Afghanistan: Policing to protect human rights


News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International
AI-index: ASA 11/008/2003
Afghanistan urgently needs a functioning and efficient criminal justice system that protects and promotes human rights - and a police service which serves the community must be an integral part of that system, Amnesty International said today launching a new report Afghanistan: Police reconstruction essential for the protection of human rights (ASA 11/003/2003) in Kabul, Afghanistan. (You can read the full report online at )

After more than two decades of armed conflict during which human rights were routinely abused, the police force, prison system, and courts in Afghanistan have been almost completely destroyed. They offer virtually no protection to the Afghan people. Not only are police unable to guarantee the protection of human rights in Afghanistan, some members of the police are themselves involved in committing human rights violations. Amnesty International has found evidence of torture and ill-treatment of individuals at the hands of the police. Alleged violations include the use of electric shocks, and severe and prolonged beatings particularly at the time of interrogation.

The combination of problems facing the police leaves officers ill-equipped to deal with their everyday policing role in a way that respects human rights. There is a widespread lack of resources necessary to carry out policing. Salaries have been left unpaid, while police stations around the country lack such basic equipment as pens and paper. The lack of sufficient police training, including on how to protect human rights, is an enormous obstacle to developing a functioning police service, while the complete absence of accountability structures permits human rights violators to continue to commit abuses without facing justice.

"Accountability systems must be developed as a priority in order to break the cycle of impunity that has been allowed to flourish for over 20 years in Afghanistan," Amnesty International said.

The human rights organization also called on the international community to step up support for the reconstruction of a police service, that has human rights at its core.

"The reconstruction of a professional police force to uphold the rule of law across the country needs urgent attention and must be a priority for the Afghan authorities, but they cannot do this alone. The international community must provide essential financial and technical support and make a long term commitment to reconstruction," the organization emphasized.

"There is a widespread lack of public faith in the police and unless the problems highlighted in our report are addressed promptly, this will deepen," Amnesty International stressed.


At the International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance of Afghanistan in Tokyo in January 2002, the German government agreed, at the request of the Afghan Interim Administration, to act as the lead government assisting the reconstruction of the Afghan police force. The German Project for Support of the Police in Afghanistan has provided technical and financial support and expertise on policing to the Afghan Transitional Administration. This includes the reconstruction of the Police Academy in Kabul to train 1500 police officers. Other donors including the US are also focusing on training but many other essential areas have been overlooked, most crucially the establishment of accountability mechanisms, including civilian oversight.

There are up to 50,000 police in Afghanistan but they do not function as a united, civilian police force. Many police personnel are former Mujahideen fighters, who have extensive military experience but little or no professional police training. Their loyalties rest with powerful regional commanders, with whom they fought against the Taleban. These commanders have been able to assert control in the provinces, filling the vacuum left by the departure of the Taleban, while the central government has effective control only in Kabul.

Many of the former Mujahideen have been involved in armed conflict for much of their lives, and are accustomed to acting with impunity. While there are some highly committed police officers throughout the country, they are in the minority and their presence in the ranks is insufficient to counter the overwhelming magnitude of the problems that hold back necessary police reform and professionalization.

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