Three Concrete Steps to Improve Conditions for Afghans

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Three Concrete Steps to Improve Conditions for Afghans

WASHINGTON - As representatives of the international
community gather in The Hague to discuss the deteriorating situation in
Afghanistan, Amnesty International outlined three concrete steps that can
be taken immediately to improve the human rights of the Afghan people.

The organization said that while Washington's
new rhetoric and strategy offer new potential for progress on human rights,
the Afghan people deserve and demand performance, not promises, from their
government and its international supporters--chief among them the United
States.

Amnesty International has long pushed the
international community to adopt benchmarks that focus on the well-being
of the Afghan people, not just short-term military or political goals.
In that light, Amnesty International recommends the following three steps,
all of which can be implemented quickly.  

1) Improve the accountability of international
and Afghan military forces

In view of the U.S. government's announcement
of the deployment of up to 30,000 extra troops in Afghanistan, Amnesty
International urges the international military forces to do more to provide
accountability for violations of international humanitarian law and remedy
for civilian casualties of military action, in order to ensure that the
presence of more international troops does not lead to more harm to Afghan
civilians.

There are currently military personnel from
more than 40 countries operating in Afghanistan, most of them under the
mandate of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), provided
by NATO, and a smaller number as part of the counter-terrorism mandate
of the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom. In addition to regular military
forces in Afghanistan, there are numerous members of civilian intelligence
agencies as well as private contractors and local militias conducting military
operations.

A concerted effort is needed to clarify and
harmonize mandates, rules of engagement and the chains of command of these
forces. All international forces must immediately adopt common rules of
engagement that ensure full compliance with international humanitarian
law, and improve coordination with Afghan national forces to ensure compliance
with these rules.

Amnesty International welcomes the recent
announcement that the ISAF will create a mechanism for investigating civilian
casualties. But it is unclear whether this long-overdue mechanism will
investigate the conduct of forces operating under the U.S.-led Operation
Enduring Freedom. All international and Afghan security forces should develop
and implement a consistent, clear and credible mechanism for receiving
complaints and investigating claims of civilian casualties or injuries
resulting from its military operations. A coherent and systematic program
of assisting those injured by Afghan and NATO/U.S. forces and bringing
to justice those suspected of violations of international humanitarian
law should be developed and communicated to the Afghan people.

2) Improve respect for the rule of law
by international and Afghan authorities

Ordinary Afghans have almost no recourse
to the protection of the law from their own government's abuses, or those
committed by international forces. The international effort to build Afghanistan's
judiciary has been a notable failure of the past seven years. Making up
for this failure will take time. A clear political commitment to judicial
reform and the injection of the necessary resources must be a key priority
for action by the Afghan government and the international community. In
the meantime, several measures can be adopted now to improve respect for
the rule of law. They include:  

*The Afghan government should bolster accountability
for its security forces--including misdeeds by the police and persecution
of journalists and human rights defenders--and focus on protecting Afghans,
especially women, who bear the brunt of insecurity throughout the country.

*The U.S. government should immediately grant
all detainees held at the U.S. base in Bagram access to legal counsel,
relatives, doctors, and to consular representatives, without delay and
regularly thereafter, and grant all Bagram detainees access to U.S. courts
to be able to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. Currently, U.S.
forces continue to detain hundreds of Afghans without clear legal authority
and without adequate legal process.

*International forces should retain responsibility
for the custody of the people they capture, and not hand them over to the
sole control of the Afghan authorities, until they no longer face the current
risks of torture or other ill-treatment, particularly at the hands of the
National Directorate of Security (NDS).
 
*The Afghan government should prohibit the
NDS from detaining prisoners and allow independent human rights monitoring
of all detainees, including by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission,
with access to all places of detention and all detainees.

*The Afghan government and the international
community 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.

*The Afghan government should immediately
seek international assistance to help implement the 2005 Action Plan for
Peace, Justice and Reconciliation, which foresees the establishment of
"effective and reasonable accountability mechanisms in order to end impunity
in Afghanistan and ensure that there will no amnesty for war crimes, crimes
against humanity and other gross human rights violations".  

3) Vet candidates in upcoming elections
to improve the government's legitimacy

 With Presidential, parliamentary, and
regional elections scheduled for the next year, it is essential that a
proper vetting process be in place to keep out those who may have been
involved in human rights abuses, especially leaders of armed groups and
militias whose usurpation of the role of elected officials has done much
to erode the Afghan people's trust in their government and its international
supporters.

Since the inauguration of the Afghan National
Assembly in 2004, thousands of complaints about these abuses have been
received by the Complaint's Commission of the Afghan parliament.

However only one member of Parliament has
been suspended - in May 2007, Malalai Joya, an outspoken parliamentarian,
was suspended for raising concerns about the presence in parliament of
figures widely accused of being war criminals and human rights violators.

The Afghan government and its international
supporters should immediately institute a fair and transparent process
to vet candidates who are linked to armed groups and militias and against
whom there have been credible allegations of involvement in human rights
abuses.

Even as the Afghan government and international
forces increasingly discuss the possibility of seeking political compromise
with some members of the Taliban and other insurgent groups notorious for
a long record of human rights abuses, the Afghan people demand to be protected
from a return to the abusive policies of the Taliban and other armed groups.

Each such step would improve the dire human
rights situation in Afghanistan and signal that the interests of the Afghan
people are the focus of their government and the international community.
These steps are not the full answer to the political and economic problems
besetting the Afghan people. But if these steps are taken immediately,
they will give the Afghan people something that is essential and in increasingly
short supply: hope for the future.

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We are people from across the world standing up for humanity and human rights. Our purpose is to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied. We investigate and expose abuses, educate and mobilize the public, and help transform societies to create a safer, more just world.

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