UN rights expert: Afghanistan's cycle of violence not over, impunity 'entrenched'

, Oct.23, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan - A top U.N. human rights expert called for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to document human rights abuses in Afghanistan, saying the war-ravaged country's cycle of violence was not over and impunity remains entrenched.

Asma Jahangir, an independent expert with the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, said the number of people summarily executed in Afghanistan over the last 23 years of war was "staggering."

The Pakistani lawyer was speaking at the end of a 10-day visit to Afghanistan which took her to Kandahar in the south, Mazar-e-Sharif in the north, and Herat in the west. She is due to submit a report detailing a list of summary or extrajudicial executions to the Geneva-based U.N. commission in March.

"What I have got is the tip of the iceberg. I don't have an exhaustive list of what has happened, but it's enough to show that it continues," Jahangir said.

The lives of women remain vulnerable and there are reports of killings of women by their family members in the name of morality. Despite interventions by local NGOs the authorities have looked away, and have taken no action to investigate such murders. Such gender-based impunity by any State is a clear discrimination of the right to life of women

Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur of the UNCHR
24 October 2002

"It's enough to show that impunity is there and that is why it is encouraging people who have more power of the gun to continue to kill people."

Jahangir said she'd heard "horrifying" accounts of summary executions carried out by the former Taliban regime. But she also said large-scale killings had taken place before the Taliban and after.

She pointed to the alleged killing by northern alliance troops of hundreds of Taliban prisoners last year while they were being transported in shipping containers.

She also cited the "excessive use of force by coalition forces in villages in Uruzgan province" in July 2002. Afghan authorities say 48 civilians were killed and 117 wounded when a U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship strafed five villages in Uruzgan, home to the extended families of wanted Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Jahangir said women were particularly vulnerable to abuses, saying she had received reports of some murdered by their families "in the name of morality."

"Despite interventions by local (non-governmental organizations), the authorities have looked the other way, and have taken no action to investigate such murders," she said.

She said an Afghan soldier in Kandahar, accused of firing at a U.S. soldier, was hanged outside the city by a local Afghan commander as a warning to others not to do the same. The U.S. soldier was not injured.

Jahangir said, however, rights abuses had decreased "dramatically."

"However, an atmosphere of fear prevails, especially in areas outside Kabul," she said.

Jahangir said the Afghan judicial system must be strengthened and the international community must help.

She said "safeguards and restrictions according to international standards for imposing capital punishment" in Afghanistan were not adequate, and urged a moratorium on executions "until such standards can be met."

"I recommend that an independent and impartial international commission of inquiry be constituted to take the first step in mapping and documenting a comprehensive account of grave human rights violations committed during the last 23 years of war," Jahangir said.

"The findings of this commission of inquiry will be a stepping stone toward setting up a mechanism of accountability so that perpetrators are brought to justice," she said.

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