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Human Rights in Islamic republic of Afghanistan

Amnesty International Report 2010

Head of state and government: Hamid Karzai
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 28.2 million
Life expectancy: 43.6 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 233/238 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 28 per cent

Afghan people continued to suffer widespread human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law more than seven years after the USA and its allies ousted the Taleban. Access to health care, education and humanitarian aid deteriorated, particularly in the south and south-east of the country, due to escalating armed conflict between Afghan and international forces and the Taleban and other armed groups. Conflict-related violations increased in northern and western Afghanistan, areas previously considered relatively safe.

Background

The Taleban and other anti-government groups stepped up attacks against civilians, including attacks on schools and health clinics, across the country. Allegations of electoral fraud during the 2009 presidential elections reflected wider concerns about poor governance and endemic corruption within the government. Afghans faced lawlessness associated with a burgeoning illegal narcotics trade, a weak and inept justice system and a systematic lack of respect for the rule of law. Impunity persisted, with the government failing to investigate and prosecute top government officials widely believed to be involved in human rights violations as well as illegal activities.

The UN ranked Afghanistan the second poorest out of 182 countries in its index of human development. The country had the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world. Only 22 per cent of Afghans had access to clean drinking water.

Impunity national elections

The failure to implement the 2005 Action Plan on Peace, Justice and Reconciliation and disband illegal armed groups allowed individuals suspected of serious human rights violations to stand for and hold public office.

The Afghan government and its international supporters failed to institute proper human rights protection mechanisms ahead of the August elections. The elections were marred by violence and allegations of widespread electoral fraud, including ballot box stuffing, premature closure of polling stations, opening unauthorized polling stations and multiple voting.

Despite a public outcry, President Karzai's post re-election cabinet included several figures facing credible and public allegations of war crimes and serious human rights violations committed during Afghanistan's civil war, as well as after the fall of the Taleban.

Armed conflict

Abuses by armed groups

Civilian casualties caused by the Taleban and other insurgent groups increased. Between January and September, armed groups carried out more than 7,400 attacks across the country, according to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office. The UN registered more than 2,400 civilian casualties, some two-thirds of whom were killed by the Taleban.

Violence peaked in August during the election period, with many of the attacks indiscriminate or targeted at civilians. Used as polling stations, schools and clinics were vulnerable to attack. According to the UN, at least 16 schools and one clinic were attacked by the Taleban and insurgent groups on election day.

The Taleban and other armed groups continued to attack school buildings and target teachers and pupils. A total of 458 schools, the majority in the south, were closed across the country due to insecurity, affecting 111,180 students. The Taleban particularly targeted girls' schools. Violations by Afghan and international forces

International forces revised their rules of engagement to minimize civilian casualties, but civilian deaths as a result of operations by international and Afghan security forces increased in the first half of the year. NATO and US forces lacked a coherent and consistent mechanism for investigating civilian casualties and providing accountability and compensation to victims.

Freedom of expression journalists

The Taleban and other armed groups stepped up attacks against Afghan journalists and blocked nearly all reporting in areas under their control. Journalists were also intimidated and attacked by the government.

The Taleban attempted to disrupt media coverage of the elections. Media workers faced intimidation and interference from supporters of President Karzai and other candidates, in particular rival presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah. Two journalists and two media workers were killed by government forces and armed groups, and many more were physically attacked.

As in previous years, the government failed to thoroughly investigate killings of and attacks on journalists.

Violence against women and girls

Women and girls continued to face widespread discrimination, domestic violence, and abduction and rape by armed individuals. They continued to be trafficked, traded in settlement of disputes and debts, and forced into marriages, including under-age marriages. In some instances women and girls were specifically targeted for attack by the Taleban and other armed groups.

Women human rights defenders continued to suffer from violence, harassment, discrimination and intimidation by government figures as well as the Taleban and other armed groups.

Legal developments

The government introduced two laws concerning women.

Lack of humanitarian access

Insurgent activity, particularly in the southern and eastern provinces, prevented many humanitarian and aid agencies from operating there. Attacks against aid workers by the Taleban and other armed groups increased considerably, including in the north. There were 172 attacks against NGOs and aid workers, resulting in 19 people dead, 18 injured and 59 abducted. The conflict impaired humanitarian access to some of the worst affected areas in the south and east, affecting the delivery of essential aid and medical care to millions. In March alone, 13 aid convoys were attacked and looted by armed groups.

Right to health

The conflict continued to have an adverse impact on health facilities. Some health clinics and facilities, particularly in the south, suffered as a result of operations by both sides of the conflict, which had a devastating effect on civilians' access to health care.

Internally displaced people

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, estimated that 297,000 Afghans were displaced from their homes, with more than 60,000 in 2009 alone. The majority of the displaced had fled the ongoing fighting in the south, east and south-eastern areas. Thousands were also displaced by drought conditions, flash floods and food shortages in central and northern areas.

Thousands of displaced people were living in makeshift camps in Kabul and Herat with inadequate shelter and very little access to food, drinking water, health care services and education.

A total of 368,786 refugees returned to Afghanistan from Iran and Pakistan during the year, according to UNHCR. Some returnees were displaced from their places of origin because of scarce economic opportunities and limited access to land, housing, drinking and irrigation water, health care and education. In several instances, the returnees' land and property were occupied by local militias allied with the government.

Thousands of displaced Pakistanis, who fled military operations in the north-western parts of Pakistan the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Swat valley were sheltering in Kunar, Khost and Paktika provinces in eastern Afghanistan (see Pakistan entry).

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

Hundreds of Afghans continued to be arbitrarily detained, without clear legal authority and due process. Some 700 Afghans remained in detention at the US base at Bagram airport without charge or trial in "security internment" of indefinite length. On 15 November, the USA inaugurated a new "improved" detention facility adjacent to the Bagram facility but continued to withhold detainees' rights to due process (see USA entry).

NATO and US forces continued to hand over detainees to the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan's intelligence service, where they were at risk of torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and unfair trials.

Law enforcement officials illegally detained and in some cases even tried people on charges not provided for in the Penal Code, such as breaches of contractual obligations, family disputes, as well as so-called "moral crimes". The NDS arrested and detained people, including journalists, for acts considered a "risk to public or state security and safety", which have been vaguely defined in Afghan law.

Justice system

In its national report to the UN Human Rights Council in February, the government acknowledged weaknesses in the justice system, including lack of access to justice for women, corruption and lack of presumption of innocence.

Trial proceedings fell below international standards of fairness, including by not providing adequate time for the accused to prepare their defence, lack of legal representation, reliance on insufficient evidence or evidence gathered through torture and other ill-treatment, and the denial of the defendants' right to call and examine witnesses.

Death penalty

The lower courts sentenced 133 people to death, of whom 24 had their sentences upheld by the Supreme Court of Afghanistan. At least 375 people remained on death row.

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