UN human rights chief urges Afghanistan to reconsider recent appointments to its rights body

30 Jun 2013

UN human rights chief urges Afghanistan to reconsider recent appointments to its rights body

GENEVA - The United Nations human rights chief has warned that recent appointments to Afghanistan's top human rights body compromise its independence and effectiveness and undermine its high standing with the public and international partners, and has called on the Afghan Government to review the appointments.

“I am alarmed by statements of civil society leaders about the recent appointments,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in a news release, issued on Friday. “All Afghan people and civil society must have full confidence in the AIHRC [Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission] if it is to function effectively.”

On 16 June, after more than 18 months’ delay, according to the news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Afghan President Hamid Karzai appointed five new commissioners to the AIHRC and retained four other serving commissioners, including its chairperson, Sima Samar.

Two days after the appointments, an OHCHR spokesperson flagged that the UN human rights office was “deeply concerned” over the appointments, stressing that selection processes must follow agreed international standards.

Ms. Pillay has asked her office to carefully review the appointment process to assess whether it complies with the Paris Principles, the international standard governing national human rights institutions of this kind, and the AIHRC’s own statutes.

“National human rights institutions are of crucial importance in monitoring and protecting human rights. Since 2002, the AIHRC, has played an absolutely critical, frontline role in defending human rights in Afghanistan,” the High Commissioner noted in the news release.

With the accelerating transition in Afghanistan, Ms. Pillay continued, this vital national institution will assume an even greater importance. “Now is not the time to weaken or undermine it, but to strengthen it and ensure its members are of the highest integrity and are committed to human rights,” she said.

The AIHRC, a permanent national body established under the Afghan Constitution, requires that its commissioners have a good reputation, demonstrate independence, enjoy popular trust and have a commitment to human rights. Commissioners should also not belong to any political party during their term of office.

The Paris Principles require that commissioners of national human rights institutions are widely recognized as independent, expert in human rights and ensure the pluralist representation of civil society and are chosen in a participatory, transparent and consultative selection process with the extensive involvement of civil society.

“Serious concerns have been raised whether the new commissioners meet these important eligibility standards,” Ms. Pillay said, urging the Government of Afghanistan “to reconsider the recent appointments and re-open the selection process” in line with the requirements of the AIHRC law and the Paris Principles.

Ms. Pillay observed that the AIHRC's compliance with the Paris Principles would be examined by the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions in November this year, as part of a regular five-year re-accreditation review.

“A change in AIHRC’s current ‘A’ accreditation would have serious consequences for continued international donor support for both the AIHRC, and for the Government,” the OHCHR news release stated.

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- UN rights body ‘deeply concerned’ over appointment of new Afghan human rights commissioners