Escalating violence, torture and forced child marriages still blight Afghanistan four years after the removal of the Taliban: “Little progress has been made to bring to account those most responsible for serious human rights violations, some of whom remain in positions of influence if not authority, with Afghan and international security forces also implicated in abusesâ€”arbitrary and prolonged pre-trial detention remains frequent and torture appears to be a common practice.”
Escalating violence, torture and force child marriages are some of the rights abuses still blighting Afghanistan four years after the removal of the fundamentalist Taliban government, the United Nations says.
While the country has made great strides since the Taliban were forced from power, the human rights situation “remains of great concern,” a report released this month by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour says.
“Factional commanders and former warlords remain major power brokers, and the activities of anti-government entities and of the government and international forces combating them continue to take a toll on civilians,” it says.
The Taliban took control of most of Afghanistan in 1996 when the country was torn apart by fighting between rival ethnic factions that killed tens of thousands of people.
The ultra-conservative Taliban imposed a brutal and intolerant version of Islam until they were removed in a US-led attack in late 2001. They have since vowed to topple the new government, playing a major role in an insurgency that has claimed about 1,400 lives this year.
The report praises moves to ensure there is no amnesty for past abuses but says there is nonetheless a state of impunity.
“Little progress has been made to date towards bringing to account those most responsible for serious human rights violations during the decades of conflict, some of whom remain in positions of influence if not authority.
“In addition, violations continue to be perpetrated with apparent impunity by armed strongmen in many parts of the country,” it says.
Afghan and international security forces hunting down the insurgents are also implicated in abuses.
“Arbitrary and prolonged pre-trial detention remains frequent throughout Afghanistan. Torture appears to be a common practice in order to secure confessions,” the document says.
Detainees of the international coalition forces had reported having their property stolen, forced nudity and “a particularly harsh and arbitrary detention regime.”
The formal justice system is meanwhile undermined by corruption and “the ominous influence of warlords and local commanders,” according to the report.
Detention facilities do not conform to international standards and some local authorities operate private prisons, including for women who are forced to work for their jailors.
The situation of women, denied basic education and health care under the Taliban, had improved only in certain respects, with more of them in the paid workforce and education system.
“However, the stark reality is that women in Afghanistan, especially outside of Kabul and urban areas, and particularly among the poor, are generally still viewed as the property of men,” the report says.
Another major concern is child marriage, which some estimates say makes up more than 40 percent of all marriages in Afghanistan. “Girls as young as seven years of age are made to marry much older men, sometimes 30-40 years older,” often to settle debts or disputes.
The practice is in part to blame for regular reports of cases of self-immolation, with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission saying there had already been 85 cases this year.
Women are also killed in the name of honour, forced into prostitution, raped and subjected to sexual and domestic violence, the report says.
However their recourse to justice is limited and offenders rarely prosecuted.
Children also suffer: some as young as six have to work and boys are reportedly still being recruited by the Taliban.
More than 4,750 child soldiers had however been demobilised since the beginning of 2004 in a project run y the UN children`s programme, UNICEF.
The enrolment of boys in schools has risen to 67 percent but that of girls is among the lowest in the world: 40 percent overall and just 10 percent in secondary school, the report says.
Maternal mortality rates are also exceptionally high: about 1,600 out of every 100,000 Afghan mothers die while giving birth or because of related complications.
And about 20 percent of Afghan children are dead before their fifth birthday, with most children dying from preventable diseases.
The report contains other dismal statistics: the life expectancy of Afghans is 44.5 years; one in five suffer from mental health problems; only 23 percent have access to safe water and only 12 percent to adequate sanitation.
It outlines steps the authorities could take to improve the situation, stressing elections such as last month`s parliamentary vote, the first more than three decades, are not enough.
“No matter how many elections are held in Afghanistan, the people will not be able to enjoy their human rights until the rule of law is a fact, impunity is a feature of the past, state institutions are credible and effective, and women are treated equally with men,” it says.
“Enjoyment of human rights is a key indicator of the transition of a nation from a state of armed conflict to one of peace and stability.”
News Service: Pakistan Tribune