Karzai Choices for Afghan Human Rights Panel Raise Questions

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KABUL, Afghanistan -- As Afghan political appointees go, they may not seem that unusual taken as a group. One is a mullah who sees Shariah law as the best source for human rights legislation. Another was in the central bureau of the country's most powerful fundamentalist party. A third is a bureaucrat seen as close to the president, and a fourth is a retired police four-star general.

They were among the five new members President Hamid Karzai appointed two weeks ago to the nine-person Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and the news brought a furious reaction in the human rights community here. The ripples quickly spread to Geneva, where the United Nations' human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, took the unusual step of publicly condemning the presidential appointments.

Now, the appointments are said to be on the agenda as Afghanistan's foreign donors meet to assess whether Mr. Karzai's government is living up to the mutually agreed-upon benchmarks on promoting good government and combating corruption, known as the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework. Theoretically, billions of dollars in international reconstruction aid is at stake.

A meeting of donors here, which began on Monday and ends on Wednesday, is likely to conclude that, on the human rights commission, Afghanistan failed in its commitments, according to a Western diplomat familiar with the deliberations, speaking about the closed-door talks on the condition of anonymity.

The human rights commission, or A.I.H.R.C., is one of the crown jewels of the Western effort here, an organization trained and financed by the international community that gains high marks from activists both locally and abroad.

It has been known for more than a year that President Hamid Karzai would be appointing new commissioners: among the former commissioners, one was killed in a terrorist attack, another was forced out by the commission, and three more were dismissed by presidential decree.

The dismissals, in particular, were widely seen as a move to retaliate against the former rights commissioner Ahmad Nader Nadery, whose shepherding of a study of war crimes by all factions in Afghanistan had made him powerful enemies. In particular, the report was said to anger Marshall Muhammad Qasim Fahim, the first vice president and a leader of the fundamentalist Jamiat-i-Islami party, which includes several former warlords. The report, though completed two years ago, has yet to be released publicly because it is awaiting Mr. Karzai's approval.

Concerned, donor countries and United Nations agencies leaned on the Afghan government to assure that new commissioners would be chosen for their political independence, human rights experience, and after widespread consultation with civil society leaders.

The resulting list of appointees, they say, fell far short.

"Serious concerns have been raised whether the new commissioners meet these important eligibility standards," Ms. Pillay said in a news release from her agency. She also said the commission might lose its "A" accreditation under international human rights standards known as the Paris Principles. That, in turn, "would have serious consequences for continued international donor support for both the A.I.H.R.C. and for the government," she said.

A spokesman for the president, Aimal Faizi, said that Mr. Karzai's appointments were "in full consultation with civil society." And he admonished Ms. Pillay, saying that the commission "is a purely internal issue of Afghanistan, and the U.N.'s human rights commissioner had better to also raise its concerns on the issue of civilian casualties in the war on terror."

The commission, with offices throughout Afghanistan and 650 staff members, gets scant financial support from the government; most of its $7.5 million annual budget is provided by European countries, along with Canada, Australia and the United Nations.

"I was very outraged and felt very bad to see that all those demands from civil society and human rights groups were not respected in this process" to appoint new commissioners, Mr. Nadery said.

Wazir Ahmad Khorami, the deputy director of the Civil Society and Human Rights Network, said that his group had given Mr. Karzai the names of 27 potential candidates for the commission but that none were chosen.

"I think he just wants to destroy the commission because in the last 10 years they were so very active and so effective, and now he is under so much pressure from different warlords who are against it," Mr. Khorami said.

In interviews on Sunday and Monday, all five of the new commissioners maintained that their human rights credentials were sound. But the policy stances and political affiliations of two, in particular, have concerned many analysts.

One new commissioner, Maulavi Abdul Rahman Hotak, is a mullah, Islamic scholar and former Taliban government official who, for three years, was detained by the American military at its Bagram prison. And he is adamant in opposing the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act, one of the A.I.H.R.C.'s signature lobbying achievements.

"First, I'm a Muslim, and Islam is a good source of human rights standards," Maulavi Hotak said. "The people who have written that law do not know Afghanistan and Afghan society very well -- perhaps they think Kabul is Afghanistan."

Another appointee who has stirred questions is Qadria Yazdanparast, a longtime stalwart in the Jamiat-i-Islami party.

Ms. Yazdanparast maintained she had resigned her post in Jamiat-i-Islami a month ago, thus fulfilling the requirement for commissioners to be nonpolitical. But she also said that she hopes to run for president in 2014, and hopes to have Mr. Karzai's support.

Ms. Yazdanparast bristled at suggestions that she is closely associated, through Jamiat-i-Islami, with Afghanistan's warlords, many of whom still maintain private armies even while holding government posts.

"When we were fighting during jihad against the Soviets, every country like the U.S. saw us as champions of human rights, and now we are war criminals and other people are human rights champions?" she said.

"It's very questionable why some international organizations are supporting some individuals and criticizing others," Ms. Yazdanparast added. "Maybe they don't like me because I wear my head scarf like this. This is my human right, too." She indicated how the scarf covered every single hair. "Or because I believe in religion?"

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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