Human Rights

Afghanistan's progress in upholding citizens' rights sets example for region

By Sulaiman

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Afghan music students play during a rehearsal at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul on February 19, 2019. Twenty years ago, all types of music were banned in Afghanistan. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

KABUL -- Just 20 years ago, very few Afghans had access to health care, kangaroo courts were widespread, music and television were banned, and no independent media existed.

All that has changed now, because of the government's dedication to upholding human rights, improving access to health care, protecting women's rights and encouraging a robust and free media environment, officials and analysts say.

After the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, an interim administration ran the country for six months. In June 2002, a transitional government took power until presidential elections took place in 2004.

Before 2002, Afghanistan ranked lowest in the world in healthcare delivery, according to the Ministry of Public Health.

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Afghan reporters of TOLOnews work in the newsroom at TOLO TV station in Kabul on September 11, 2018. Afghanistan's constitution and media protection laws have created a robust and free media environment. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

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Afghan cyclist Idrees Syawash, 27, talks to residents during his awareness campaign against the COVID-19 coronavirus in Surkh Rod District, Nangarhar Province, on May 19. Today, 90% of Afghans -- even those living in the remotest parts of the country -- have access to health services. [Noorullah Shirzada/AFP]

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A passer-by looks up on May 25, 1999, at two amputated hands that have been strung up from a lamppost in Kabul as a warning against crime. [Luke Hunt/AFP]

At that time, only 10%-12% of residents were covered by health services in Afghanistan, said Dr. Ghulam Dastagir Nazari, head of the ministry's Expanded Programme on Immunisation.

In 2020, 90% of Afghans -- even those living in the remotest parts of the country -- have access to health services, he said.

"In 2002, there were 400 health centres in the entire country, while now 3,500 health facilities are operational throughout the country," Nazari said.

"There were no midwives to work in remote areas before the new government [took over in 2002]," he said. "We established midwifery training programmes in every district and trained nearly 24,000 midwives throughout the country."

"Because of poor access to health services a few years back, maternal and newborn mortality was very high, but now it has seen a considerable decline," he said.

"In 2002, only 16% of Afghanistan had access to vaccination and nutrition services, but now more than 60% of the population receive immunisation services, and nutrition services are [widely] delivered throughout the country," Nazari said.

"Once polio was commonplace in the country, but today it is on the verge of being eliminated," he said.

Protecting human rights

The Afghan government has made a number of strides in ensuring human rights for its citizens.

In 2002, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) began operation following the establishment of the transitional government.

"Citizens suffered various types of atrocities and tortures before 2001, and no person or group had the courage to raise its voice and stop the human rights abuses imposed on Afghans," said Sima Samar, former director of the AIHRC and former minister of women's affairs.

"But following the establishment of the [AIHRC] after 2001, it was able to monitor [rights abuses] and support human rights in a much better way," she said.

"It closely monitored human rights and civil liberties," Samar said. "The commission investigated and widely shared ... human rights violations, and it carried out a lot of work to improve and strengthen the state of human rights."

"Between 1996 and 2001, kangaroo courts were widely held," said Samar. "Afghans were executed on main streets and playgrounds without a court decision. Everyone was tortured -- whether stealing a bicycle or committing a murder."

"The Independent Human Rights Commission's good performance and independence paved the way for Afghanistan, which now has one of the best human rights commissions among the countries in the world," she said.

Afghanistan's dedication to improving human rights has included enhancing women's role in society.

"Afghan women have had achievements in the past two decades that are unprecedented in the history of Afghanistan," said Shukria Barakzai, a women's rights activist and former member of the Wolesi Jirga.

"The achievements include women's participation in strengthening democracy and their presence in the executive and legislative branches, in civil society institutions and political parties, in the security forces, and in the business and investment sectors," she said.

"During the past two golden decades, Afghan women have served as ministers, deputy ministers, agency directors, members of parliament and members of provincial councils," she said. "Women's presence in the media and their growth in music, arts, sports and international conferences are among other accomplishments."

In addition, more women are joining Afghan security forces as they seek to play a bigger role in fighting terrorism and in ensuring the security of their country, according to military sources.

"Women were deprived of their rights until 2001, as they were confined to their homes, experienced forced and early marriage, and didn't have the right to get an education, go to work or to access other services," Barakzai said.

"Laws to punish the perpetrators of violence against women were nonexistent," she said.

"But today, women enjoy their fundamental and natural rights, and those who commit violence against them are tried and punished based on the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women and other laws."

Freedom of press

Before 2002, Afghans were not allowed to listen to music or watch television, and only one radio station functioned in Afghanistan -- Shariat Ghagh (Voice of Sharia).

"In the past, there was no system for recognising and no laws recognised the freedom of expression or freedom of the press," said Mujeeb Khelvatgar, director of NAI, a non-governmental organisation that supports free media in Afghanistan.

"But the new constitution and other enforced laws have preserved the freedom of expression and media to an extent that has no precedent in Afghan history," he said. "The freedom of expression we have in Afghanistan sets an example in our region."

"Creating the media law and access-to-information law, which are among the best laws [of their kind] in the world, and establishing the media commission, commission on media violations, joint committees at Kabul and provincial levels, and bodies that support the free media are among the achievements in institutionalising the media and freedom of the press," Khelvatgar said.

"The growth in the number of media outlets and media workers is among other considerable achievements in the past two decades," he said.

"There are more than 90 TV channels, more than 195 radio stations, more than 300 print media publications and 14 news agencies operating throughout Afghanistan," he said. "We have 8,000 media workers, and more than 1,000 hours of news content is produced and aired by media outlets every week."

"Afghans didn't have freedom of speech and couldn't [freely] share their views before 2001," he said. "No news content was produced, no one was able to criticise and Afghans weren't able to raise their voice."

"But today, the media have given the public the power to raise its voice for ensuring its rights, justice and freedom."

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Part (2) All the employees of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission during the presidency of Sima Samar were ethnically Hazara which means that she is a fascist and bigoted woman who always has acted discriminately against other ethnic groups especially against Pashtuns; however, she has never said or written anything about the Hazara criminals. Another point is that, Sima Samar had to disclose a list of the criminals who were involved in the human rights violations, while she did not do so for she was scared of losing her position. This dirty and fascist woman should not be given chance to speak at all because she violated women rights. You know that whenever she is visiting Europe, she shares concerns with European officials only about the Hazaras and is telling them they should give them asylum for there are dangers for Hazaras in Afghanistan; however, the most physical and financial loses have occurred to Pashtuns during the past 20 years of war. On one side, Taliban killed Pashtuns, destroyed their schools, clinics, bridges…, and on the other side, the Afghan government and International coalition forces crushed and killed them in the name of Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

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Mrs. Shukria Barakzai is one of the most tenacious supporters of Taliban. She called Mullah Omar a champion while she was speaking on a public TV. Please you should interview with the people who are honest in their words and actions.

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Progresses were made; however, many drawbacks also have occurred. Drawbacks are that there is no security. Stealing and bribery are going on, corruption has reached to its peak, humans are killed just like birds.

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Part (1) Because the whole comment cannot be placed. When you are comparing the eras before and after 2001, do not compare only the 5-year long term of Taliban and the following 20 years, but instead, you may consider that the 4 years long term of [Burhanuddin] Rabbani's sinister regime is also similar to that of Taliban. During the era of Rabbani, Afghanistan lost its dignity. During the era of Rabbani and Massoud, the national army was dissolved, the national police was dissolved, the national security department's documents were shared with the Pakistani ISI. At that time, Daily Frontier Post of Peshawar wrote that Massoud gave the list of Pashtuns who worked in Pakistan in favor of Afghanistan to Hameed Gul, chief of Pakistani intelligence at a time when the ISI trained persons such as Massoud, Rabbani, Sayyaf, Hekmatyar… have reached to power in Afghanistan. Secondly, during the era of Rabbani, girls in Makroryan neighborhood threw themselves from the 4th floor [because they were bothered], insane women were raped in the insane house, check posts were created everywhere in the country where each and every modest person was getting looted. Abdul Ali Mazari's militia in Kabul did cut women's breasts, they made the beheaded men to dance, Mazari's militia forced pregnant women to get off the car and they watched how they were delivering the babies. These were militias of Mazari who had support of this same Sima Samar, and she was visiting them from time to time and was attracting foreign support for them. Sima Samar herself is a criminal who should be sentenced by a national court.

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It is true that Afghanistan has made a lot of progresses in some areas which should be preserved. Afghan peace team should try to preserve these achievements and not to compromise on it in the peace talks with Taliban.

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All these achievements that you published in your report should be preserved in the peace talks. These achievements should be a red line for the Afghan government. In the media sector, Afghanistan has made much progress, and we can say that the situation of freedom of media in Afghanistan is better than in many neighboring countries, or even in Western countries. For example, look at Iran; the media in this country cannot portray the weakness of the government, or criticize the government for its shortcoming and incompetency, but in Afghanistan, media criticizes the government every day. Even a number of the country's media outlets work for the interests of foreign countries in Afghanistan and act against the national interests of Afghanistan, and the government still does not prevent them from operating. In the field of sports, Afghanistan has made significant progress. The Afghan national football team is the best team in the region; the national cricket team is even better than the Pakistani team, which has more than half a century experience. In other sports, Afghanistan has presented champions to the world who have raised the Afghan tricolor flag around the world, but not much has been done in the field of film and cinema. Turkish, Indian and other series are still broadcast on Afghan televisions, which is completely contrary to our culture. Much work needs to be done in the film, especially in the series sector, and broadcasting of foreign series on Afghan televisions should be banned.

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