UN: Afghanistan rights situation worsening —especially for women

Afghanistan’s human rights progress has been thwarted by armed conflict, censorship, abuse of power, and violence against women, according to a report delivered March 5 to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. The report notes that violence against women such as rape, “honor killings,” forced marriage, and slavery remain widespread. “Violence is tolerated or condoned within the family and community, within traditional and religious leadership circles as well as the formal and informal justice system,” said Pillay. “In this regard the Afghan Government has failed to adequately protect the rights of women despite constitutional guarantees.”

Pillay also notes that there has been a dramatic increase in threats and intimidation against women in public life. Women working with government agencies or NGOs, or as journalists, police and lawyers, have all reported death-threat letters and phone calls. The report also notes the rise in the number of civilian casualties in the war, and urged all combatants to respect civilians, including women and children.

Pillay’s report recommends that Afghanistan’s government create a human rights unit in the Ministry of Justice to combat poverty faced by groups burdened by discrimination. The government must also ensure an impartial judiciary and law-enforcement body, and promote open and peaceful elections, the report says. Under Afghanistan’s constitution, men and women have equal rights, but the report says women are being prosecuted for acts Afghan law does not define as crimes: “The Government is failing to adequately protect the rights of women in Afghanistan despite constitutional guarantees and its international obligations.”

Afghanistan continues to receive criticism for its human rights record. Last week, the US State Department released its annual 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, criticizing Afghanistan for its continued use of child labor. In November, Pillay urged Afghan President Hamad Karzai to put a stop to executions and join nations calling for a death penalty moratorium after five prisoners were executed over the course of four days. Last March, Chief Human Rights Officer Norah Niland of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan issued a call for the Afghan government to do more to protect human rights and see that rights violators are brought to justice. (Jurist, UN News Centre, March 5)

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