Afghanistan: Senior UN rights official urges more action to end attacks on civilians
NEW YORK/GENEVA/KABUL - UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour has welcomed what he called the “undeniable commitment” by the Afghan Government to improve what has long been a dire human rights situation. But he voiced concern at the lack of implementation in some key areas; the continued appalling attacks on civilians, mainly by extremists; and the continued discrimination against Afghan women at all levels of society.
During his four-day visit, Gilmour met the President, Chief Executive, Vice President, Attorney General and top ministers responsible for Foreign Affairs, Defence, Interior, Intelligence and Women’s Affairs, as well as members of the diplomatic community, women’s organisations, civil society representatives, and victims and their families.
The Assistant Secretary-General recognised the steps taken by the Government on human rights, particularly the new Penal Code which reinforces Afghanistan’s compliance with international human rights standards. The criminalization of torture, violence against women and bacha bazi - a harmful practice involving abuse of boys - establishes a sound foundation to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for these abuses that persist throughout the country.
“The Government has made significant progress in ending violence against women, but the use of ‘mediation’ for the gravest cases of violence, including murder, severe violence and harmful traditional practices, is to be regretted. What would send a strong signal to those men who continue to violently abuse women with impunity would be to start seriously prosecuting them,” Gilmour said.
The Assistant Secretary-General also urged the authorities to investigate and prosecute military or civilian perpetrators of sexual abuse of boys. He welcomed the commitment from the Government, particularly the Minister of Interior, to take steps to end impunity for this despicable form of child abuse.
Welcoming the Government’s adoption of the new anti-torture law and ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, Gilmour urged “active implementation, which requires prosecuting perpetrators”.
During his trip to Kunduz province in the northeast, Gilmour met the provincial Governor and senior members of security forces and judicial institutions, and stressed the need to reduce civilian casualties in military operations. He also met community representatives from Laghmani village, Dasht-e-Archi district, in relation to the 2 April aerial operations by Afghan security forces in their village, in which rockets and machinegun fire on a religious gathering of hundreds, killed and injured more than 100 people, mainly children.
Gilmour said he was deeply troubled by the accounts of the devastating loss and suffering from this incident and urged the Government at the highest levels to take measures to prevent reoccurrence, better protect civilians, hold perpetrators accountable in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law and restore trust between the residents of Dasht-e-archi and the Government.
“Accepting full responsibility for what clearly was a terrible mistake, and a sincere apology for the suffering caused is always a useful step in advancing reconciliation and failure to do so provides great ammunition for terrorists and extremists,” he said.
Gilmour stressed that the UN Human Rights team in Afghanistan continues to document high levels of civilian casualties, particularly from suicide attacks in densely populated areas. He referred to a report released on Thursday by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) detailing a disturbing pattern of attacks at election-related facilities following the start of voter registration for the October 2018 polls, resulting in 271 civilians killed and injured.
In his meeting with President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday, Gilmour welcomed the President’s clear commitment to take additional measures to protect civilians, despite extremely difficult circumstances.
Speaking at a conference on Accountability, Human Rights, Justice and Peace in the pursuit of peace and reconciliation, he said that the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has been performing impressively and remains a key pillar of the human rights community.
“The Afghan People Dialogue facilitated by AIHRC, civil society and UNAMA showed how much the people of Afghanistan want security and a lasting peace built on accountability and justice. I hope the Government hear these compelling voices,” the Assistant Secretary-General said.
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