Earlier this month, voters in Afghanistan cast their ballots in what is arguably the most crucial election in the history of Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.The elections represent much more than the appointment of a president. For Afghanistan, which is nearing the end of a critical security transition, it signals the beginning of a new era.
The protection and promotion of human rights, especially those of women and girls, are critical to bringing security and stability to Afghanistan. Despite the challenging situation for women’s human rights in Afghanistan, women have worked hard to regain and advance their rights since the Taliban regime was ousted in late 2001.
Millions of Afghan girls are going to school. Many women now have access to education, employment, basic healthcare and other essential services that previously were off limits to them. Amnesty International is urging presidential candidates to use the elections as an opportunity to support and improve the women’s rights situation and ensure women’s participation in peace building in Afghanistan.
To improve human rights – and women’s rights – in Afghanistan, there are 7 things that the new President must do:
1. Fulfill the Human Rights of Women and Girls
This not only means protecting and promoting women’s and girls’ rights and security, but also supporting women’s engagement so that they are not marginalized but are leaders and participants in this transfer of power. Currently, women’s human rights defenders face threats, intimidation and attack without adequate government protection. Violence against women and girls continues to be rife across the country and implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women continues to be limited. The new president must make supporting ALL of women’s human rights one of his top priorities.
The elections represent much more than the appointment of a president. For Afghanistan ... it signals the beginning of a new era.
Trial proceedings in Afghanistan fall short of international standards of fair trial and by the end of 2013, more than 300 people remained on death row, with 174 death sentences issued in 2013 across Afghanistan.
Judicial decisions are largely based on confessions from the accused, which are often coerced, including through torture or other ill-treatment. The new president must take immediate action to end the death penalty in Afghanistan.
3. Fulfilling Afghanistan’s International Human Rights Obligations
Afghanistan’s Constitution explicitly commits it to abide by international conventions that Afghanistan has signed and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The new president must ensure that Afghanistan abides by international law and support the work of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) to monitor respect for human rights in Afghanistan as well as to foster and protect it.
4. Ensure Accountability for Alleged War Crimes by Afghan and International Forces
The new President must ensure that all allegations of civilian casualties and harm resulting from national and international military operations are fully investigated and that a credible independent mechanism to monitor, investigate, report and provide remedy is created.
5. Help Internally Displaced People
According to UNHCR, there are around 600,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan, largely as a result of the conflict. Many experience multiple human rights violations including forced evictions, inadequate housing and lack of access to affordable food, water, health and education, sometimes leading to further instability in otherwise relatively stable urban areas.
The new president must ensure that all necessary measures are taken to minimize displacement in areas affected by military operations; and help expand access for humanitarian actors seeking to meet the emergency needs of all IDPs and displacement-affected communities.
6. End Impunity for Past Human Rights Abuses and War Crimes
Inadequate investigations and accountability have hindered justice for past human rights abuses in Afghanistan. The new Afghan president must guarantee prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial judicial investigation of human rights abuses and war crimes, in accordance with international law and standards.
7. Protect and Respect Freedom of Expression
The new president must protect and respect freedom of expression in Afghanistan. Since 2001, more than 450 journalists and other media workers in Afghanistan, including 54 in 2013, have been killed, injured, beaten, threatened or detained.
Afghan journalists are finding it increasingly difficult to report on cases of corruption and criminal activity by government officials and members of the Afghan parliament, as well as reporting on cases of other human rights violations committed by the Taliban.
Afghanistan’s election presents a historic opportunity for the new president to put human rights, and women’s rights, first on the agenda.