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

19 Jun 2013

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

GENEVA - The United Nations human rights office said on Tuesday it was “deeply concerned” over President Hamid Karzai’s appointment of five new commissioners to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), stressing that selection processes must follow agreed international standards.

“The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi 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 statute,” said spokesperson for the Office, Rupert Colville, during a press briefing in Geneva.

“These require, among other elements, that the process is transparent, that it includes broad consultation throughout, and that members are selected to serve in their own individual capacity rather than on behalf of any organization.”

On 16 June, Mr. Karzai appointed five new commissioners, and asked four other commissioners, including Chairperson Sima Samar, to serve a further term. Mr. Colville said that Ms. Pillay believes “it is essential that the high calibre of its members be maintained and the AIHRC’s independence and integrity be upheld.”

The Paris Principles list a number of responsibilities for national institutions. Among these is ensuring the institution’s independence and pluralism. Compliance with the Paris Principles is a requirement for national human rights institutions to gain access to the UN Human Rights Council and other bodies.

Mr. Colville emphasized the importance of having the appointments follow the Paris Principles, and said the Commission’s compliance will also be evaluated by the international accreditation body for national institutions in November this year, “at which point, the AIHRC risks having its current ‘A’ status accreditation downgraded if the appointment of new commissioners is viewed as not being in line with the Principles.”

Out of almost 100 national human rights institutions around the world, 67 are accredited with “A” Status for compliance with the Paris Principles.

For more than a decade, AIHRC has played a “leading, courageous and active” role in the promotion and protection of human rights of all Afghans in an exceptionally difficult environment, while managing successfully to preserve its independence, said Mr. Colville.

Mr. Colville also noted that the appointment of new commissioners in line with the Paris Principles was a key human rights benchmark in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework agreed between the Government of Afghanistan and its international partners in July 2012.

Also on Tuesday, a leading global human rights group, the Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the AIHRC appointments raised “concerns about the country’s most important rights body,” adding that the appointments were made with “little public consultations.”

“The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission plays an absolutely crucial role in protecting the rights of all Afghans,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW. “The five new commissioners have huge tasks ahead of them and need to show Afghans that they will be strong champions of their rights. Donors need to watch the work of the newly constituted commission every step of the way.”

A meeting of some prominent figures from the Afghan civil society and human rights organizations in the capital, Kabul, on Tuesday also expressed similar concerns over the AIHRC appointments.