On the Human Rights Situation in Afghanistan
By Nasrine Gross
(Published in Dari and French in Les Nouvelles de Kaboul in Kabul third week of January 2003)

In the last 24 years two invasions on its soil have forced Afghanistan to pay attention to war and not to other institutions. Both times the Afghan people successfully defended the independence and religion of Afghanistan. We need to say bravo to our people and not berate them. At the same time, war, everywhere, creates a situation and mentality that make it easy to violate human rights. And Afghanistan is no exception. War erodes the rule of law that ensures the rights of people; it erodes the institutions of the rule of law that define, protect and promote the nation’s human rights, such as a constitution, legal system of justice, police force, education, economy and mass communication. So, war disrupts both the constitution and institutions.

Since last year Afghanistan has put several mechanisms into place to bring back the rule of law and put on track once again the human rights situation: The Constitution of 1964 has been in effect, the Supreme Court and free press are in place, schools have reopened, the economy, although dependent on foreign aid, has had a start, and the emergency Loya Jirga was successful in its procedures (such as Karzai’s election and the lawful behavior of the delegates during all the proceedings). As well, the Human Rights Commission and the Judicial Commission have been established. As citizens, we now have both a responsibility and an opportunity to utilize these mechanisms to the fullest to ensure our human rights. For example, we need to always refer to the Constitution and the rights and responsibilities therein, whether we are dealing with individuals, institutions, government or the private sphere.

To be sure, we are facing some very difficult problems. Such as the fact that our legal system of justice has been so ruined that it cannot attend equally to each citizen: All the courthouses have been destroyed, there are not enough trained judges and the code books for the judges to use in their rulings have not yet been distributed to every courthouse. The police are in the same situation: They are not established fully in every district and province to ensure public and private security and rights. Furthermore, very few citizens have had access to the Constitution or the Bonn Agreement. We need to encourage our government to establish as quickly as possible these institutions. We also need to remind ourselves and our communities to use the Supreme Court to rehabilitate the legal system, and the police to protect the public and private peace, and to acquaint ourselves with the provisions of the Constitution and the Bonn Agreement.

War also changes society’s mentality and encourages personal judgment and action. We need to change some of our own habits. For example, a major principle of human rights is the fact that crime is an individual act that must be proven in a court of law and until then the individual is presumed innocent. We need to practice this ourselves and not irresponsibly accuse groups or individuals. We need to distinguish between personal and legal judgments; our personal opinion is not law. We also need to understand that when we say we have human rights, it is not just for ourselves alone but it includes all groups, all individuals, even our enemies. We need to understand the responsibility that having rights carries with them and allow each citizen to be responsible for his/her actions. Especially the educated and urban segments of our society, who have more of an understanding of law and police, we have a particular mission to help other citizens, in the countryside or those that are non-literate, realize the benefits of human rights in their daily lives.

Actually the state of human rights in Afghanistan is not as bad as in some other war-torn countries because we have in our culture and religion powerful deterrents against violations. Values such as our love of equality and brotherhood, our innate modesty and politeness, our deep belief in ‘Rahman-e Rahim’ (compassion and kindness, part of the first words of the Koran), our culture of protection (that in the poorest areas young boys and girls go from village to village on donkey backs, unharmed; or a slight insult to a woman in public and immediately several passersby come to her defense), all help us express the dignity of man. We need to use these cherished Afghan values to encourage the mentality of human rights among our war-ravaged people and with it the respect for the human rights of all Afghans.

In our country, in as much as we Afghans love our freedom and independence we also love and cherish justice. Our social soul craves social justice. Creating the right atmosphere and attending in a responsible and legal way to the gross violations of human rights of all these years will help our country heal from the wounds. For example, at the very beginning of these 24 years, there was the mass killing of Prince Daud’s family including women and children. Or, during the Soviet occupation, in a two week period, the killing by the communist state of Afghanistan of over ten thousand religious and educated people. Or, the Yacaolang atrocities committed by the Taliban. And a number of other mass killings. All without criminal charges or legal trial. How can we bring the responsible persons to justice so that the social psyche realizes that the state of Afghanistan is now truly based on justice and freedom? How can we prevent these mass killings from recurring in the future? To what extent the foundation of our future depends on our past actions?

We should also remember that during this period of war, foreigners also violated the human rights of Afghans and the sanctity of Afghanistan. Supposedly, in the Guantanamo prison there are citizens of forty countries. What were citizens of so many countries doing in our country killing or buying our citizens while modern Afghanistan has never invaded another country? Also, among so many terrorism-related arrests around the world there are no Afghans found. Do we Afghans have a higher notion of human rights? Afghanistan’s Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Organization that is in charge of developing better accountability among member states, should also work on this aspect of the problem.

Unfortunately, in the international community, human rights (and women’s rights) have at times been used for short-term political objectives. It is important that at the dawn of a new era in our country, Afghanistan, including state and nation, rise above politicizing the situation and avoid gamesmanship that makes of human rights a tool of control. Instead, Afghanistan must continue to work to reestablish the rule and environment of law that will ensure justice and rights equally to each and every Afghan citizen. It is only then that the success of human rights will be Afghanistan’s success, nationally and internationally.