Will the US be successful in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan: US should prioritize rights and protection of civilians

(New York) - The US government should respond to mounting fears and uncertainty caused by the announced withdrawal of all military forces from Afghanistan. To this end, it should commit to increased support for human rights, including the rights of women, according to Human Rights Watch. The US should step up support for education and health, especially for girls and women, and for independent media, as the conflict is at risk. If so, the human rights achievements could be undone and the country's humanitarian crisis deepened.

US support for legal reform in Afghanistan has been critical in improving access to justice for women and training hundreds of lawyers, prosecutors and judges. Assistance is also needed to improve enforcement of laws protecting women and to ensure that legal counsel is available to women prisoners and underage prisoners. Support is also needed to empower Afghan human rights groups, particularly the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, so that they can continue to monitor the human rights situation, especially during an uncertain peace process.

"US President Joe Biden's announcement that all troops will be withdrawn raises concerns that it could undo important human rights achievements that have enabled people in the country, especially women and girls, to enjoy greater freedoms and rights to better education and health care, ”said Patricia Gossman, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. "The US government should pledge to provide vital financial and diplomatic assistance to preserve and expand these achievements and to press for an end to attacks against civilians."

The Biden government announced on April 13, 2021 that it would "use all its diplomatic, humanitarian and economic tools to ... protect the gains women and girls have achieved over the past 20 years ... [and] increase support for civil, economic, and humanitarian aid programs. ”Past US administrations, however, have failed to prioritize human rights in Afghanistan, according to Human Rights Watch. Further expansion of the Taliban threatening these rights will require a prompt US response, including reluctance to provide financial support to government agencies and targeted sanctions. Support for groups providing direct service to people should continue during this time.

The Taliban have made no binding commitments to protect fundamental rights in a transitional government or after a peace agreement. They have also further restricted the right of women and girls to education in the areas they control. They have also issued and committed a number of threats and attacks against the Afghan media. If the conflict persists after the US withdrawal, the US should use all diplomatic and other forms of influence to urge the parties to comply with international human rights and humanitarian law, in particular to protect the civilian population.

The Biden government should also increase its support for programs that improve access to education and health care, especially for women and girls. US support for vital aid programs in Afghanistan has already been scaled back. Since 2016, foreign donors, including the US, have cut funding to Afghanistan in key areas, and the Covid-19 pandemic has further curtailed donor pledges. In some cases, anti-corruption requirements have made it difficult to access funds for legitimate projects.

Donor support has benefited Afghanistan's major civil rights and human rights achievements. Since 2002, this support has improved access to education for millions of Afghan children and has contributed to increasing acceptance in many parts of the country that girls have a right to education. Some organizations support schools that are housed in the student communities, often in residential buildings. They have been particularly successful in enabling children to study in areas where they have not been able to attend state schools due to insecurity, distance, family resistance, or community pressure.

Human Rights Watch has urged donors and the Afghan government to expand such programs. In many Taliban-controlled areas, non-governmental organizations running community-based education programs were able to provide education, especially to girls, where there were no other schools. Such programs would be a lifeline for girls should the Taliban's control expand.

Protecting the advances in media freedom is also important, according to Human Rights Watch. Afghanistan's independent media play an important role in holding officials accountable and providing information to the public. Donors recognized the importance of protecting and strengthening independent media in the country long ago. However, support has waned in recent years as the media, including female journalists, have been increasingly targeted by insurgents and local rulers, and the government tries to cut coverage.

The US should provide long-term institutional support to help independent media outlets become self-sustaining. The US should also urge the Taliban - who could become the recipient of aid under a future peace deal - to end all threats and attacks on the media and to commit to upholding media freedom.

Since 2002, donor funding has also resulted in significant improvements in access to health care. However, serious problems remain, particularly with care in rural areas and access for people with disabilities and other marginalized populations. Health care for women has improved, although there is still a lot of work to be done. NGOs have also provided health services in Taliban-controlled areas, including rural and unsafe areas that have long been neglected. Donors should continue their support for programs that improve access to primary health care, especially for women. Previous cuts in donor funds have undermined these efforts, and further cuts would endanger even more human lives.

Following the withdrawal of US forces, the status of Afghan paramilitary forces operating with US assistance outside the control of the Afghan government will most likely be unclear. The continued activities of paramilitary forces implicated in serious assaults - sometimes fueled by ethnic or political loyalties - will pose a threat to communities. The US should clarify command responsibility for operations by Afghan paramilitary forces, press for the accountability of those responsible for serious assaults, and end support for those associated with serious violations of the laws of war.

Even after the withdrawal of all troops, the US remains a party to the armed conflict within Afghanistan. The war laws will bind the US armed forces until a permanent withdrawal from the military support of the Afghan government is achieved. The Biden government should commit to transparency with regard to any further use of force with the participation of the USA, including so-called anti-terrorist operations, which should only take place under the framework of international law.

The US government should also commit to strengthening accountability for past human rights violations, including by working with the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes and other serious crimes. In addition, past incidents with civilian victims should be reviewed in order to ensure that the victims receive adequate redress.

"People in Afghanistan who have endured human rights abuses for decades are understandably concerned that advances in freedom of the media, education, health care and women's rights may soon be undone and that there is no accountability for the injustices they have suffered," Gossman said . "The US should use this moment to strengthen its commitment and support for human rights in Afghanistan."