Punishing "Moral Crimes" in Afghanistan

afghan women protest

Afghan Young Women for Change (YWC) activists, holding placards which read "where is justice?", take part in a protest denouncing violence against women in Afghanistan in Kabul on April 14, 2012.

Despite enormous improvements to women’s livelihoods in the decade since the fall of the Taliban, much action is needed by the Afghan government and the international community.

For example, women in Afghanistan face some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, more than half of all girls in the country do not attend school, and many women are forced into marriage shortly after puberty.

To make matter worse, women can face the prospect of being jailed for reporting violence perpetrated against them as reported in Human Rights Watch’s new report, detailing the detention of 400 women and girls imprisoned in the country for “moral crimes”.


Don't Jirg' Them Around

The Peace Jirga in Afghanistan has been delayed for a second time till June 2, 2010. It is important to know that jirgas are a traditional Afghan legal practice but are not governed by Afghan law. The official word from Pres. Karzai’s office is that ‘technicalities’ of getting that many people to Kabul safely requires more time.  The latest delay only reflects the government’s continued lack of organization, says Haroun Mir, a former researcher at the Afghan Center for Research and Policy and a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary elections. “But it [is] also because the government does not have a specific plan,” he adds. As many as 1,600 people are believed to attend the jirga, 20% of those will be women

Whatever the reason, the recent signal by President Obama in support of peace negotiations by President Karzai with members of the Taleban is troublesome to many of us in the Afghan and International human rights and women’s rights organizations as well as within civil societies in Afghanistan.

Upon meeting with President Karzai this past month, President Obama is quoted as saying:  “I appreciated the president sharing his plans for the upcoming Consultative Peace Jirga—an important milestone that America supports.  In addition, the United States supports the efforts of the Afghan government to open the door to Taliban who cut their ties to Al-Qaeda, abandon violence and accept the Afghan constitution, including respect for human rights.”

Having been in Afghanistan nine times, covering about one year’s worth of living there as a teacher trainer both in Kabul and in rural areas, I have witnessed positive steps made by women.  Most obvious progress seems to have happened in larger cities like the capital of Kabul.  The majority of women still live in rural areas and progress there has been much slower, albeit moving in the right direction.


Response to General Dostum

Last week’s revelations about war crimes committed in Afghanistan in 2001 and the US supported cover up have caused quite a stir. Even General Abdul Dostum, the alleged perpetrator of the mass killings of Taliban prisoners of war, made a public comment, stating that it is impossible prisoners were abused”. Right. My colleague Sam Zarifi wrote up an excellent response. He brings in his first hand experience in Afghanistan. Here are some excerpts:

If, as Dostum asserts, there were investigations by the Afghan and U.S. governments, they should be made public. If their findings were accurate, Dostum should have nothing to fear from a reexamination of the facts. But the facts currently available indicate very strongly that many detainees – possibly hundreds – died while in the custody of Dostum’s forces in November 2001 and their bodies were dumped in the nearby desert of Dasht-e Leili (adding to the numerous bodies unceremoniously deposited there by various warring factions over the past three decades).
I was a human rights investigator in northwestern Afghanistan in February 2002. At the time, numerous witnesses spoke of seeing several trucks dumping what appeared to be human remains in Dasht-e Leili, while others told of detainees being held for days in overcrowded shipping containers without food, water, or medical care, and, in some instances, being shot while inside the containers.

Crucially, the International Committee of the Red Cross did not have access to the Taliban detainees at Sheberghan until December 10, 2001 – and thus could not monitor their conditions during the period when the detainees died. This undermines Dostum’s claim that a massacre could not have occurred because the ICRC would have known about it.
Dostum is correct in one regard: There is a highly politicized atmosphere surrounding the timing of the increased attention to this incident, and that is linked to President Hamid Karzai’s reinstatement of Dostum as the army chief of staff after he had been removed in disgrace last year. Karzai has also nominated as his vice presidential candidate Marshal Fahim, another Northern Alliance commander facing widespread allegations of serious human rights violations and war crimes.
Many Afghans, who have repeatedly demanded truth and accountability for the three decades of atrocities they have endured, have told Amnesty International they are extremely disappointed by the presence of such figures in Karzai’s administration. The ongoing impunity of senior government officials has done much to erode public confidence in the Afghan government, something now readily acknowledged even by international militaries.
General Dostum has bemoaned the increasing operations of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda after seven years of international nation building. It is time to ask: After seven years of appeasing warlords and human rights violators, isn’t it time for the Afghan government and its international supporters to try truth and accountability?

Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.