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.