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Afghanistan must do more to stop human rights abuses: UN official

[JURIST] Chief Human Rights Officer Norah Niland of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan [official website] Tuesday called on the Afghan government to do more to protect human rights and see that human rights violators are brought to justice. Speaking at a press conference [transcript] in Kabul, Niland said a general sense that human rights violators could operate with impunity was undermining Afghans' faith in the state. He also urged the international community to take a more active role in addressing underlying problems in Afghanistan, including poverty, gender inequality and violence against women, and violence against civilians in war zones:

As elsewhere, the key ingredients for progress on human rights include vision, leadership, and the commitment of all concerned stakeholders. The relationship between the citizen and the state is the key, but everyone has a role to play in advancing human rights. Building an environment that is conducive to respect for human rights is fundamental to a peaceful and democratic society.


The first issue addressed in the report is the profound level of poverty that blights the lives of many Afghans. Everyone has the right to a dignified life. Poverty is disempowering. It is often rooted in oppressive and abusive practices and structures. Poverty can be crippling and it often puts lives at risk. We are all aware of the statistics here in Afghanistan that throw a harsh light on the human rights deficit in this country. Of course it is clear that there have been some helpful gains such as gains in the right to education or health or improved prospects of employment, including women outside their homes and these are of course most welcome. However it is clear that we need much more stronger commitment - investment of political will and resources – are needed to reduce, for example, maternal mortality and infant mortality rates which pose a big challenge to the right to life.

Grinding poverty is an issue for large segments of Afghan society; it is of particular concern in relation to Afghan women and girls. Life is better for some Afghan women and girls. It is better for those who are now able to go to school, can work outside the home, or have access to basic health care. However, deep-rooted social, economic and political discrimination persists. It takes time everywhere to achieve gender equality but the severity of the situation here in Afghanistan, demands much stronger commitments and more concerted action than is currently the case. High levels of violence against women and girls is a major concern, challenging such patterns should be a high priority of everyone, not just the concern of those who are directly victimised.
Niland said Afghan citizens had a "very strong commitment" to justice. Reuters has more.

Niland's comments followed similar urgings [text] by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official profile] after a November 2007 visit to Afghanistan, in which she noted that human rights violations continued to be a major problem hindering security in the war-torn country.

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