U.N. Official Presses Karzai on Rights Panel Appointees

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KABUL, Afghanistan -- The top United Nations human rights official emerged from a meeting here with President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday without hoped-for assurances that he would reverse his decision to pack the country's human rights commission with political appointees.

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, was also generally critical about progress on human rights in the country, saying it was endangered in part because officials were more focused on political concerns ahead of presidential elections next April.

"There have been some human rights achievements during the past 12 years, but they are fragile," Ms. Pillay said during a news conference on Tuesday at the end of a two-day visit here. "And many Afghans are expressing fears that the overall human rights situation is deteriorating on several fronts."

Human rights activists have been particularly alarmed by Mr. Karzai's five new appointees to the nine-member Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. None of the five were on a list proposed by civic and human rights groups, and they included a former Taliban official; a polarizing politician from the country's leading fundamentalist party, Jamiat-i-Islami; and a police general.

Ms. Pillay had already warned publicly that the appointments might lead to the commission being downgraded in its status internationally, which could in turn lead to its international financing being cut off.

"This would be a very serious and regrettable setback for one of the current Afghan government's most notable achievements in the area of human rights," she said.

Ms. Pillay said that in her meeting with Mr. Karzai, she again asked him to rescind those appointments.

"I made convincing arguments for him," she said. "I left in the hope that he will revisit the matter. He did not specifically say that he would."

The Afghan human rights commission has often angered members of the country's political elite, particularly the many former warlords with dubious human rights records who hold powerful positions in Afghanistan's governing institutions.

Ms. Pillay also praised Mr. Karzai for what she called "his strong public stand against the use of torture in numerous Afghan detention facilities." But she also noted that such torture continues to be common, and that "there has not been a single successful prosecution of a state employee for torture."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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