policy. And that’s in fact one of the reasons why there’s such hysteria over the leaks of government documents. Anyone who has studied secret documents for many years, as I have, knows one of their main purposes is to protect the government from the population, not security, but just keeping the public controlled and obedient. That’s a battle that has to be constantly fought in the more free societies as well to try to overcome this dysfunctional element of formal democracy which keeps it from functioning properly. Popular movements have in the past and should in this case too integrate themselves with those of other countries and form a common force, often against their own governments.

On reparations
Afghanistan has a very dramatic, important history of independence, but for the last thirty years it has simply been a plaything of the great powers which have virtually destroyed it. All of them. All of the ones who were involved owe Afghanistan not aid but reparations. Apology and reparations. That includes Russia, of course, and certainly the United States and it also includes Pakistan. Aid sounds like something we give out of our good nature or good will. Reparation means what we are responsible for providing because of the extreme damage we have caused. And yes, that‘s a very important demand. It should be made here and should be made in Afghanistan.

On the question of U.S. intentions in Afghanistan: eventual withdrawal or permanent presence?
At this point, I think it’s not unlikely that even just for domestic, political reasons, the U.S. will try to find a way to withdraw most of its forces and try to portray it as some kind a victory. That’s for domestic reasons.
But, I don’t think that’s what should concern us. We’re not concerned with making officials in Washington look good to their associates.
We should be concerned with what matters for the people of Afghanistan. And that’s of course for you and others like you to decide. Success, I would understand as meaning success in achieving your aims, not Washington’s aims.

On what Afghan and international peace activists should focus on
What Afghans should focus on is finding ways to join together to formulate their own ideas and plans as to the course of policy, internal to Afghanistan, and their demands on other countries that are engaged in Afghanistan. That means primarily the US but also others that are involved.

Afghans should formulate those goals and policies jointly with people in the rest of the world, in particular in the United States that work to support those plans, so the activists in the United States should be and to an extent are waiting to hear from people of Afghanistan. What do you want us to do?

A Sample of Alternative December Reviews

"So what's my option?" the president asked his war cabinet, seeking alternatives...
You have essentially given me one option. ...It's unacceptable.”
Obama's Wars, Bob Woodward

“Why not talks?”
“Why not reconciliation?”
“Why not non-violence?”

1. World Public Opinion Polls

International public opinion is largely opposed to the war in Afghanistan

The latest ABC polls show that 60 % of Americans think that the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting.

An earlier ABC/Washington Post Poll showed that Afghans have turned more negative in their assessment of the presence and performance of U.S. and NATO forces

Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates tried to belittle this significant public opinion. Read how they dismissed public opinion and democracy.

2. Letter from Afghan Experts to Barack Obama
Read how these Afghan Experts call Obama's strategy unsustainable

3. National Intelligence Estimates NIE
Read how 2 new NIE reports cast doubts on the Afghan war progress

4. Other Studies/Reports
A New Way Forward: Rethinking US Strategy in Afghanistan published by Washington-based Afghan Study Group

"Strategic Survey 2010" released by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies

Both studies above conclude that "a Taliban takeover is unlikely even if Washington reduces its military commitment" in Afghanistan, in good measure because the conditions that allowed the first Taliban takeover in the 1990s no longer exist and can't easily be repeated. As important, "there [are] no significant Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan today, and the risk of a new 'safe haven' there under more 'friendly' Taliban rule is overstated.”

Afghan Women Speak by David Cortright of Kroc Institute which expresses Afghan women’s recommendations to the US and NATO governments for a responsible withdrawal.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Harmful Traditional Practices and Implementation of the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women in Afghanistan

Georgette Gagnon, UNAMA’s Director of Human Rights; and Ahmad Fahim Hakim, Deputy Chairman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

Kabul – 9 December 2010

UNAMA: Good morning. Thank you all for coming. Today’s launch of UNAMA's human rights report: Harmful Traditional Practices and Implementation of the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women in Afghanistan coincides with our celebration of International Human Rights Day, which is tomorrow 10 December. Every day, but on International Human Rights Day in particular, we commend the courage, commitment and dedication of all Afghan defenders of human rights and today we pay special tribute to those who defend the rights of Afghanistan women and girls. We are very pleased to have with us today the Deputy Chairman of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Ahmad Fahim Hakim, who himself and his group are the key defenders of human rights in Afghanistan.

The report we are releasing today - and this is a very important point - represents the voices and views of Afghan men and women on harmful traditional practices. These include forced and child marriage, giving away girls to settle disputes under baad, honour killings and other forms of violence against women.

The report describes the prevalence of these practices; it look at the consequences these practices have on the lives of Afghan women and girls and the community as a whole and it also looks at the efforts of the Afghan Government to address violence against women, in particular the Government's implementation of the 2009 Law of Elimination of Violence Against Women.

This law, also know as the EVAW law came into force in August 2009. It represents a huge gain of legal protection of women's rights, because the law says customs, traditions and practices that cause violence against women, contrary to the religion of Islam, should be eliminated . The law makes it a crime to buy and sell women for marriage, to force a woman to marry without her consent, to force girls to marry when they are underage, and to force girls and women to commit self-immolation - when they set themselves on fire - and a number of other acts.

Now this report that we are releasing today is based on extensive research, direct discussions, and interviews with Afghan men and women, religious leaders, and Government officials, in almost all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces and it is also based on UNAMA human rights monitoring and the follow up of many, many individual cases of harmful traditional practices and violence against women.

What were the findings of our report? First, almost all the Afghan men and women we spoke to said they know there are harmful traditional practices in Afghanistan and they identified practices such as child marriage, forced marriage, baad, honour killings and inheritance of widows, among some other practices.

The second finding is these harmful practices are widespread, occurring in varying degrees in all communities - urban and rural - and among all ethnic groups and these practices have been worsened by more than 30 years of insecurity and poverty.

The next finding is that these practices are rooted in discriminatory views and beliefs of the role and position of women in Afghan society and have caused suffering, pain and humiliation and marginalisation for millions of Afghan women and girls.

For example, on child marriage we found as have other agencies such as UNIFEM, that half of all girls are married under the age of 15 and we were quoted a popular saying in many communities: "If you hit a girl with your hat and she doesn’t fall over, it’s time to marry her.”

And, of course, child marriage has lasting and damaging consequences for women and girls. They are often denied the right to health and education and this is reflected in the fact that Afghanistan has the worst maternal mortality rate in the world.

Our next finding is that often women and girls have no escape from the violence they experience everyday. They suffer physical and mental abuse and many told us that other than running away they have no option but to take that violence.

One very harmful practice that we heard a lot about is baad, which is the giving away of girls to settle disputes. Many of the women told us that instead of the murderer being punished, an innocent girl is punished and she has to spend all her life in slavery and subject to cruel violence. Sometimes she is forced to sleep with the animals in the barn.

Now a little bit of good news is that inspite of the prevalence of these practices, our research, interviews and discussions indicated that many communities are opposed to these harmful practices. One Provincial Council member in the northern region said that these practices can change or decrease over time. People tend to oppose baad even in rural areas have understood the negative consequences and have begun to value female family members.

Before I hand over to my colleague, one other key finding of the report is that many religious scholars and elders told us that many of these harmful practices are inconsistent with Sharia law. The role of religious leaders and community elders and to both continuing and ending these practices is critical.

AIHRC [summarised from Dari]: My colleague has highlighted the main findings. It was actually appalling to see the malpractices and enhanced victimisation of the women in Afghanistan. But to focus on solutions—one of the key players in Afghanistan are the religious elders and the ulemas who can enhance their efforts and awareness-raising of their constituents in mosques and all other available means they have. Since we have been witnessing various patterns of violence against women, it causes young girls and women to leave their houses and commit suicide and self-immolation. These are the shocking consequences of not dealing with violence against women.

Fortunately the implementation of the EVAW law is based on Article 54 of the Constitution to combat those practices that are violating women's and children's rights.

The good news is that now the level of awareness of this issue is being put into practice. In the last couple of days we heard from the Ministry of Interior that they arrested the father-in-law of Bibi Aisha, the lucky victim, who was rescued. For sure we have hundreds of Bibi Aishas in Afghanistan. So, this clearly shows that now our national forces, particularly police, can distinguish to some extent between the victim and the criminal and how to treat them.

Another point that I want to highlight is this misinformation about the effective role of shelters that emanates from a lack of awareness. Those women and girl victims of domestic violence who are forced to leave behind their homes—the only appropriate place for them is shelters not prisons. In the absence of shelters they are treated as criminals and put in prisons. We hope there will be an end to this since Afghanistan is committed to implementing the UN Millennium Development Goals. We hope this report enables the human rights support unit of the Ministry of Justice which was solely established to translate these recommendations into practical steps in terms of laws and official procedures.

UNAMA: One quick point is that ‘running away,’ which was mentioned is not a crime under Afghan law. Yet half of the female prison population in the country is in prison for a moral crime such as running away. That is a shocking statistic. Finally we would like to say that in our view little meaningful and sustainable progress for women's rights can be achieved in Afghanistan as long as women and girls are subject to these practices that harm, degrade, humiliate and deny them basic human rights. Ensuring the human rights of Afghan women is crucial, especially in this current peace, reintegration and reconciliation process and in their access to healthcare, education and employment. There are a lot of safeguards on paper but we all need to see much better implementation. Of course, the report makes a number of key recommendations to the Government, the police, religious community and international donors and we, the human rights community, are urging all these actors to move on these recommendations without delay to save the lives of women and girls. Thank you.

Questions and Answers:
RFE/RL: I wanted to know what you want the Government of Afghanistan to do to prevent violence against women in Afghanistan? Do your findings show that some Afghan law enforcement authorities are unaware of the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law? Many of these officials are unwilling or even unable to implement the law. Why don’t you want to disclose the names of these officials?

UNAMA: As you can see in the report there are 15 recommendations to the Afghan Government including the president. A couple of key ones are for the president to highlight continually that women’s rights are a priority in the peace, reintegration, and reconciliation process and also urging different Government authorities to implement the EVAW law quickly. Seven Government ministries have been tasked under the EVAW law. We are also calling on the authorities to consider ways and means to get these girls detained [for running away] released as quickly as possible.

AIHRC: Regarding your question: why do we not name, I think in this regard there is a need to bring awareness of this issue up and that protection and defense mechanisms should exist. While administrative corruption and impunity is existing in some parts of the administration that could create an additional risk for victims. When these mechanisms are put properly in place then names could be disclosed.

UNAMA: Regarding revealing in a public form the names of different officials who may not be acting properly under the law we have taken much of this information to the authorities we have done this in the areas with the local authorities and discussed getting some changes at those levels in addition, of course, to the highest level we have recommended that the Ministry of Interior, the police, the judges and the courts give out specific instructions, guidelines and supervise the activities of police in this area both at the local level and at the national level.

Saba TV [translated from Dari]: Could you tell us the number or percentage of the increase of violence against women? And tell us the factors behind the increase of violence against women and how the Government is successful against violence against women?

UNAMA: We don’t have a percentage per se. That’s not what is in the report. The whole report says clearly the reasons why this is still happening across the country. There are many factors and I have already described a number of them. The key thing is that those who are committing these practices must be brought to justice. And the communities that are letting this happen need to speak out. And we’ve indicated how they should do that.

BBC: My question was on the last point you made regarding factors of violence against women. These factors are not new. This is not the first time we are hearing this. In the last seven or eight years we have seen many of these reports. Why are you not doing something practically to eradicate that and what has been done to eliminate this violence?

UNAMA: What is new is that there is a new law that came in which is just over a year old. What is also new is that there have been some steps taken under the law to prosecute those who are committing these harmful traditional practices. What is also new is that many, many communities that we spoke to oppose them and many are working and to try and address the attitudes. But what is important is to keep highlighting that there is a problem. You have to keep highlighting issues like this and push to get them fixed.

AIHRC: I highlight that civil society groups, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and UNAMA are not executive bodies, but advocacy ones. They are doing advocacy work and raising the voice of the people. We are keen to enable the Government to fulfill its commitments.

El Mundo: How many shelters are there for women in Afghanistan right now? You said that many women have any no option but to run away?

UNAMA: Regarding the number of shelters there are not many shelters across the country and for a number of reasons - security reasons in particular - we don’t give out numbers. I can help you to find that exact information. The Elimination of Violence Against Women Law and the activities of the Department of Women Affairs at the provincial level are important. The law is designed to help women deal with violence in their home and communities and to get assistance through registering complaints with police and others and to go to shelters. The Department of Women’s Affairs has a key role in making this happen together with various women’s civil society groups. In terms of registering marriages one of our key recommendations if you looked at the report is that two people who are supposed to get married actually go to the registry office in person to be registered. This may be a way to deal with problems with very, very young girls who are getting married. That is addressed in our report.

El Mundo: What about registering?

AIHRC: This is not a common practice. This does happen in some cases. This is our suggestion to have it enforced. Unfortunately the new registration documents are not available to all. Sadly due to corruption and due to bureaucracy it’s time consuming. That’s why they revert to the old practices. That is another concern.

Noorin TV [translated from Dari]: Yesterday we spoke with the Deputy of Minister of Women Affairs who rejected that the fact that there had been an increase in violence against women. She said women had become more aware to their rights. The other main factor is that women have been asked to register if they face any violence. Is that the only reason violence against women has increased? What’s your view on this?

UNAMA: It is a very well known fact that once women feel they can report violence against women the number of reports go up. That’s a well-known fact and that’s a good thing because you want women to go to the court and to register their complaints, to get their complaints investigated and people prosecuted.

Of course the concern is that there are many cases we have heard about where women do not go and register a complaint and who are unable to get out of the situation they are in and use other ways to deal with it like setting themselves on fire or running away. But as we said the good news is there is a lot more awareness that these practices are not only hurting women, but the community as a whole and there have been some steps to deal with them.

Pajwok [translated from Dari]: With regard to the positive aspect of the decrease of violence against women, despite positive signs, why is the participation of women in the Government decreasing and what’s the main reason behind this? And about the implementation of the law of elimination of violence against women how do you think such law will be fully implemented in a country like this?

UNAMA: The report says quite clearly that implementing this law could help to end violence against women, not end all violence against women. Obviously there are all kinds of things that the community and the young men in this room need to do to promote better the rights of women and girls and, as we said in the report, the religious community and religious leaders are really important in all of this. The report is at the side of the room. It is quite a long report but has got a lot of interesting things in it. I urge you to read every word about it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

UNICEF calls for a comprehensive Child Act in Afghanistan

Kabul, 23 November 2010- Afghanistan needs a comprehensive Child Act fully in line with the provisions and principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In Afghanistan today one in five children die before reaching their fifth birthday - mostly from easily preventable diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia – five million children are still out of school, over three million of whom are girls, and only six percent of children are registered at birth, leaving the great majority without a legal identity, protected and cared for by law.

”We are acutely aware of the difficulties facing the Government of Afghanistan in seeking to fulfill the rights of children in the country, especially in light of the ongoing conflict”, said UNICEF Representative Peter Crowley. “It is the responsibility of the Government of Afghanistan to ensure the existence of a complete legal framework to fully protect all children. UNICEF will continue to assist in that process”.

UNICEF welcomes the several important pieces of legislation and policies that have been developed and adopted since 2002; however inconsistencies remain between national legislation and the provisions of the Convention, as do challenges in ensuring effective implementation. Furthermore, while the Constitution of Afghanistan adopted in 2004 provides for progressive guarantees of international human rights standards, there is little direct reference to the specific rights of children.

It is for these reasons that UNICEF recommends to the Government that it prepare a comprehensive Child Act to encompass the full array of children's rights, backed by the necessary resources for implementation, as well as means to monitor and provide appropriate forms of redress. The Act would supersede all preceding legislation not in line with the Convention, and accord to the Convention a legal status that could be directly invoked within the domestic legal system. Once in place the successful implementation of a Child Act will require the fullest possible ownership and commitment from the senior-most levels of the Government of Afghanistan.

It is clear that legislative and policy frameworks alone will not automatically lead to the effective protection of child rights in Afghanistan. Awareness-raising on children’s rights among the general population will be vital, as will specific training for all relevant professionals with a duty of care towards children, including all law enforcement officials, national security forces, and education and health personnel. Furthermore, the specific integration of child and human rights education into the school curriculum is needed so that all children in Afghanistan understand the rights to which they themselves are entitled.

Finally, despite the efforts already made to ensure the rights of all children, both girls and boys, from all areas of Afghanistan, there continue to be clear disparities among the child population of the country.

Poverty, disabilities, the impact of conflict, gender inequalities and the rural-urban divide all clearly affect access, or the failure of access, to basic education, health and other services. Targeted measures will therefore be required to address all such disparities. Equity considerations must be foremost in all planning and budgeting decisions that impact the welfare of children whoever they are and wherever they may live in the country.


Monday, November 22, 2010

NATO summit must protect basic human rights in Afghanistan

Amnesty International has urged NATO leaders to protect human rights and ensure security for the people of Afghanistan as they prepare for the 2010 NATO Lisbon Summit.

The organization has sent letters to NATO leaders urging them to improve accountability for Afghan and international military forces, tackle arbitrary detention and torture and ensure human rights guarantees during any talks with the Taleban.

"As NATO begins to discuss its withdrawal from Afghanistan, it's crucial to explain to the Afghan people exactly how the international community will follow through on its promise to protect and promote their human rights," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Programme Director.

"These promises seem about to be discarded without fanfare, but the need for improving the human rights situation in Afghanistan is even more urgent now."

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said that the 2010 Summit will mark a fundamentally new phase in NATO's operation in Afghanistan, as Allies will launch the process by which the Afghan government will take the lead for security throughout the country.

In letters to NATO leaders, Amnesty International has identified three concrete steps to improve governance, uphold the rule of law and human rights that would enhance security and stability for the Afghan people.

1. Improve the accountability of international and Afghan military and security forces
The Taleban and other insurgent groups are responsible for the vast majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, but that does not excuse the continuing lack of accountability and compensation for casualties caused by NATO and Afghan forces.

The current lack of accountability fuels and fosters resentment among Afghans that international forces are above the law and unaccountable for their actions, particularly when it comes to civilian casualties.

NATO continues to lack a coherent, credible mechanism for investigating civilian casualties. Non-binding guidelines adopted in June 2010 by NATO regarding civilian compensation need to be implemented as part of the existing rules of engagement.

2. Ensure no arbitrary detention or transfers to torture
The United States continues to arrest and detain hundreds of Afghans without proper judicial process. NATO countries continue to hand over detainees to the Afghan intelligence agency, National Directorate for Security (NDS), which has record of perpetrating human rights violations, with impunity.

The increase in the scope of fighting in Afghanistan as a result of the troop surge earlier this year is likely to lead to a rise in the number of people detained. The US government should immediately grant all detainees held by US, whether in Bagram, Guantánamo Bay or any other US detention facility, access to legal counsel, relatives, doctors, and to consular representatives, without delay and regularly thereafter.

The Afghan government and its international partners should seek mechanisms to ensure fair trials for those in detention, including the option of mixed tribunals to try those apprehended in counter-insurgency operations by either Afghan or international forces.

3. Guarantee human rights protections during reconciliation talks with the Taleban
Amnesty International calls on delegates to the NATO Summit to ensure that human rights, including women’s rights, are not traded away or compromised during any political process, including reconciliation talks with the Taleban in Afghanistan and that, in line with the demands of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, Afghan women are meaningfully represented in the planning stages and during the reconciliation talks.

"The implementation of these three steps would help signal that the interests of the Afghan people are the focus of the NATO governments and the international community," said Sam Zarifi.

The NATO Summit will convene in Lisbon on 18-19 November 2010. The Summit provides members with the opportunity to evaluate and shape the strategic direction for NATO activities, launch major new initiatives and forge partnerships with non-NATO countries. There have only been 24 Summits since NATO was established in 1949.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

British doctor feared among 10 dead in Afghanistan ambush

Bodies of western medical team and two Afghan interpreters found in Badakhshan province near their bullet-riddled vehicle

Karen Woo, the British doctor believed to have been killed in Afghanistan
Karen Woo, the British doctor believed to have been killed in Afghanistan when a medical aid expedition was ambushed.

A female British doctor is understood to be among at least 10 people murdered by gunmen in the far north of Afghanistan on Friday.

The group included eight foreigners – one of them a Briton – six Americans and a German working for a project run by a small Christian aid organisation called International Assistance Mission (IAM).

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility saying the attack was on "Christian missionaries" who were carrying bibles. It is possible the Taliban were simply exploiting early media reports about killings they in fact had nothing to do with.

A British doctor called Karen Woo was known to be on the expedition and played a major part in organising it, including by running fundraising events in London and Kabul to pay for the "Nuristan Medical Expedition 2010".

Woo, from London, had established an organisation called Bridge Afghanistan to help run medical projects in the country.

Writing on the expedition's Facebook page, Woo described herself as the team doctor and said she would run the mother and child clinics inside Nuristan. She wrote that the team also included an eye doctor and a dental surgeon.

According to IAM the group were returning from a several week long trip to provide basic health in a remote area of Nuristan province when they were attacked by gunmen in a forested area of Badakhshan, the most north-eastern of Afghanistan's provinces.

Their bullet-riddled bodies were discovered by local officials on Friday next to three shot-up vehicles.

Dirk Frans, the director of the Christian organisation, said IAM had last been contacted by the group via satellite phone on Wednesday.

In a short statement on its website, the organisation said the victims were likely working on the organisation's "eye camp team" project in Nuristan at the invitation of local communities and were returning to Kabul when they were attacked.

"At this stage we do not have many details but our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those who are presumed killed. If these reports are confirmed we object to this senseless killing of people who have done nothing but serve the poor. Some of the foreigners have worked alongside the Afghan people for decades."

General Agha Noor Kemtuz, the local police chief, told the Observer they were having lunch in heavily forested area at around 2pm when around 10 gunmen arrived and took all their money before shooting them one by one.

"They had been warned by locals not to stay in the forest because it is not safe," he said.

He said the only surviving member of the party was an Afghan man called Safiullah whose life was saved after he desperately recited passages from the Koran as the gunmen were executing the other people.

General Kemtuz said there had been 11 people in the party including three Afghans and eight foreigners.

Whilst the US embassy confirmed it believed several Americans were among the dead, the British embassy was unable to confirm whether any British citizens were killed.

"We are aware of the reports and are actively investigating them with local authorities and others in country," a spokeswoman for the embassy said.

Woo described the trip into the remote area of Nuristan in gruelling terms, saying much of it would be done on foot and with pack horses, travelling 120 miles and climbing 16,000ft at one point.

"The expedition will require a lot of physical and mental resolve and will not be without risk but ultimately, I believe that the provision of medical treatment is of fundamental importance and that the effort is worth it in order to assist those that need it most," she wrote.

With local officials reporting that almost everything of value was removed from the vehicles, it is widely assumed that robbery was the main motivation for the attackers.

However, a spokesman for the Taliban told the Associated Press that the hardline insurgent movement killed the group because they were "preaching Christianity" and "spying for the Americans".

The NGO, which has been operating in Afghanistan since 1966, describes itself as a non-profit Christian organisation that works on health projects and economic development.

However, there are many such Christian aid organisations operating in Afghanistan all of whom take enormous care not to be seen to be proselytising or seeking to convert Afghans. Such allegations, including some in May against Norwegian Church Aid, can quickly stir up enormous public controversy.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ethnic Cleansing in Afghanistan in a Vedio was notified today of this video on YouTube. Taped by Mr. Mohammad Ahmadi in the Hazara area of Behshood, Afghanistan, the video shows a pick-up truck piled high with goods looted from the Hazara homes in the background.

Note that the goods include rugs, appliances, and large sacks of grain— all valuable items that can be re-sold. On the ground, clothing and other items have been strewn in the dirt. The goal is to discourage Hazara, who fled attacks that have led to many dead and wounded, from returning to their homes.

The Hazara people have lived in Behsood for at least 3,000 years, but their Asian roots and beliefs, stemming more from Buddhism than Islam have made them continual targets of Pashtuns. Hazara culture promotes democracy, equal justice, women’s rights and education for all, which has been a great problem with the autocratic Taliban supporters and fundamentalist Muslims, who have been intent on dispersing millions of Hazara and weakening their influence in modern Afghanistan.
This is of special import to the Obama Administration, the U.S. Army, and the families of the 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, because the Hazara are the most solid supporters of America’s anti-terrorist, anti-drug trafficking, and anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan.

As the Hazara are disenfranchised, having their land and personal property destroyed and stolen, their homes burned, and their loved ones murdered, the U.S. is losing the most important foundation for building a just peace in Afghanistan. hopes that U.S. officials, including Hillary Clinton, Ambassador Eikenberry, and President Obama recognize the ethnic cleansing that is occurring, with the consent of the Afghan National Army, and that Hamid Karzai and the Afghan government take immediate actions to prevent it and provide restitution and justice.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Taliban Kill 9 Members of Minority in Ambush

KABUL, Afghanistan — At least nine Hazara men have been killed in an ambush in a remote area of central Afghanistan that is largely controlled by the Taliban, the police and a local representative of the Afghan intelligence service said Friday.

The area where the attack took place is dominated by Pashtuns, the same as the
Taliban, while the victims were Hazaras, an Afghan ethnic minority who fought
the Taliban when they were in power. The Taliban took responsibility for the
attack late Friday.
On Thursday, the Hazaras had come to the district center of Khas Uruzguan; they were ambushed as they were driving home in the early evening, said Juma Gul Himat, the provincial police chief. The attack occurred in a mountainous part of southeastern Uruguan Province that is not under government control, according to Afghan security officials.
Afghan law enforcement officials said they believed that the ambush and assassination took place because the Hazaras are viewed as spies and informants to NATO troops and Special Operations forces in the area.
Mr. Himat said he understood that the Taliban had accused the Hazara men of being spies for the NATO coalition. Many interpreters for NATO and Special Operations forces are Hazaras, according to the police chief and the intelligence representative.
About two weeks ago, Special Operations forces working with Afghan commandos raided a house in the area where mostly Hazaras live, but where there are also scattered Pashtun families. The Special Operations forces and the Afghan commandos killed several militants and three brothers of a Taliban commander who were all in the house, said the intelligence representative. Afterward, someone told the Taliban that it was Hazaras that had tipped off the Special Operations forces about the house.
Although there were reports that the men were beheaded, the area is so remote that both Mr. Himat and the intelligence representatives said they had not been able to verify the account. One man survived the attack, but they had not yet spoken to him, Afghan security officials said.
“We have not seen the bodies, but we have reports that some were shot, some were stabbed and some of their bodies were mangled, in pieces,” the national intelligence representative said.
The Taliban took responsibility for the attack late Friday in a text message sent to journalists, saying they had killed 10 village elders because they were trying to form a traditional local militia known as an arbiqui. However, they denied beheading them.
“For the last two years, we have been telling them not to form arbiquis,” said a Taliban spokesman, Qari Youssef Ahmadi, reached by telephone. “And they have not heeded our advice, and we finally decided to take action against them. And yesterday they went to Khas Uruzguan and met with district officials and some foreigners, and on the way back they were ambushed and were killed.”
Three NATO servicemen were also killed Friday, according to a statement from the NATO spokesman here. One died in a homemade bomb attack in southern Afghanistan, while two others died in attacks in eastern Afghanistan. A fourth was killed Thursday by a homemade bomb in southern Afghanistan.
Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pakistan: Massacre of Minority Ahmadis

(New York) – Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments should take immediate legal action against Islamist extremist groups responsible for threats and violence against the minority Ahmadiyya religious community, Human Rights Watch said today.

On May 28, 2010, extremist Islamist militants attacked two Ahmadiyya mosques in the central Pakistani city of Lahore with guns, grenades, and suicide bombs, killing 94 people and injuring well over a hundred. Twenty-seven people were killed at the Baitul Nur Mosque in the Model Town area of Lahore; 67 were killed at the Darul Zikr mosque in the suburb of Garhi Shahu. The Punjabi Taliban, a local affiliate of the Pakistani Taliban, called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility.

On the night of May 31, unidentified gunmen attacked the Intensive Care Unit of Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, where victims and one of the alleged attackers in Friday's attacks were under treatment, sparking a shootout in which at least a further 12 people, mostly police officers and hospital staff, were killed. The assailants succeeded in escaping.

“The mosque attacks and the subsequent attack on the hospital, amid rising sectarian violence, underscore the vulnerability of the Ahmadi community,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s failure to address religious persecution by Islamist groups effectively enables such atrocities.”

The US Department of State annual report on human rights recorded the killing of 11 Ahmadis for their faith in 2009.

Human Rights Watch called on Pakistan's government to immediately introduce legislation in parliament to repeal laws discriminating against religious minorities such as the Ahmadis, including the penal statute that makes capital punishment mandatory for “blasphemy.”

Human Rights Watch also urged the government of Punjab province, controlled by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party, to investigate and prosecute as appropriate campaigns of intimidation, threats, and violence against the Ahmadiyya community by Islamist groups such as the Sunni Tehrik, Tehrik-e-Tahafaz-e-Naomoos-e-Risalat, Khatm-e-Nabuwat and other groups acting under the Taliban’s umbrella. Leaders of these groups have frequently threatened to kill Ahmadis and attack the mosques where the killings took place. The anti-Ahmadiyya campaign has intensified in the past year, exemplified by the government allowing groups to place banners seeking the death of “Qadianis” (a derogatory term for Ahmadis) on the main thoroughfares of Lahore.

The independent, non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Ahmadi community leaders told Human Rights Watch that they had repeatedly brought these threats to the notice of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the provincial government, and the police controlled by the provincial authorities, and that they had asked for enhanced security for Ahmadiyya mosques given their vulnerability to attack. However, Human Rights Watch research found that the provincial government failed to act on the evidence or to ensure meaningful security to the mosques.

On May 30, Zaeem Qadri, advisor to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, said in an interview on Dunya TV that the provincial government had failed to remove the threatening banners from the city’s thoroughfares in order to prevent “adverse reaction against the government” by the groups responsible. On the same day, a Taliban statement “congratulated” Pakistanis for the attacks, calling people from the Ahmadiyya and Shia communities “the enemies of Islam and common people” and urging Pakistanis to take the “initiative” and kill every such person “in range.

“The Punjab government is either in denial about threats to Ahmadis and other minorities or is following a policy of willful discrimination,” said Hasan. “The Punjab government’s law enforcement authorities need to dispense with traditional prejudices and proactively protect heterodox communities like the Ahmadis, who now are in clear and serious danger from both the Taliban and sectarian militant groups historically supported by the state. ”

Founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Ahmadiyya community is a religious group that identifies itself as Muslim. Estimates suggest at least two million Ahmadis live in Pakistan. Ahmadis differ with other Muslims over the exact definition of Prophet Mohammad being the “final” monotheist prophet. Many Muslims consider the Ahmadiyya to be non-Muslims.

The persecution of the Ahmadiyya community is wholly legalized, even encouraged, by the Pakistani government. Pakistan’s penal code explicitly discriminates against religious minorities and targets Ahmadis in particular by prohibiting them from “indirectly or directly posing as a Muslim.” Ahmadis are prohibited from declaring or propagating their faith publicly, building mosques or even referring to them as such, or making the call for Muslim prayer.

Pakistan’s “Blasphemy Law,” as section 295-C of the Penal Code is known, makes the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy. Under this law, the Ahmadiyya belief in the prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is considered blasphemous insofar as it “defiles the name of Prophet Muhammad.” In 2009, at least 50 Ahmadis were charged under various provisions of the blasphemy law across Pakistan. Many of these individuals remain imprisoned.

Since the military government of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq unleashed a wave of persecution in the 1980s, violence against the Ahmadiyya community has never really ceased. Ahmadis continue to be killed and injured, and have their homes and businesses burned down in anti-Ahmadi attacks. The authorities continue to arrest, jail and charge Ahmadis for blasphemy and other offenses because of their religious beliefs. In several instances, the police have been complicit in harassment and the framing of false charges against Ahmadis, or stood by in the face of anti-Ahmadi violence.

“Ahmadis unfortunately become easy targets in times of religious and political insecurity,” said Hasan. “The Pakistani government has emboldened the extremists by failing to take action. It needs to repeal the laws used to persecute Ahmadis, and it must prosecute those responsible for anti-Ahmadi intimidation and violence.”

However, the government seldom brings charges against perpetrators of anti-Ahmadi violence and discrimination. Research by Human Rights Watch indicates that the police have failed to apprehend anyone implicated in such activity in the last several years.

Since 2000, an estimated 400 Ahmadis have been formally charged in criminal cases, including blasphemy. Several have been convicted and face life imprisonment or death sentences pending appeal. The offenses charged included wearing an Islamic slogan on a shirt, planning to build an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore, and distributing Ahmadi literature in a public square. As a result, thousands of Ahmadis have fled Pakistan to seek asylum in countries including Canada and the United States.

Human Rights Watch said that the Pakistani government continues to actively encourage legal and procedural discrimination against Ahmadis. For example, all Pakistani Muslim citizens applying for passports are obliged to sign a statement explicitly stating that they consider the founder of the Ahmadi community an “imposter” and consider Ahmadis to be non-Muslims.

“Under Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law, virtually any public act of worship or devotion by an Ahmadi can be treated as a criminal offense,” said Hasan “Ahmadis could be sentenced to death for simply professing their faith.”

Human Rights Watch urged concerned governments and inter-governmental bodies to press the Pakistani government to:

  • Repeal the Blasphemy Law;
  • Prosecute those responsible for harassing, and planning and executing attacks against the Ahmadiyya and other minorities; and
  • Take steps to encourage religious tolerance within Pakistani society.
  • “Pakistan’s continued use of its blasphemy law against Ahamdis and other religious minorities is despicable,” said Hasan. “As long as such laws remain on the books, Pakistan will remain a laboratory for abuse in the name of religion.”

    Background on the Ahmadiyya community

    The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the official name of the community, is a contemporary messianic movement founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1839–1908), who was born in the Punjabi village of Qadian, now in India. The relevant discriminatory laws in the Pakistani constitution and extremist Islamist groups derogatorily refer to the Ahmadiyya community as the “Qadiani” community, a term derived from the birthplace of the founder of the movement. In 1889, Ahmad declared that he had received divine revelation authorizing him to accept the baya’ah, or allegiance of the faithful. In 1891, he claimed to be the expected mahdi or messiah of the latter days, the “Awaited One” of the monotheist community of religions, and the messiah foretold by the Prophet Mohammed. Ahmad described his teachings, incorporating both Sufi and orthodox Islamic and Christian elements, as an attempt to revitalize Islam in the face of the British Raj, proselytizing Protestant Christianity, and resurgent Hinduism. Thus, the Ahmadiyya community believes that Ahmad conceived the community as a revivalist movement within Islam and not as a new religion.

    Members of the Ahmadiyya community (“Ahmadis”) profess to be Muslims. They contend that Ahmad meant to revive the true spirit and message of Islam that the Prophet Mohammed introduced and preached. Virtually all mainstream Muslim sects believe that Ahmad proclaimed himself as a prophet, thereby rejecting a fundamental tenet of Islam: Khatme Nabuwat (literally, the belief in the “finality of prophethood” – that the Prophet Mohammed was the last of the line of prophets leading back through Jesus, Moses, and Abraham). Ahmadis respond that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a non-law-bearing prophet subordinate in status to Prophet Mohammed; he came to illuminate and reform Islam, as predicted by Prophet Mohammed. For Ahmad and his followers, the Arabic Khatme Nabuwat does not refer to the finality of prophethood in a literal sense – that is, to prophethood’s chronological cessation – but rather to its culmination and exemplification in the Prophet Mohammed. Ahmadis believe that “finality” in a chronological sense is a worldly concept, whereas “finality” in a metaphoric sense carries much more spiritual significance.

    The exact size of the Ahmadiyya community worldwide is unclear, but estimates suggest they number under 10 million, mostly concentrated in India and Pakistan but also present in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Europe, and North America.

    Background on persecution of the Ahmadiyya in Pakistan

    The Ahmadiyya community has long been persecuted in Pakistan. Since 1953, when the first post-independence anti-Ahmadiyya riots broke out, the relatively small Ahmadi community in Pakistan has lived under threat. Between 1953 and 1973, this persecution was sporadic but, in 1974, a new wave of anti-Ahmadi disturbances spread across Pakistan. In response, Pakistan’s parliament introduced amendments to the constitution which defined the term “Muslim” in the Pakistani context and listed groups that were deemed to be non-Muslim under Pakistani law. Put into effect on September 6, 1974, the amendment explicitly deprived Ahmadis of their identity as Muslims.

    In 1984, Pakistan’s penal code was amended yet again. As a result of these amendments, five ordinances that explicitly targeted religious minorities acquired legal status: a law against blasphemy; a law punishing the defiling of the Quran; a prohibition against insulting the wives, family, or companions of the Prophet of Islam; and two laws specifically restricting the activities of Ahmadis. On April 26, 1984, Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq issued these last two laws as part of Martial Law Ordinance XX, which amended Pakistan’s Penal Code, sections 298-B and 298-C.

    Ordinance XX undercut the activities of religious minorities generally, but struck at Ahmadis in particular by prohibiting them from “indirectly or directly posing as a Muslim.” Ahmadis thus could no longer profess their faith, either orally or in writing. Pakistani police destroyed Ahmadi translations of and commentaries on the Quran and banned Ahmadi publications, the use of any Islamic terminology on Ahmadi wedding invitations, the offering of Ahmadi funeral prayers, and the displaying of the Kalima (the statement that “there is no god but Allah, Mohammed is Allah’s prophet,” the principal creed of Muslims) on Ahmadi gravestones. In addition, Ordinance XX prohibited Ahmadis from declaring their faith publicly, propagating their faith, building mosques, or making the call for Muslim prayer. In short, virtually any public act of worship or devotion by an Ahmadi could be treated as a criminal offense.

    With the passage of the Criminal Law Act of 1986, parliament added section 295-C to the Pakistan Penal Code. The “Blasphemy Law,” as it came to be known, made the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy. General Zia-ul-Haq and his military government institutionalized the persecution of Ahmadis as well as other minorities in Pakistan with section 295-C. The Ahmadi belief in the prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was now considered blasphemous insofar as it “defiled the name of Prophet Muhammad.” Therefore, theoretically, Ahmadis could be sentenced to death for simply professing their faith. Though the numbers vary from year to year, Ahmadis have been charged every year under the Blasphemy laws since their introduction.

    In 2009, at least 37 Ahmadis were charged under the general provisions of the Blasphemy Law and over 50 were charged under Ahmadi-specific provisions of the law. For example, in January 2009, five Ahmadis, including four children, were charged with blasphemy in Layyah district of Punjab province. The children were released after being jailed for six months. In July 2009, activists of the Sunni Tehreek, a militant group, staged protests until the local police in Faisalabad district of Punjab province agreed to register blasphemy cases against 32 Ahmadis for writing Quranic verses on the outer walls of their houses. The police registered cases against them under sections 295-A and 295-C. Throughout 2009, Ahmadi graveyards were threatened with desecration, and Ahmadi mosques continued to receive threats. In 2008, at least 15 Ahmadis were charged under various provisions of the Blasphemy Law. In addition to blasphemy charges, Ahmadis have sporadically come under physical attack. For example, in June 2006, a mob burned down Ahmadi shops and homes in Jhando Sahi village near the town of Daska in Punjab province, forcing more than 100 Ahmadis to flee. The police, though present at the scene, failed to intervene or arrest any of the culprits. However, the authorities charged seven Ahmadis under the blasphemy law. The Ahmadis subsequently returned to their homes. In October 2005, masked gunmen attacked Ahmadi worshippers in a mosque in the near the town of Mandi Bahauddin in Punjab province. Eight Ahmadis were killed and 18 injured in the attack. The perpetrators remain at large.

    Human Rights watch

Saturday, June 5, 2010

UN Criticises CIA Drone Attacks

A UN human rights expert has criticised the US government's covert program to use unmanned drones to strike terrorists inside Pakistan

The attacks are not likely to stop or change, despite the criticism from the UN.

US officials insist the CIA program has been an effective tool to take out insurgents along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, particularly those hidden beyond the reach of the military.

The stepped-up use of drones over the past year has shown no signs of slowing down and was credited earlier this week with the killing inside Pakistan of al-Qaida's third in command.

The Obama administration does not acknowledge the secret program, but one senior US official defended its use Wednesday, saying a careful and rigorous targeting process is used to avoid civilian casualties.

The program, which officials say has killed hundreds of insurgents in dozens of strikes over the past year, has been condemned by critics who say it may constitute illegal assassinations and violate international law.

In a 29-page report released Wednesday, Philip Alston, the independent UN investigator on extrajudicial killings, called on countries to lay out rules for carrying out such strikes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Kabul Car Bomb Targets U.S. Convoy

KABUL, Afghanistan—At least 18 people, including six coalition-force members, were killed and almost 50 were wounded when a suicide car bomber targeted a U.S. military convoy outside an Afghan military-recruitment center in Kabul Tuesday morning, police officials said.
A spokesman from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said six "international service members were killed and several wounded" in the attack. 21 Afghan civilians were killed too.
Gen. Khalil Dastyar, the deputy police chief of Kabul, said the dead NATO members were American as one of the six was a Canadian colonel, the highest-ranking Canadian killed since the country's Afghan mission began in 2002.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack, saying that a car loaded with 550 kilograms of explosives rammed into a U.S. convoy at about 8:30 a.m. local time. The blast destroyed at least 12 civilian vehicles, one of them a bus. NATO said five of its vehicles were damaged.

The bomber targeted a small convoy of U.S. military vehicles moving along the road near the recruitment center, officials said. The road also skirts a U.S. military base, Camp Julien, that hosts a counterinsurgency training academy for Afghan and U.S. military personnel.

"Today's attack was part of the Al Fatah operation, and we will continue attacking foreigners and government security forces and their associates," Mr. Mujahid said.

Earlier this month, the Taliban announced the launch of a spring offensive called Al Fatah, Arabic for "to conquer" or "victory." The Taliban said the offensive would besiege Afghanistan's major cities, and target the diplomats and infrastructure of both the Afghan government and NATO.

The Taliban's ability to strike in the capital underscores the insurgents' potency as coalition forces seek to oust them from the southern city of Marjah and are gearing up for a campaign to secure Kandahar, the Taliban's heartland.

The death toll from the attack could rise, according to an official. Afghan interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said the "death toll is unclear" because officials are still checking hospitals. He said it had been weeks since the last attack in the capital.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Press Freedom Day

This World Press Freedom Day, whose theme is Freedom of Information, offers us an occasion to remember the importance of our right to know.

Freedom of Information is the principle that organisations and governments have a duty to share or provide ready access to information they hold, to anyone who wants it, based on the public’s right to be informed.

The right to know is central for upholding other basic rights, for furthering transparency, justice and development. Hand-in-hand with the complementary notion of freedom of expression, it underpins democracy.

We may not consciously exercise our right to know. But each time we pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV or radio news, or go on the Internet, the quality of what we see or hear depends on these media having access to accurate and up to date information.

Obstacles in the way of our right to know take many forms, from a lack of resources and inadequate infrastructure to deliberate obstruction.

Far too many journalists exercise their profession in an environment where restrictions on information are the norm, where dealing with pressure, harassment intimidation or even physical assault are all in a day’s work.

Last year UNESCO condemned the killing of 77 journalists. For the most part these were not war casualties but local reporters covering local stories.

I invite all those commemorating World Press Freedom Day around the globe to observe a minute of silence: to remember those whom it is too late to help; to honour the journalists who paid with their lives for our right to know.

But today let us also acknowledge the significant advances that have been made.

More and more countries around the world are adopting freedom of information legislation. This makes it easier to scrutinize government actions, and it reinforces public accountability.

Meanwhile faster and cheaper technology means that more people in the world have ready access to information from outside their immediate environment than ever before.

Now is the time for us to capitalise on these advances, by strengthening institutions, by providing the necessary training for information professionals, by fostering greater open-ness within our public sectors and greater awareness among the public.

I call on governments, civil society, the news media and individuals everywhere to join forces with UNESCO in promoting Freedom of Information all over the world.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Stabilization or crisis in Kandahar?

A week ago I was in Kandahar, a city at the center of the conflict in Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has said that Kandahar will follow the recent offensive in Marjah, Helmand, just next door, in June as the next stage of operations. He has suggested that a "win" there would turn the tide in Afghanistan.
Such a message should be a relief to citizens in Kandahar, who have long been working and living on the frontlines, their city a daily battleground for control between insurgents, the internationally-backed Afghan government, and criminal militias. But for many of the civilians I spoke to, the prospect of further operations in Kandahar inspires terror.
Though the operations in Marjah were touted as a success, particularly to the extent that they limited civilian casualties, citizens in Kandahar have a different view. They saw the thousands of refugees from Helmand fleeing to Kandahar, the vast majority still living in squalid camps on the outskirts of Kandahar or Lashkar Gah with barely enough food and shelter to survive, and unable to return because their communities are heavily mined, and still infiltrated by Taliban engaged in retaliatory abuses against the population.
The sad thing is that such experiences are not foreign to Kandaharis. The focal point of the conflict for the last several years, Kandaharis have seen time and again that when conflict comes to their doors, they are largely left to their own devices to pick up the pieces. There are humanitarian agencies operating in Kandahar, but with limited access due to security, and a shortfall of resources given the scope of the humanitarian crisis in the south. Not only does Kandahar have its own victims of the conflict to deal with, but it also serves the millions of conflict-affected civilians across the volatile southern region seeking urgent medical care or refuge from fighting.
Kandaharis expect the situation will only get worse with promises of fresh coalition operations. If insurgents plant even a fraction of the IEDs that were planted in Marjah in the Kandahar City area, they will cause immediate harm to civilians and cut off what is for many in the south the last resort for humanitarian care.
Since General McChrystal took charge last July, there has been a renewed focus on protecting the Afghan population in conflict areas. The new counterinsurgency logic is that only by stabilizing communities can you deny the insurgents a safe haven. U.S. and NATO forces have implemented this 1) by restraining force activities likely to cause harm, and 2) by trying to support governance, rule of law, and other "stabilization" activities once operations have happened.
These are both important steps, but they are not enough to stabilize the south. First, protecting the population means not harming the population. It also means ensuring that no one else harms the population either. So far, the internationally-backed Afghan government has not been able to guarantee that: not in Marjah, not in Kandahar, not in other "focal" points for operations.
Second, good governance and rule of law can only go so far when the most basic humanitarian needs of a population are not met. Civilians who are struggling for basic shelter, food, and medical care for months at a time are not going to be "stabilized" by the announcement of new governors or the development of civilian control centers. Law and order is necessary for long term stability -- but in the short term, expecting civilians who have been on a race for basic survival for the last few years to pick themselves up and rebuild without any assistance simply will not happen.
Unless greater attention is given to the basic security and humanitarian dilemmas that civilians in Kandahar face daily, new operations there cannot succeed.
Erica Gaston is a human rights lawyer based in Kabul, Afghanistan, consulting on civilian casualties issues for the Open Society Institute.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Civilians Killed as U.S. Troops Fire on Afghan Bus

KABUL, Afghanistan — American troops raked a large passenger bus with gunfire near Kandahar on Monday morning, killing and wounding civilians, and igniting angry anti-American demonstrations in a city where winning over Afghan support is pivotal to the war effort.
The shooting, which killed as many as five civilians and wounded 18, occurred on the eve of the most important offensive of the war. In coming weeks thousands of American, NATO and Afghan troops are expected to try to take control of the Kandahar region, the spiritual home of the Taliban.
It was the latest case in which NATO or American forces fired on and killed civilians near a checkpoint or military convoy because they were perceived to have come too close or to be approaching too fast.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has made reducing civilian casualties a priority, and they have gone down over the last year. But checkpoint and convoy shootings have not declined, worrying commanders who believe that such killings are turning Afghans against foreign forces.
Monday’s shooting demonstrated those concerns. Afterward, hundreds of demonstrators poured into the area around a bus station where the damaged bus was taken on the western outskirts of Kandahar.
They blocked the road with burning tires for an hour and shouted, “Death to America!” and “Death to infidels!” while condemning the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, according to people there.
The American-led military command in Kabul called the killings a “tragic loss of life” and said that troops fired in the early morning light not knowing that the vehicle was a passenger bus and believing that it posed a threat to a military convoy clearing bombs from a highway.
But there were disputes over details including the number of dead, the relative positions of the convoys, and how the troops could not have understood that the vehicle was a passenger bus.
It was also unclear whether the troops had first shot flares and warned the driver to stay back, as military rules typically require. NATO said they did.
The governor of Kandahar Province, Tooryalai Wesa, called for the commander of the military convoy that opened fire to be prosecuted under military law.
“If you want to stop the bus, it should be shot in the tires,” Mr. Wesa said. “Why shoot the people inside?”
Mr. Karzai, whose relationship with the United States has been particularly fraught in recent weeks, called the shooting “unjustifiable” and said that “firing on a passenger bus is against the NATO commitment to save civilian lives.”
More than 30 people have been killed and 80 wounded in convoy and checkpoint shootings since last summer, but not one of the people killed was found to have been a threat, military officials say.
The shooting near Kandahar occurred just after daybreak, as the bus was taking scores of passengers to Nimruz Province, said Zalmy Ayoubi, a spokesman for Governor Wesa.
Two people who had been on the bus said that an American convoy 60 to 70 yards ahead opened fire as the bus began to pull to the side of the road to allow another military convoy to pass from behind.
“An American convoy was ahead of us and another convoy was following us, and we were going to pull off of the road, and suddenly the Americans opened fire,” said one, Nida Muhammad, a passenger who suffered a shoulder wound.
“We were not close to them, maybe 60 yards away from their convoy,” Mr. Muhammad said. A helicopter came for some wounded, he said.
“This bus wasn’t like a suicide bomber, and we did not touch or come close to the convoy,” he said. “It seems they are opening fire on civilians intentionally.”
The two convoys and the bus were on the main highway in the Zhari district, west of the city of Kandahar. The windows on one side of the bus were shot out.
Governor Wesa and his spokesman said five civilians were killed and 18 wounded. The governor blamed American forces and said a dozen of the wounded were in serious condition.
A statement issued by the American-led military command in Kabul said that four people were killed. It said “an unknown, large vehicle” drove “at a high rate of speed” toward a slow-moving NATO convoy that was clearing mines.
The convoy could not move aside because of a steep embankment. Troops used a flashlight and three flares to try to warn the driver.
“Perceiving a threat when the vehicle approached once more at an increased rate of speed, the patrol attempted to warn off the vehicle with hand signals prior to firing upon it,” the statement said. “Once engaged, the vehicle then stopped.”
“Upon inspection,” it said, NATO forces “discovered the vehicle to be a passenger bus.”
A military spokeswoman confirmed that a convoy traveling west, in front of the bus, opened fire, but said the second convoy was traveling east toward the passenger bus. She also said the driver of the bus was killed.
A survivor, however, identified himself as the driver and said he did not violate any signal from the troops. “I was going to take the bus off the road,” said the man, Mohammed Nabi. Then the convoy ahead opened fire from 60 to 70 yards away, he said.
“It is a huge bus full of passengers, and if they think we were a suicide bomber, we are sad that the Americans have killed innocent people,” he said. “We don’t feel safe while traveling on the main highways anymore because of NATO convoys.”
General McChrystal has sought to emphasize to troops how such cases undermine Afghan support. But he has also stressed his sympathy for troops who have to make critical decisions in an instant.
“We really ask a lot of our young service people out on checkpoints because there’s danger, they’re asked to make very rapid decisions in often very unclear situations,” he told troops in a video conference last month.
“However, to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it.”
Underscoring the instability in Kandahar, hours after the bus shooting, three suicide bombers attacked the Kandahar office of the Afghan intelligence service. Four officials and five civilians were wounded, Governor Wesa said, while two of the bombers died and the third was captured.