UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Tuesday called on the Afghan government to strengthen humans rights efforts [press release] in preparation for presidential elections in April 2014 and the departure of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) [official website] in late 2014. Pillay characterized this period as a "critical juncture" with respect to the nation's political, economic and social future. Pillay urged current President Hamid Karzai and his officials to ensure that human rights gains achieved in the past decade will not be "sacrificed to political expediency" in the months leading up to national elections. In particular the rights chief called on the government to combat growing rates of civilian casualties, to better implement legislation that aims to protect women and to provide resources to the burgeoning Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) [official website]. Pillay expressed concern that human rights protections have deteriorated during more than a decade of war but also emphasized that the government has the means to combat human rights abuses.
Afghanistan [JURIST news archive] has been the target of much criticism [JURIST op-ed] regarding its human rights issues, especially in the wake of the War on Terror [JURIST backgrounder]. In July a UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) mid-year report indicated [JURIST report] a 23 percent rise in the number of Afghan civilian casualties over the first six months of 2013 as compared to the same period last year. In May UNAM) and UN Women urged [JURIST report] Afghanistan's government to fully respect and defend the fundamental rights of women and girls by ensuring the implementation of and respect for women's rights legislation blocked by parliament [JURIST report].