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article imageOp-Ed: Human rights groups aghast at Karzai appointments to AIHRC

By Ken Hanly     Jul 2, 2013 in Politics
Kabul - Karzai's five new appointments to the Afghan Human Rights Commission include a Mullah who views Shariah law as the best source of human rights legislation. A second comes from an Afghan fundamentalist party. A third is a bureaucrat close to Karzai.
A fourth member is a retired four-star general. Karzai appointed the members back on June 15. The human rights community was aghast at the appointments. The disapproval of the appointments even extended to the UN. Navi Pillay, the UN human rights commissioner publicly condemned the appointments.
A meeting of Afghan donors begins today (July 2) and the issue will be on the agenda as the group decides if Afghanistan is meeting mutually agreed benchmarks on promoting good government and eliminating corruption known as the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework. In theory, billions in aid could be at risk.
The Afghan Human Rights Commission is regarded in the west as a "crown jewel" of the attempt by western donors to advance human rights in Afghanistan. It is trained and financed by the international community. However, the ruling elite in Afghanistan have quite different values from those embodied in western human rights groups. Although the organization gains praise from local and international activists, it has had a rocky road in relations with Karzai.
Of the nine members, one was killed in a terror attack, another was forced out by the commission itself, and three more were ousted by presidential decree. Karzai and the leader of the fundamentalist Jamiat-i-Islami party that includes several former warlords were incensed by a report from former commissioner Ahmad Nadery that documented war crimes by all factions in Afghanistan. Though the report was completed two years ago, it is still awaiting Karzai's approval for release.
Donor countries tried to put pressure on the Karzai government to appoint new commissioners on the basis of their human rights experience, political independence and in consultation with civil society human rights groups. Karzai seems to have opted to appoint people close to his government, prominent in fundamentalist groups, and some who have connections to former warlords.
In a UN news release Pillay complains: “Serious concerns have been raised whether the new commissioners meet these important eligibility standards”. She even suggested that the group could lose its "A" accreditation under international human rights standards known as the Paris Principles. This is turn could impact international support for both the Afghan government and the Aghan Independent Human Rights Agency.
A presidential spokesperson said that the appointments were made in consultation with civil society. He said that the appointments were a purely internal issue ".., and the U.N.'s human rights commissioner had better to also raise its concerns on the issue of civilian casualties in the war on terror.” Former commissioner Nadery said that demands from civil society and human rights groups were not respected in the appointment process. Wazir Khorami, the deputy director of the Afghan Civil Society and Human Rights Network claims that he gave names of 27 potential candidates for the agency but not one was chosen. He said: “I think he just wants to destroy the commission because in the last 10 years they were so very active and so effective, and now he is under so much pressure from different warlords who are against it”.
The AIHRC has offices throughout Afghanistan and a total of 650 staff members. Most of its budget of $7.5 million annually comes from European countries along with Canada, Australia, and the UN.
In interviews, all five candidates claimed to have sound human rights credentials. One member Maulavi Hotak is a former Taliban official who had been detained for three years in a Bagram military prison. He opposes the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act that is regarded as a prize achievement of the AIHRC. Hotak explained:“First, I’m a Muslim, and Islam is a good source of human rights standards. The people who have written that law do not know Afghanistan and Afghan society very well — perhaps they think Kabul is Afghanistan.”
Another appointment , a woman, was a longtime figure in the fundamentalist Jamiat-i-Islami party. She said she hoped to run for president in 2014 with the support of Karzai, hardly a politically independent personage. She bristled at the suggestion that her connections with the fundamentalist party and former warlords made her views on human rights questionable: “When we were fighting during jihad against the Soviets, every country like the U.S. saw us as champions of human rights, and now we are war criminals and other people are human rights champions?”
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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