Monday, July 30, 2012

Correcting Details: More on the NYT Reporting the Human Rights Mapping

by: Kate Clark
The New York Times piece ‘Top Afghans Tied to ’90s Carnage, Researchers Say’ ‘revealed’ what everyone knows and rarely says, that many of today’s senior Afghan politicians have murky pasts. Talking about the war crimes of the last thirty years has proved difficult for Afghans and the international powers alike. The decision, in 2005, to put together a Conflict Mapping Report of the alleged war crimes from 1978 and the communist coup d’état of 1978 to December 2001 and the transition of power to Hamed Karzai was taken partly to help the nation discuss its troubled history. The Times article raised the possibility of those senior politicians trying to block publication of the report. Unfortunately, says AAN analyst, Kate Clark, the article was so peppered with inaccuracies that it risked giving ammunition to those who want to bury the crimes of the past together with the report. She also asks why did the Times yet again duck mention of the alleged presence of US Special Forces at one of the massacre sites.
In a guest blog for AAN last week, Ahmed Rashid accused The New York Times of arrogance in claiming an exclusive on a subject which many other journalists and human rights activists had been risking their lives to cover for years. For me, reading through the piece, it was the inaccuracies which were glaring – and surprising because the reporter, Rod Nordland, is usually excellent.

People in Kabul, including journalists, whom I spoke to about the article had assumed the Nordland had read a leaked copy of the Conflict Mapping Report, the ‘monumental’(1) work put together by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) detailing the war crimes of the 1978-2001 period. However, if you read his piece carefully, he said only that he spoke to Afghan and foreign sources who had worked on the report. This is important because almost all the allegations he makes are garbled in some way. It is not that the men he names necessarily have clean hands, but that Nordland makes factual errors, including attributing crimes to men when there is no evidence of a link. No-one, apart from its authors, has read the Conflict Mapping Report and as Nordland’s sources are anonymous, it is impossible to judge where the inaccuracies came in. However, it is difficult to imagine anyone with any knowledge of the war crimes of the last thirty years making the basic errors which feature in the Times piece.

As the Times is a paper of record and Nordland’s allegations are serious, I wrote to the foreign editor asking for corrections. The paper made only two, I thought, therefore, that readers might find it useful if I detailed what I think the factual errors in the piece are (drawing on the good published sources on the war crimes of 1978-2001, see footnote 2, below, as well as my own background) and what the consequences of it might be:

1) [The Conflict Mapping Report covers] human rights abuses in Afghanistan the Soviet era in the ’80s to the fall of the Taliban in 2001, according to researchers and officials who helped compile the study over the past six years.

The Report starts with the coup of 1978, not the Soviet invasion. Indeed, it is often forgotten that the pre-Soviet era featured the most concentrated blood-letting of the entire war, with mass arbitrary detention, torture and killings. An estimated 100,000 people were disappeared by the Taraki and Amin governments; they included ulema, students, school pupils, suspected Parchamis, Maoists, Islamists and members of the old elites, both in Kabul and in the provinces, including tribal elders. Entire extended families were wiped out. This is important. Otherwise, anyone reading the Times article could be forgiven for thinking the Conflict Mapping Report focuses on the war crimes of the mujahedin/Northern Alliance and to a lesser extent, the Taleban only. (In response to my letter, the Times admitted this error, saying it had crept in at the editing stage.)

2) Named specifically in the [Conflict Mapping] report as responsible for war crimes in massacres of prisoners in Mazar-i-Sharif are two Taliban commanders now held at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp — Mullah Fazul Akhund and Mullah Khairullah Khirkawa (sic) — and whose release is thought to be a condition of negotiations with the insurgent group.

This allegation is simply not true. Indeed, it seems the Times has mixed up the Mazar massacres.

In 1998, the Taleban massacred an estimated 6000 people in Mazar(3); they were predominantly civilians, but some fighters from Hezb-e Wahdat who were prisoners – who had been captured or had surrendered(4) – are believed to have been summarily executed.(5) In command of this massacre was Mulla Niazi.

Khairkhwa was in Herat at the time as governor. No sources have placed him in Mazar at the time of the 1998 massacre. Indeed, he is not accused of any crimes that I know of, with one possible exception: 35 to 45 civilians were killed in Dehdadi, a district just outside Mazar-e Sharif, by retreating Taleban and/or their local Hezb-e Islami allies in 1997, after the Taleban lost Mazar. Khairkhwa may have had command responsibility; he was in charge of the part of the Taleban army which retreated from Mazar to the west and may have ordered or failed to prevent the killings or failed to discipline subordinates who carried them out.

The victims in Dehdadi were Hazara civilians and they were killed in particularly brutal ways. However - and this is number 3 in the list of mistakes - the Times misattributes these killings to ‘General Dostum and his Hazara allies.’

There is also no evidence pointing to Mulla Fazl having been in Mazar at the time of the 1998 massacre, either. However, he is accused of many other war crimes, including: as a field commander, along with the late Mulla Dadullah, leading the wanton destruction of civilian property and associated killings in the Shomali in 1999 and; as Army Chief of Staff, having strategic command and control responsibility for the massacre of civilians in Yakaolang, January 2001 and the village burnings and associated killings in Northern Hazarajat later that year.

As neither Fazl nor Khairkhwa is at liberty to defend himself, it seems especially important to be scrupulous about reporting allegations against them. Khairkhwa actually had a comparatively good reputation during his time in the Taleban leadership. For details on both men, see an earlier AAN blog which has biographies of all five senior Taleban in Guantanamo who have been talked about for possible release as part of peace negotiations.

For the record, there were two notable massacres of prisoners in Mazar, but the victims in both cases were Taleban. In 1997, General Malek, who had ousted Dostum and invited the Taleban to Mazar, is accused of ordering the massacre of at least 3000 Taleban prisoners of war. Then there was the November 2001 massacre of Taleban prisoners, which is referred to later in the Times piece:

4) In all, 13 mass graves have been identified in the Mazar-i-Sharif area, including one detailed by human rights workers in the Dasht-e-Leili desert in the neighboring Jawjzan Province, believed to contain 2,000 Taliban prisoners slaughtered by General Dostum’s forces.

In 2001, an unknown number of surrendered Taleban fighters (estimates range from several hundred to two thousand) were crammed into containers and transported west to Jawzjan; they died through suffocation, thirst or when the containers were shot at from outside. Given the history of container deaths in the Afghan war, it could reasonably have been predicted that men neglected in this way would die. The prisoners were under the control of forces loyal to General Dostum. There is no evidence that Dostum ordered the killing, although at the least, he may well have been guilty of command responsibility by omission (ie, failing to prevent subordinates from carrying out war crimes or failing to discipline them afterwards). The accusation that he later ordered the destruction of the site and the evidence they contained is much firmer.

5) Remarkably, however, the Times makes no mention of the credible allegation that US special operations forces were present at the site in 2001 and may have been complicit in the killings. This is the second time the paper has failed to mention this. In 2009, James Risen reported on how the Bush government had resisted investigating the massacre. However, the allegation that US special operations forces had been present, made by one of Risen’s main sources for the story, an FBI agent called Dell Spry, did not make it into the published piece.

When President Obama was asked about Risen’s story, he promised an investigation, telling CNN, ‘… if it appears that our conduct in some way supported violations of the laws of war, then I think that, you know, we have to know about that.’(6) The wording was certainly strange – was he just referring to the resistance to investigate US allies or had he been briefed on the Special Forces allegation - which would suggest the Times had discussed this before they published? If Obama’s investigation was carried out, it has never been made public nor, as far as I know, referred to officially again. (For sources on the 2001 massacre and possible US military presence, see hereherehere and here.)

Nordland’s reporting on the US currently objecting to the release of the Conflict Mapping Report is interesting and important. As it has done for the last 11 years, Washington continues to argue that now is not the right time to discuss war crimes and that such talk will ‘reopen all the old wounds’. (Don’t mention the war crimes – until 2014 when we’re out of the door was the clear message of the un-named embassy official quoted in the Timespiece.)

6) A researcher for the Afghan rights commission who investigated both of the graves in Khalid Ibn al-Walid [a neighbourhood of Mazar] said the victims were killed by General Noor’s [Ustad Atta] political party [Jamiat-e Islami], which had what the researcher called a ‘human slaughterhouse’ on the site in the 1990s, as well as by the Taliban, who later took over the same facility for the same purpose.

This allegation looks unsound to me: if Atta (or indeed the Taleban) had a ‘human slaughterhouse’ in Mazar, it seems likely those of us who follow war crimes would have heard about it. For the record, the one credible allegation I have seen against Atta personally from the pre-2001 period is that he ordered his forces to fire on unarmed demonstrators in Mazar in the period after the Taleban first took and then lost Mazar in 1997 and finally took it the following year. At the same time, it should be stressed that all the war crimes reporting on this period details accusations that forces loyal to Atta (hardly a ‘political party’, although they belonged to Jamiat indeed) and those of Dostum and Muhaqiq carried out ‘criminally-minded’ abuses of the civilian population, including looting, murders and forced marriage and rape. This, along with their infighting (the Times does refer to how they ‘fought bitterly among themselves’), was so appalling that the civilian population did not stand with them against the Taleban as they had done in 1997; when, in August 1998, the Taleban again massed to take Mazar, it fell.

Correcting the factual mistakes in the Times article is important because, not only are the allegations serious, but readers may have come away with the impression that the Conflict Mapping Report is sloppy or that the AIHRC has concentrated on the alleged crimes of the mujahedin/United Front (also known as the Northern Alliance). A spokesman for one of the successor organisations to the United Front has indeed reacted exactly that way very recently. It is unfortunate that the Times may have given ammunition to the very powerful politicians named in the article whom we can assume would like the Conflict Mapping Report not to be published.

It is an irony of course, that these men are powerful today in no small part because of the US intervention in 2001 and the arms and continuing political support Washington has given most of them. Those of us who did warn in the autumn of 2001 about the murky background of many of the men chosen to be America’s anti-Taleban allies can surely be forgiven for pointing out that the Times’ revelations, far from being an exclusive, are actually 11 years too late.

(1) The word is the New York Times’. This does seem accurate.

(2) Until the Conflict Mapping Report is (I hope) published, the best published sources on the war crimes of 1978-2001 are by the Afghanistan Justice Project and the UN (another Conflict Mapping Report which the UN suppressed, although it was briefly and inadvertently published and was cached) and, additionally for the Kabul civil war, by Human Rights Watch:

• The UN Mapping Report (2005)

• The Afghanistan Justice Project's Casting Shadows: War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity:1978-2001 Documentation and analysis of major patterns of abuse in the war in Afghanistan (2005)

• Human Rights Watch, Blood Stained Hands: Past Atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan's Legacy of Impunity (2005)

You can also find earlier sources (including by the UN, Helsinki Watch, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the ICRC and the media) in these reports.

(3) The following estimates were made: 2000 (Human Rights Watch), 6-8000 (Ahmed Rashid), who also wrote: ‘The UN and ICRC later estimated between 5000 and 6000 people were killed.' (Taleban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia).

(4) Rashid says there were about 1500 Wahdat fighters, out of whom only 100 survived, but it is not known how many died in combat or were executed.

(5) Under the laws of armed conflict, soldiers who are hors de combat, ie they are in the power of the enemy because they are wounded or captured, are protected persons.

(6) The full excerpt (broadcast on 12 July 2009) from a CNN interview is:

ANDERSON COOPER: And now it seems clear that the Bush Administration resisted efforts to pursue investigations of an Afghan warlord named General Dostum, who was on the CIA payroll. It's now come out, there were hundreds of Taliban prisoners under his care who got killed…


ANDERSON COOPER: …some were suffocated in a steel container, others were shot, possibly buried in mass graves. Would you support – would you call for – an investigation into possible war crimes in Afghanistan?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah, the indications that this had not been properly investigated just recently was brought to my attention. So what I've asked my national security team to do is to collect the facts for me that are known. And we'll probably make a decision in terms of how to approach it once we have all the facts gathered up.

ANDERSON COOPER: But you wouldn't resist categorically an investigation?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think that, you know, there are responsibilities that all nations have even in war. And if it appears that our conduct in some way supported violations of the laws of war, then I think that, you know, we have to know about that.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Bamyan people protest on Shakila's raped and killed case

Photos by Star Bamiyan 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Top Afghans Tied to ’90s Carnage, Researchers Say

Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times
A human skull and bones at a mass grave near the Afghan town of Mazar-i-Sharif. Such graves still litter the countryside.
MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan — The atrocities of the Afghan civil war in the 1990s are still recounted in whispers here — tales of horror born out of a scorched-earth ethnic and factional conflict in which civilians and captured combatants were frequently slaughtered en masse.

Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times
A mass grave, covered by the brick structure on bottom right, was found near Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.
Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times
Tarpaulin covers the site of the mass grave where, experts say, the remains of at least 16 victims were found.
Clockwise from top left: Zaheeruddin Abdullah/Associated Press; Caren Firouz/Reuters; Ahmad Jamshid/Associated Press; Musadeq Sadeq/Associated Press
Clockwise from top left, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum,Vice President Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim and SecondVice President Karim Khalili are named in the report.
The New York Times
The mass graves that were found include sites in the Dasht-e-Leili desert, and at Dehdadi, Khalid Ibn al-Walid and Kefayet Square.
Stark evidence of such killings are held in the mass graves that still litter the Afghan countryside. One such site is outside Mazar-i-Sharif, in the north. It lies only half-excavated, with bones and the remains of clothing partially obscured by water and mud from recent flooding. Experts say at least 16 victims are here, and each skull that lies exposed is uniformly punctured by a single bullet-entry hole at the back.
The powerful men accused of responsibility for these deaths and tens of thousands of others — some said to be directly at their orders, others carried out by men in their chain of command — are named in the pages of a monumental 800-page report on human rights abuses in Afghanistan from the Soviet era in the ’80s to the fall of the Taliban in 2001, according to researchers and officials who helped compile the study over the past six years.
The list of names is a sort of who’s who of power players in Afghanistan: former and current warlords or officials, some now in very prominent positions in the national government, as well as in insurgent factions fighting it. Many of the named men were principals in the civil war era after the Soviet Union withdrew, and they are also frequently mentioned when talk here turns to fears of violence after the end of the NATO combat mission in 2014. Already, there is growing concern about a scramble for power and resources along ethnic and tribal lines.
But the report seeking to hold them accountable is unlikely to be released anytime soon, the researchers say, accusing senior Afghan officials of effectively suppressing the work and those responsible for it. For their part, human rights activists say the country is doomed to repeat its violent past if abuses are not brought to light and prosecuted.
At the same time, some officials here — including some American diplomats — express worry that releasing the report will actually trigger new civil strife.
Titled simply, “Conflict Mapping in Afghanistan Since 1978,” the study, prepared by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, details the locations and details of 180 mass graves of civilians or prisoners, many of the sites secret and none of them yet excavated properly. It compiles testimony from survivors and witnesses to the mass interments, and details other war crimes as well.
The study was commissioned as part of a reconciliation and justice effort ordered by President Hamid Karzai in 2005, and it was completed this past December. Some of the world’s top experts in forensics and what is called transitional justice advised the commission on the report and provided training and advice for the 40 researchers who worked on it over a six-year period.
Three Afghan and foreign human rights activists who worked as researchers and analysts on large sections of the report spoke about its contents on condition of anonymity, both out of fear of reprisal and because the commission had not authorized them to discuss it publicly.
According to Afghan rights advocates and Western officials, word that the report was near to being officially submitted to the president apparently prompted powerful former warlords, including the first vice president, Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, to demand that Mr. Karzai dismiss the commissioner responsible, Ahmad Nader Nadery.
At a meeting on Dec. 21, including Mr. Karzai and other top officials, Marshal Fahim argued that dismissing Mr. Nadery would actually be too mild a punishment. “We should just shoot 30 holes in his face,” he said, according to one of those present. He later apologized to other officials for the remark, saying it was not meant in earnest.
Mr. Karzai did remove Mr. Nadery. But a spokesman for the president, Aimal Faizi, said it was “irresponsible and untrue” to say that the president fired Mr. Nadery because of the mass graves report or was trying to block its release. He also called the accounts of the Dec. 21 meeting with Marshal Fahim and other officials “totally baseless.”
Mr. Nadery had finished two five-year terms as a commissioner and the president was legally entitled to replace him, Mr. Faizi said. “This decision has nothing to do with any A.I.H.R.C. report on war atrocities,” he said. “We believe that if there is any such report by the A.I.H.R.C., sooner or later it will come up and will be published one day.”
The figures accused in the report of playing some role in mass killings include some of the most powerful figures in Afghanistan’s government and ethnic factions, including the Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban in 2001.
Among them are First Vice President Fahim, a Tajik from the Jamiat Islami Party, and Second Vice President Karim Khalili, a Hazara leader from the Wahdat Party; Gen. Atta Mohammed Noor, a Tajik from the Jamiat Islami Party and now the governor of the important northern province of Balkh, of which Mazar-i-Sharif is capital; and Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former Uzbek warlord from the Jumbush Party who holds the honorary title of chief of staff to the supreme commander of the Afghan Armed Forces, among many others.
Those men gave no response to verbal and written requests for comment about their naming in the report.
In all, the researchers said, more than 500 Afghans are named in the report as responsible for mass killings, including the country’s revered national martyr, Ahmed Shah Massoud, one of the last militia leaders to hold out against the Taliban sweep to power and who was assassinated by Al Qaeda just before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The report also investigates killings of civilians and prisoners said to be carried out by the Taliban and other insurgents, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hezb-i-Islami insurgents.
Named specifically in the report as responsible for war crimes in massacres of prisoners in Mazar-i-Sharif are two Taliban commanders now held at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp — Mullah Fazul Akhund and Mullah Khairullah Khirkawa — and whose release is thought to be a condition of negotiations with the insurgent group.
Entombed Evidence
As the report languishes, evidence in the graves is being destroyed, sometimes as a function of poor care of the sites and sometimes intentionally.
One mass grave containing more than 100 dead was discovered in the Kefayet Square area of Mazar-i-Sharif, where General Noor holds sway, during a road-building project in March. The half-dozen bodies that were turned up were simply relocated to a cemetery and the construction went on, bulldozing over most of the rest of the remains.
In 2007, two mass graves in the Khalid Ibn al-Walid township of Mazar were simply covered over by construction of a new residential complex that researchers said was developed and owned by General Noor.
A researcher for the Afghan rights commission who investigated both of the graves in Khalid Ibn al-Walid said the victims were killed by General Noor’s political party, which had what the researcher called a “human slaughterhouse” on the site in the 1990s, as well as by the Taliban, who later took over the same facility for the same purpose.
In the case of the grave with exposed skulls, it was discovered in January by American and Afghan workers during a United States Army Corps of Engineers construction project in Dehdadi District, six miles outside Mazar-i-Sharif — one of at least two graves found there so far. Human rights investigators said that grave dated from the period when General Dostum and his Hazara allies controlled the site; the victims, their wrists still bound in many cases with stout twine, included women and children, judging from the clothing found with them.
During the civil war period, after the Communists were defeated and before the Taliban took power, warlords like General Noor, General Dostum, and the Hazara leader Hajji Mohammad Mohaqiq fought bitterly among themselves as well as against the Taliban, who are mostly ethnic Pashtuns. The conflict among these leaders, who had all fought in the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, was on both political and ethnic grounds.
For many Afghans, the warlords’ atrocities are taken as a given — old news better left unrevived.
“It will take us centuries to forget this,” said an Afghan National Army lieutenant colonel. “We don’t want to go back to those bad days again.”
In all, 13 mass graves have been identified in the Mazar-i-Sharif area, including one detailed by human rights workers in the Dasht-e-Leili desert in the neighboring Jawjzan Province, believed to contain 2,000 Taliban prisoners slaughtered by General Dostum’s forces.
“That grave was there and then suddenly it was not there,” said a second human rights worker who worked on the investigation in Jawjzan. “They just got rid of all the evidence.”
He said bulldozers were brought in during 2008 to remove the bodies, leaving huge pits behind. The remains were reportedly incinerated at a secret location, he said.
A Question of Will
Mr. Nadery would not discuss the contents of the mapping report except in the most general way. “You open the map in the report, you see there are dots everywhere,” he said. “Everyone should know that what they suffered was not unique. We should be able to tell our people: ‘This is our past, this is our history. It’s ugly, it’s bad, but we should be able to face it.’ ”
He said he still hoped that the commission would be able to submit the report, although he conceded that those prospects looked dim.
“I don’t want the report to become an event, just a headline for one day,” he said. Instead, he said, it needs to be presented officially so it can be acted on officially, whether by the Afghan government or by the international community.
He said the report tallied more than a million people killed in the conflict and 1.3 million disabled, although not all of those are necessarily victims of war crimes.
Other human-rights officials in Afghanistan also expressed urgency about releasing the report.
“There are lots of examples where a report like this was an important first step to bringing justice for the victims,” said Heather Barr, head of the Human Rights Watch office in Afghanistan. “It does put pressure on people who are named; it leads at least to marginalizing them.”
The volatility of the accusations was on full display in April, when a well-established but small political bloc, the Afghanistan Solidarity Party, held a demonstration against what it said were war criminals in government. “For us there is no difference between the Taliban and these war criminals,” said Hafizullah Rasikh, a party spokesman. “They are like twin brothers.”
Parliament responded with a declaration accusing the party of treason and demanding its disbandment.
A former mujahedeen commander, Abdul Hafiz Mansoor, who is now an editor of a weekly publication called Mujahed, did not deny that many atrocities took place, on all sides.
“One cannot make war with rosewater,” he said, referring to a popular ingredient in sweets and perfumes here. “If this war and all these killings were so bad, then why aren’t we putting their international backers on trial? If we talk about violation of human rights, we should accuse the U.N. special representative for Afghanistan, who supported the mujahedeen at the time and now calls them warlords. Or President Ronald Reagan, who provided these warlords and human rights violators with Stinger missiles.”
The American Embassy here has been another source of objection to the mass-graves report. American officials say releasing the report would be a bad idea, at least until after Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential election — which is also when the NATO combat withdrawal should be complete. “I have to tell you frankly on the mapping thing, when I first learned about it, it scared me,” said a senior American official, speaking on condition of anonymity as a matter of embassy policy. “There will be a time for it, but I’m not persuaded this is the time.”
“It’s going to reopen all the old wounds,” the official said, noting that several men who were bitter rivals during the civil war were at least nominally working together in the government now.
For its part, the United Nations has supported release of the report. “The U.N. position has always been that such reports should always be released publicly,” said Georgette Gagnon, the top human rights officer for the United Nations mission in Afghanistan. “But it’s up to the commission and we would support whatever they decide to do.”
Of the 180 graves documented in the report, only one has so far been exhumed forensically because the Afghan authorities lack the facilities to carry out DNA testing and the sort of scientific identification of remains that was done systematically in Bosnia.
That one was a grave on the grounds of the Interior Ministry in Kabul, according to M. Ashraf Bakhteyari, head of the Forensic Science Organization, a foreign-trained group that carried out the exhumation. Mr. Bakhteyari said he was ordered by the Interior Ministry not to divulge who the victims were. “It is classified information,” he said.
He is frank, though, about the prospects for investigating the rest of Afghanistan’s mass graves. “It is impossible to prosecute those who are responsible for the mass graves,” Mr. Bakhteyari said. “Neither the international community nor the Afghan government have the will to do that.”
Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.

Friday, July 13, 2012

We Must not Abandon our Commitment to Afghan Women

According to UN figures, a staggering 87% of Afghan women suffer domestic violence, and the scandal of marrying off very young daughters to much older, often abusive, men continues.
">The conference pledged over £10bn in funds for development in Afghanistan, with the UK one of the largest donors. This money will be vital in helping to shore up the fragile gains made over infrastructural development and human rights during the past 10 years. In particular, after the fresh horror of the video apparently showing the public execution of a young Afghan woman for adultery by Taliban gunmen, fears for the future of Afghanistan's women are growing.
Understandably women in Afghanistan are scared. They are scared that in all the political horse-trading that will occur as the international community begins its withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, their rights will be sacrificed in the rush for the exit.
Let's not forget, significant progress on women's rights has been made. We can already be proud that UK aid to Afghanistan means that it is now possible for many girls to go to school and for women to take part in public life. And in case anyone thinks this money might be disappearing into some warlord's pocket - take a look at the numbers. Women now make up 27% of the Afghan parliament (it's 22% in our own parliament, in case you were wondering) and some 2.7 million girls are now at school in Afghanistan (under the Taliban it was virtually zero).
;">It must never be forgotten in all our rhetoric about a political solution that during their five years in power, the Taliban imposed a reign of terror on Afghan women. Women and girls were prisoners in their own homes, communities and towns. Afghanistan was hostile territory for women simply because they were women. The horrific abuses these women faced on a daily basis under the Taliban shocked the world and were one of the primary justifications for military interventions in 2001.
Without doubt progress has been hard-won, through bloody and tragic sacrifices made often by our own servicemen and women in combat, and often by brave Afghan civil rights campaigners both male and female - but during the past decade women's rights in Afghanistan have made great strides. There is no doubt, however, the job is not finished and the underlying statistics still make for grim reading and show just how easily all this work and promise could be undone if we don't get the leaving right. Because even now, Afghanistan remains one of the world's most dangerous places to be a woman. The maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world - an Afghan woman dies every two hours due to pregnancy-related causes. According to UN figures, a staggering 87% of Afghan women suffer domestic violence, and the scandal of marrying off very young daughters to much older, often abusive, men continues.
The Taliban and other armed groups have by no means relinquished control and still cast a dark shadow over women's lives in many parts of Afghanistan. Women in rural areas, particularly in the more conservative southern provinces and areas under de facto Taliban control, are being denied employment, freedom of movement and political participation.
High-profile female officials and human rights defenders have been killed simply for exercising their own rights or for defending the rights of others. These have included Malalai Kakar, the highest-ranking female police officer in Kandahar (she led a ten-woman police unit focused on domestic violence) shot dead by the Taliban on her way to work early one morning in 2008.
On top of targeted killings much-needed legislation like 2009's Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women is unfortunately having virtually no impact, with little or no willingness to implement them from the police or courts. In fact, women who report violence face being accused of crimes themselves. The most infamous case is that of Gulnaz, a young woman raped by her cousin's husband and then jailed for 12 years after she became pregnant. Like an estimated 400 women in Afghanistan, Gulnaz was imprisoned for a so-called "moral crime" and it took an unprecedented international campaign to win this one woman a presidential pardon last year.
As the date for the withdrawal of troops draws nearer and the jostling for political positions intensifies, the situation for women in Afghanistan has deteriorated. Hard-won gains are under sustained attack from conservative officials, religious bodies and insurgent groups. In the provinces of Ghazni, Logar and Wardak, for example, Amnesty International has talked to female officials who say that the direct threats from the Taliban are preventing them from travelling outside of the provincial centres and that most of the progress in girls' education and women's access to basic government services has been reversed.
The state of women's rights in Afghanistan is now at a critical crossroads. Surveys show there is widespread fear among Afghan women that their government and its international partners will trade away their rights in a cynical attempt to barter some kind of political settlement with insurgent groups ahead of the international military pull-out in 2014. The UK has a pivotal role to play. We have pledged to put women and girls at the heart of our international aid strategy. There is no other place where it is more critical to do so than Afghanistan. The Tokyo Conference is a vital opportunity for the UK to prove that our commitment to the women of Afghanistan in 2001 was not simply empty rhetoric.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Too Young to Wed: The Secret World of Child Brides

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Taliban publicly execute woman near Kabul: officials

 A man Afghan officials say is a member of the Taliban shot dead a woman accused of adultery in front of a crowd near Kabul, a video obtained by Reuters showed, a sign that the austere Islamist group dictates law even near the Afghan capital.
In the three-minute video, a turban-clad man approaches a woman kneeling in the dirt and shoots her five times at close range with an automatic rifle, to cheers of jubilation from the 150 or so men watching in a village in Parwan province.
"Allah warns us not to get close to adultery because it's the wrong way," another man says as the shooter gets closer to the woman. "It is the order of Allah that she be executed".
Provincial Governor Basir Salangi said the video, obtained on Saturday, was shot a week ago in the village of Qimchok in Shinwari district, about an hour's drive from Kabul.
Such rare public punishment was a painful reminder to Afghan authorities of the Taliban's 1996-2001 period in power, and it raised concern about the treatment of Afghan women 11 years into the NATO-led war against Taliban insurgents.
"When I saw this video, I closed my eyes ... The woman was not guilty; the Taliban are guilty," Salangi told Reuters.
When the unnamed woman, most of her body tightly wrapped in a shawl, fell sideways after being shot several times in the head, the spectators chanted: "Long live the Afghan mujahideen! (Islamist fighters)", a name the Taliban use for themselves.
The Taliban could not be reached for comment.
Despite the presence of over 130,000 foreign troops and 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police, the Taliban have managed to resurge beyond their traditional bastions of the south and east, extending their reach into once more peaceful areas like Parwan.
Afghan women have won back basic rights in education, voting and work since the Taliban, who deemed them un-Islamic for women, were toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.
But fears are rising among Afghan women, some lawmakers and rights activists that such freedoms could be traded away as the Afghan government and the United States pursue talks with the Taliban to secure a peaceful end to the war.
Violence against women has increased sharply in the past year, according to Afghanistan's independent human rights commission. Activists say there is waning interest in women's rights on the part of President Hamid Karzai's government.
"After 10 years (of foreign intervention), and only a few kilometres from Kabul... how could this happen in front of all these people?" female lawmaker Fawzia Koofi said of the public execution in Parwan.
"This is happening under a government that claims to have made so much progress in women's rights, claims to have changed women's lives, and this is unacceptable. It is a huge step backwards," said Koofi, a campaigner for girls' education who wants to run in the 2014 presidential election.
Salangi said two Taliban commanders were sexually involved with the woman in Parwan, either through rape or romantically, and decided to torture her and then kill her to settle a dispute between the two of them.
"They are outlaws, murderers, and like savages they killed the woman," he said, adding that the Taliban exerted considerable sway in his province.
Earlier this week a 30-year-old woman and two of her children were beheaded in easternAfghanistan by a man police said was her divorced husband, the latest of a string of so-called "honour killings".
Some Afghans still refer to Taliban courts for settling disputes, viewing government bodies as corrupt or unreliable. The courts use sharia (Islamic law), which prescribes punishments such as stonings and executions.
(Additional reporting and writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Man kills three member of his family

Local officials in Ghazni said a man in an unprecedented crime in Ghazni province killed his wife, son and daughter by knife.
Shukrea Wali, head of provincial women affairs department by confirming the incident said that the victims include a 30 year old divorced woman, Hakim an eight year old boy and Setara the ten year old girl.

Head of women affairs department of Ghazni province said “dead bodies have been taken to hospital” she added that the woman and her son’s and girl’s are likely to have been murdered by her husband.
Chief of provincial women affairs department said “the women had been beaten by her husband last year which let to divorce between them”. She adds that it has been a year that the woman was living with her three children in the Third plan are of Ghazni city.
Head of provincial women affairs department said “woman`s husband is an addicted and he also had beaten her wife many times last year”
Meanwhile, Baz Mohammad Hemmat, head of Ghazni civilian hospital in a news conference said that the dead bodies were taken to hospital at early hours of morning today.
Earlier, Mohammad Hussain, head of Ghazni police told Bokhdi News Agency that the escaped father of the family is the accused and police department is trying to arrest him and hand him over to justice.  

Monday, July 2, 2012

Justice Minister Apologises for Derogatory Remarks on Women Shelters

Afghanistan's Minister of Justice Habibullah Ghaleb apologised for statements he made last week calling women's shelters "centers of misconduct" and suggesting that women residing in them were prostitutes.

Ghaleb expressed his regrets for his provocative remarks at a press conference in Kabul.

"I again emphasise that if the women, who are my daughters and sisters, have been upset by me, I as their father and older brother apologise, not once, but a thousand times," he said on Sunday.

Ghaleb had made the comment on the shelters at a conference organised by the Afghan parliament's Women's Affairs Committee.

He told delegates that the 250 women living in foreign-funded shelters across the country were being encouraged to disobey their parents.

"Mostly they were encouraging girls, saying, 'If your father says anything bad to you don't listen to him, if your mother says anything to you don't listen to them.

There are safe houses for you where you can stay.' What safe houses? What sort of immorality and prostitution is happening at these places?" he said.

His comments received widespread condemnation from women-related organisations across Afghanistan and calls for President Hamid Karzai to sack him.

EU foreign minister Baroness Ashton said last week that she was "deeply troubled" by Ghaleb's comments which had only served to undermine efforts to protect women from violence and sexual abuse.

"Too many Afghan women have experienced violence, gender based and sexual, often on a repeated basis," she said in a statement. "Women forced to resort to shelters are amongst the bravest Afghans we know."