Afghanistan

Human rights must be integrated into Afghan reconstruction efforts

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(Conference discusses U.S. role in building Afghan institutions) (890)
By Ghada Elnajjar
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Numerous U.S. government officials emphasized that a real concern for human rights must and will be integrated into the development of Afghanistan's economic, political, and security institution.

They spoke at a conference entitled "Reconstructing Afghanistan: Freedom in Crisis," which was held January 29 in cooperation with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and George Washington University Law School.

Addressing policymakers and representatives of non-governmental organizations, Zalmay Khalilzad, President Bush's special envoy to Afghanistan said, "Structures for food, jobs and security help build and reinforce the structures that protect human rights."

U.S. support for security, economic development and human rights is reflected in U.S. financial support for Afghanistan, which, Khalilzad said, would reach over $800 million this year. The role of the United States, he said, is to provide aid and support to this process, but Afghan decisions should be made and agreed to by the Afghan people.

"It is up to the Afghan people to develop their own distinctive political culture. But the world and the United States have some lessons to offer, most importantly the overriding importance of protecting fundamental human rights," said Khalilzad.

Through its contributions of $1 million to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and $2.5 million for the Constitution Commission, the United States "actively supports these structures," Khalilzad said. In addition to financial support, he noted that structures established by the Afghan government to promote judicial reform and encourage respect for human rights receive logistical and technical support from the United States.

Established with the blessing of the Afghan Transitional Authority, the AIHRC is charged with monitoring and investigating human rights violations. It also aims to develop and implement human rights education programs and institutions and propose a national strategy to address justice and past abuses. It functions in tandem with a broader effort to introduce human rights into the institutions of government.

According to Neamat Nojumi, former USAID consultant in Kabul, Afghanistan must build a legitimate legal system that embodies the covenants of Universal Declaration of Human Rights in conjunction with Afghan traditions and culture.

Human rights, he said, must be included in the curriculum and training of the law enforcement agents as well as prosecutors, judges, law clerks, and all students at the law schools. "These steps," he added, "would produce significant numbers familiar with the legal system in relevance to human rights."

A Constitution Commission, composed of Afghan experts some of whom were present at the conference, has been appointed to consider a new constitution which includes clear protections of religious freedom and civil society organizations that promote human rights.

Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, USAID assistant administrator for Asia and the Near East, stressed that it is important to integrate the human rights message into vital development initiatives. "In the health sector alone," she said, "90 percent of health programs favor women. The same is for education."

A total of $80 million is provided to assist women and girls in the areas of human rights, education, healthcare and other programs. According to the White House Office of Global Communications, the United States announced $2.5 million during the first week of January for the construction of 14 women's centers, and an additional $1 million for training women on business and NGO management and political participation, and girls' education.

Ambassador Karl F. Inderfurth, former assistant secretary of state for South Asian Affairs and current professor of the Practice of International Affairs at George Washington University, cautioned policymakers that security in Afghanistan should be priority for the United States and other donor countries. According to Inderfurth, "security needs to be provided first before human rights and everything else can be protected."

During the all-day conference, panels discussed possible new ways to strengthen Afghanistan's central government and promote security and stability in Afghanistan. Ambassador Peter Tomson, diplomatic associate at the Center for Afghanistan Studies and former U.S. envoy to the Afghan Resistance, said that the United States and its allies should work to expand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) throughout the entire country. Currently, the operation of ISAF is restricted to the capital of Kabul and surrounding areas. With security spread outside Kabul, said Tomson, more aid and construction projects can be brought to the rural areas.

Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Lorne Craner, urged a broad effort to provide maximum support enforcing institutional and structural reforms within the government. He said that, based on U.S. experience, nation building is not possible when it is the effort of an outside country alone. It is the role of the United States and the donor community, he said, to help the Afghan people build a democratic nation.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent body of the U.S. government created by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1988 to monitor religious freedom in other countries and advise the president, the secretary of state, and Congress on how best to promote religious freedom (for more on the Commission, please visit www.uscirf.gov). Similar domestic concerns are monitored by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (www.usccr.gov).

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)