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Afghanistan needs progressive Constitution to build sustainable peace

10 December 2003

Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga (grand tribal assembly) must agree a progressive Constitution in December that will enshrine minority rights, women’s rights and religious freedom, if it is to contribute effectively to the country’s desperate search for sustainable peace. Two years since the Bonn peace accords established transitional arrangements prior to a new permanent Afghan government, the human rights situation in Afghanistan remains perilous. These are the conclusions of a new briefing by Minority Rights Group International (MRG)1, which highlights an array of failures, rights violations and setbacks, including the re-emergence of the Taliban in some provinces.

According to MRG, hundreds of people have been killed in fighting over the summer of 2003, including fighting between rival militia groups in the north, where Kabul’s authority holds little sway over powerful regional warlords. In the south, the Taliban have launched large-scale attacks and are now claiming de facto control of two provinces. Much of the country has remained essentially lawless since the fall of the Taliban in November 2001, and the criminal justice system is barely functioning with police and courts unable to protect basic human rights. The Asia Development Bank indicates that only a small proportion of the US $5.1 billion pledged at the Tokyo donor conference in 2001 has been received, affecting the ability to establish long-term development programmes.

The situation of Afghan women remains cause for serious concern as persistent women’s rights violations remain widespread within society. Violence against women and cases of forced and early marriages are unfortunately common, and discrimination in employment, education and public life remain endemic. Disparities continue to exist between the rural and urban experience, and disturbing rumours of ‘honour killings’ ordered by local commanders in the northern provinces of Balkh, Samangan and Baghlan have been recorded. The systematic denial of women’s rights pre-dates the rise of the Taliban and remains a deep-rooted phenomenon in Afghan society. Adequate constitutional provisions for the protection of women’s rights are considered essential by MRG although at present the draft Constitution makes little specific mention of women other than in the context of education programmes.

Elements of the draft Constitution have been strongly welcomed by MRG including provisions for the protection of minorities, clearly designed to attempt to heal ethnic divisions in the country. Article 6 of the draft provides that the state is obliged to ensure national unity and equality among all ethnic groups and tribes and to provide for balanced development in all areas of the country. Article 2 establishes Islam as the religion of Afghanistan, but importantly also provides that followers of other religions are free to perform their religious ceremonies within the limits of the law.

Director of Minority Rights Group International, Mark Lattimer, stated: ‘Afghanistan is far from a success story at present, and the reality is one of continuing rights violations and tension. The legacy of a quarter century of conflict is a society in which peace, tolerance and democratic governance are distant ideals, which need time to grow among all communities. A Constitution which entrenches human rights will not only protect women and minorities but will build confidence towards peace.’

Minority Rights Group International calls on the Afghan Transitional Authority to ensure that all ethnic and religious communities should be able to participate fully in formulating Afghanistan’s new Constitution, and in the presidential and parliamentary elections that follow. The Constitution should conform to human rights norms including the protection of minorities and women, and political and financial resources should be dedicated to implementation of constitutional provisions.

Notes for editors

Afghanistan: The Search for Peace‘ by Conor Foley. Published by Minority Rights Group International (MRG). December 2003. ISBN 1 904584 16 0.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].