Friday, February 26, 2010

Severin Bellanchet was my father!

At least 17 people, including foreigners, have been killed and more than three dozens of others wounded in a series of suicide, bomb and gun attacks near a hotel and guest houses used by foreigners in the heart of Kabul City. It has been confirmed by the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, that among the people killed was my French film teacher Severin Blanchet. Kabul, Afghanistan. (Images taken in Afghanistan in 2009).
One of the explosions occurred inside a guesthouse leased by Indian embassy in the downtown Sharh-i-Naw, killing five Indian nationals and wounding eight others.
Two other explosions that damaged a high-rise hotel, Safi Landmark, were described as suicide bombings that also killed two policemen near the Kabul City Center, a nine-story shopping area that includes the luxury hotel.
My teacher, Severin Blanchet who had come from France to start new class of documentary film making was in the hotel and was also killed.
Severin Blanchet was a famous French documentary film maker who began training young Afghan film makers in 2006.
When I heard that my teacher was one of the wounded in the explosion, my colleague and friend Sahr Banoo Sadat, who is member of Atelier Varan Kabul, and I rushed to the hospitals around Kabul to find him but he was not to be found.
After 2 hours Ms. Rita, the head of Goethe-Institut of Kabul called me with the news that my teacher was among the victims killed in the blasts.
Atelier Varan is a French production which helps train film makers in the developing world. Since 2006, Atelier Varan in Afghanistan had trained more than 25 afghan young film makers, who have made a lot of documentaries in Afghanistan.
This is an extract of an email sent by Severin:

'I am planning a short visit to Kabul to get things going between the 15th and 26th of February. We will plan 3 meetings together to discuss the new "production workshop" that we will have this year and coming year. It will be the same principle as "Children of Kabul", a series of 5 short documentaries about a common theme. We will first discuss this common theme. Then we will see what subjects within this theme each of you would like to propose. I will also have individual meetings with those of you who want to discuss their personal projects with me or show me a choice of rushes'.
This is dedicated to my teacher Severin Blanchet.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Afghanistan: Investigate Death in Custody

(New York) - The Afghan government should conduct an independent investigation into the suspicious death in custody of a suspect held by its intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Human Rights Watch said today.
On December 7, 2009, Abdul Basir died while in an NDS detention facility. Later that day the agency told family members that Basir committed suicide by throwing himself out of a window. On December 8 the authorities returned Basir's body to his family. Photographs obtained by Human Rights Watch show the deceased with small dark circles on his forehead, blackened cuts on his back, bruising in several places, and a large cut to his shin.
"Any attempts by the security directorate to block an investigation into Basir's death will only fuel suspicions of abuses," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The attorney general and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission should promptly investigate the cause of death, and the autopsy report should go to the family."
NDS Department 17, the intelligence service's investigatory branch, had detained Basir for approximately one month in connection with the October 28 attack on a Kabul guesthouse that housed many United Nations staff. Eight civilians died in the attack. Abdul Basir's father and two brothers were also detained and remain in custody.
An NDS official told family members that Basir's father, Zalmai, signed a statement confirming that Basir had committed suicide and that an autopsy was not required. The family told Human Rights Watch that NDS officials told them that if they buried the body, Basir's brothers and father would be released.
However, concerned that the marks on Basir's body may have been signs of torture, the family took the body to the Forensic Department of the Health Ministry where an autopsy was carried out. The findings have not been made public. The family reported that security agency officials later came to the house where the body was held and gave them a message to bury the body. When the family tried to take the body to parliament, they said, agency vehicles blocked their way.
One Afghan media outlet informed Human Rights Watch that they received phone calls from the NDS telling them not to report the incident, which has had limited coverage in the Afghan media.
Human Rights Watch has received many reports of torture during interrogations by Department 17. The NDS continues to deny regular access to all of its facilities to the Afghanistan

Independent Human Rights Commission and to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions provide that there "shall be thorough, prompt and impartial investigation" of all suspected cases of unnatural death in custody. The inquiry shall "determine the cause, manner and time of death, the person responsible, and any pattern or practice which may have brought about that death. It shall include an adequate autopsy, collection and analysis of all physical and documentary evidence and statements from witnesses." The detailed methods and findings of the investigation are to be made public, and the government should ensure that persons identified by the investigation as having participated in an unlawful killing are brought to justice.
Despite numerous credible allegations of torture in NDS detention, the Afghan government and international donors have failed to make reform of detention and interrogation practices a priority. The agency continues to operate without a transparent legal framework that defines its powers to investigate, arrest, and detain.
"The genuine threat to Afghanistan posed by extremist groups can never justify the resort to torture," Adams said. "Abusing suspects will only undermine the legitimacy of the Afghan government and serve as a recruiting sergeant for the insurgency."
Human Rights Watch

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Afghanistan must not grant impunity to war criminals

Amnesty International has called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan Parliament to immediately suspend controversial legislation that will give immunity from prosecution for serious violations of human rights, including war crimes and crimes against humanity committed, in the past 30 years.
The legislation, the "National Stability and Reconciliation" bill, was passed by both houses of the Afghan Parliament in early 2007 and published in the official Gazette in November 2008 but, unusually, it was not publicly divulged until January 2010.
Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, including the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), believe that this law is an attempt to provide legal cover for ongoing impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations, including the Taleban.

"The backers of this 'Impunity Bill' should note that they cannot simply legislate away the history of gross human rights violations and war crimes committed in Afghanistan over the past three decades. Nor can they silence the consistent demands of the Afghan people for justice and accountability," said Sam Zarifi, director of Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific programme.

"There are real doubts about the legal validity of this 'Impunity Bill', as no national legislation can immunize perpetrators of international crimes. Furthermore, President Karzai never signed this bill, and it was only divulged to the public almost two years after Parliament voted on it."

Under this legislation, people who committed serious human rights violations and violations of the laws of war, including massacres, widespread enforced disappearances, and systematic use of torture, rape, public executions and other forms of ill-treatment would be immune to criminal prosecution if they pledge cooperation with the Afghan government.

"The record of the past eight years has been crystal clear: attempts to accommodate human rights abusers have only led to a deterioration of security and an erosion of the government's legitimacy.

Many of the people facing accusations of human rights abuses in the past are now in prominent government posts, facing new charges of engaging in human rights violations," Sam Zarifi said.

Under the provisions of this legislation, Taleban figures who agree to cooperate with the Afghan government would also be immune to prosecution. The Afghan government and its international supporters identified reconciliation with the Taleban as a priority during the London conference in January 2010.

"Short term expediency in the form of reconciliation with the Taleban should not trump the rights of the Afghan people, and in particular Afghan women and girls, who have suffered greatly under the Taleban’s repressive strictures.

The Taleban have had a record of terrible human rights abuses, both when they ruled Afghanistan, and now in the areas they control. They should be held to account for their actions, not be granted official impunity," Sam Zarifi said.

"The Afghan people have time and again signalled that they want a government that protects and provides their human rights and that imposes the rule of law. This legislation is simply an effort to pervert the course of justice under the faulty guise of providing security."