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Human rights in Afghanistan

Amnesty International Report 2008

Head of state and government: Hamid Karzai
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 32.3 million
Life expectancy: 42.9 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 234/240 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 28 per cent

Increasing conflict and insecurity affected large parts of Afghanistan and, aggravated by drought and floods, led to large-scale displacement of people throughout the year. At least 6,500 people were estimated to have been killed in the context of the conflict. Violations of international humanitarian and human rights law were committed with impunity by all parties, including Afghan and international security forces and insurgent groups. All sides carried out indiscriminate attacks, which included aerial bombardments by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) forces, as well as suicide attacks by armed groups. According to the Afghanistan NGO Security Office, there were around 2,000 non-combatant civilian deaths, with international forces causing over a quarter of casualties and insurgent groups just under half. Rights associated with education, health and freedom of expression were violated, particularly for women. Human rights defenders and journalists, many of them women, were threatened, physically intimidated, detained or killed. Reforms of key government institutions, including the police and intelligence service, made limited progress. Government officials and local power-holders were not held accountable for reported abuses and there was little or no access to justice in many areas.


The Afghan government continued with the implementation of the Afghanistan Compact, agreed in 2006 with its international partners, relating to development, security and governance. The number of international military forces, including both OEF and ISAF troops, increased to at least 49,000.

Levels of insurgency intensified, with the Taleban and other armed groups gaining temporary control of a number of districts, particularly in the south, and clashing repeatedly with Afghan and international military forces.

Taleban demands for the withdrawal of international forces were rejected by the Afghan government. There were increasing attempts to facilitate dialogue between parties to the conflict. In addition, efforts to encourage a regional resolution to the conflict led to a peace jirga (informal tribal council) being held in August 2007 with participants from both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Abuses by the Afghan government

Justice system

In June an international conference highlighted serious and systematic flaws in Afghanistan's administration of justice, including the Ministry of Justice, courts, prisons, the police, the army and the Afghan intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), despite several years of international support to reform these institutions.

The NDS mandate continued to be opaque as the presidential decree that outlines its powers remained classified. In practice, the NDS appeared to continue to exercise extensive powers including detaining, interrogating, investigating, prosecuting and sentencing people alleged to have committed crimes against national security. The lack of separation of these functions violated the right of suspects to a fair trial, contributed to impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations and undermined the rule of law. There were consistent reports of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees held by the NDS.

Other serious failings that continued to undermine the effective administration of justice included: a judiciary hampered by some unqualified judicial personnel; a poorly trained and paid police force; the threat to judicial independence through pressure from armed groups; and unfair trial procedures, including violations of the right to call and examine witnesses, and the denial of defendants' rights to legal defence and access to information. The lack of confidence in or access to the formal justice system resulted in reliance on informal justice systems, especially in rural areas where up to 80 per cent of cases were reportedly resolved using informal justice mechanisms.


A culture of impunity continued, boosted in February by the introduction of the Amnesty Bill, which absolves the government of responsibility for bringing to justice suspected perpetrators of past human rights violations and crimes under international law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. In December, President Karzai stated that his administration did not yet have the capacity to arrest and prosecute many of those responsible for past and continuing human rights abuses. Those accused of such abuses included members of parliament as well as provincial government officials.

There was no progress on the implementation of the Action Plan on Peace, Justice and Reconciliation in Afghanistan launched in February 2006.

Death penalty

Fifteen people were executed in October, the first executions for three years. One person sentenced to death allegedly bribed his way out of the execution; the 15 were gunned down as they attempted to flee the execution. The execution was immediately followed by a 10-day hunger strike by some prisoners in Pol-e Charkhi prison. The prisoners said that the executions were not based on fair and transparent trials, and that some were politically motivated.

Between 70 and 110 people were believed to remain on death row.

Abuses by international forces

Killings of civilians

International military forces reportedly caused the deaths of several hundred civilians. Some may have been victims of indiscriminate attacks in aerial bombardments and other operations that may have violated international humanitarian law. After several high-profile incidents in mid-2007 involving civilian deaths caused by international military forces, ISAF forces instituted new rules of engagement. It remained unclear what impact this had, although there were regular reports of disproportionate civilian casualties as a result of international military operations.

  • On 4 March, following a suicide attack on a US convoy on the Jalalabad highway in Nangarhar province, US troops opened fire indiscriminately along a 12km stretch of road killing at least 12 civilians and injuring 35 people. Investigations by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) found that US forces had used indiscriminate and excessive force. The US military referred the case to its Naval Criminal Investigative Service citing the need for further investigation.
  • Torture and other ill-treatment

    ISAF forces continued to transfer detainees to the NDS, despite allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by the NDS. Attempts by international forces to monitor transferred detainees were inconsistently applied.

    In addition, forces involved in the US-led OEF continued to transfer people to the NDS and to US-run detention facilities, including at Bagram airbase near Kabul. US authorities transferred more than 100 detainees from Bagram and Guantanamo to the newly refurbished D-Block of the high security Pol-e Charkhi prison outside Kabul. It was not clear who had oversight of the D-Block. About 600 detainees were believed to remain in Bagram at the end of the year.

    Abuses by armed groups

    Abductions and killings

    Armed groups, including the Taleban, Hizb-e Islami and al-Qa'ida, deliberately targeted civilians as part of their ongoing struggle with the Afghan government and international military forces. This included killing people perceived to be working or co-operating with the Afghan government or international military forces. Mullah Dadullah, a Taleban commander, commented that kidnapping was a "good tactic"and encouraged Taleban fighters to use it more. There was a sharp rise in kidnappings across southern and south-eastern Afghanistan.

  • Four Afghan provincial court employees were abducted by the Taleban while travelling in Andar district, Ghazni, on 24 July. Their bodies were found later by Afghan authorities.
  • Taleban forces abducted 23 Korean nationals on 19 July while they were travelling through Ghazni. Two of the hostages were killed; the rest were released after six weeks' captivity.
  • Taleban forces abducted five Afghan and two German nationals on 18 July in Wardak province.One of the Afghans escaped and one of the Germans died in captivity. The remaining hostages were released in October.
  • Suicide attacks

    Armed groups carried out some 140 suicide attacks against military and civilian targets, killing around 300 civilians.

  • Up to 80 people were killed during a suicide bomb attack on 6 November at a ceremony in Baghlan province. Scores of people were injured. Some of the deaths and injuries may have been caused by guards of members of parliament present at the ceremony who apparently opened fire after the initial bomb attack.
  • On 17 June, 24 people were killed and 35 injured by a suicide bomber aboard a bus transporting Afghan police trainees.

  • Killings following quasi-judicial processes

    The Taleban and other groups unlawfully killed people following quasi-judicial processes.

    Freedom of expression

    Severe restrictions on freedom of expression remained in place. Several journalists were arrested or intimidated and killed. Members of the AIHRC and representatives of national human rights organizations also faced threats.

    The Journalists' Independent Union of Afghanistan registered 53 cases of violence against journalists in 2007 by the Afghan government and Taleban insurgents. In six of the cases a journalist was killed.

    Violence against women and girls

    Women's rights continued to be eroded in many areas. Women working for the government faced threats and several survived attempted assassinations.

    A decrease in the number of attacks against schools allowed some schools in insecure areas to reopen and there was an overall rise in the number of children attending school. However, fears about safety meant many girls could not go to school. According to the AIHRC's second report on economic and social rights, published in August, 36.1 per cent of school-aged girls were not attending schools due to issues of accessibility, including security.

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