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Cablegate: Drl Das Barks-Ruggles: U.S. Committed To

VZCZCXRO8210
PP RUEHPW
DE RUEHBUL #2978/01 3161407
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 111407Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6116
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 KABUL 002978

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A, S/CRS
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
NSC FOR JWOOD
OSD FOR MCGRAW
CG CJTF-101, POLAD, JICCENT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM KPAO AFIN
SUBJECT: DRL DAS BARKS-RUGGLES: U.S. COMMITTED TO
SUPPORTING AFGHAN HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCACY

REF: A. KABUL 310
B. KABUL 2562

1. (U) SUMMARY: In October 15-16 meetings with visiting DRL
DAS Erica Barks-Ruggles, representatives from media outlets,
Ministry of Women's Affairs (MOWA), Parliament, Afghanistan
Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Equal Access,
Afghan Landmine Survivors' Organization (ALSO), and The Asia
Foundation (TAF) discussed the challenges of human rights
work in Afghanistan. DAS Barks-Ruggles led discussions
focused on how the U.S. could most effectively partner with
Afghan institutions in advancing human rights. Afghan
journalists emphasized that media has come a long way in the
last seven years, but journalists continue to face pressure
from the government, anti-government actors, and have
difficulty reporting in insecure areas. Minister of Women's
Affairs Ghazanfar discussed MOWA's difficulties partnering
with other ministries in implementing programs benefiting
women. Women parliamentarians cited security concerns but
expressed determination to continue their work. AIHRC staff
gave an overview of human rights trends including increased
sexual abuse and violence, but mentioned several positive
developments including the new trafficking in persons law.
Equal Access, ALSO, and TAF staff gave an overview of their
programs focused on human rights and Islam, advocacy for
disabled people, and capacity building in Afghan government
offices, respectively.

Afghan Media: Expanding, Under Pressure
---------------------------------------

2. (SBU) DAS Barks-Ruggles asked a group of Afghan
journalists to discuss the status of free media in
Afghanistan and the challenges they face. Parwiz Shamal from
Tolo TV said the situation for media has improved over the
last seven years and is generally comparable to the situation
in neighboring countries. Mustafa Basharat from Pahjwok
Afghan News noted Afghan media had developed over the past
seven years from almost nothing to 11-12 television stations,
35 radio stations, and 400-500 newspapers. Limitations on
media freedoms stem from media self-censorship and government
pressure, Arif Frahmand from Hash-e-Sobh newspaper said.
Frahmand and several other journalists, including Radio
Asadi's Freeba Zahir, reported that many Afghan government
officials or political parties use media outlets as voice
boxes for their propaganda, estimating that half of all
Afghan media outlets are propaganda machines for other
countries or Afghan politicians or political parties. Khwaja
Basir from Wakht News Agency said he noted decreasing
government support of free media, and that journalists faced
pressure from both government actors and the Taliban. He
said in the past year 400 cases of threats against journalist
were reported. Finally, Pahjwok's Basharat and several
others said journalists' lack of access to insecure areas
significantly hinders reporting in many areas of the country.

3. (U) DAS Barks-Ruggles told the journalists that they are
doing a tough job, and that the U.S. is committed to
supporting free media in Afghanistan, as a strong independent
media is essential to Afghanistan's nascent democracy. DAS
Barks-Ruggles then answered questions from the journalists on
the record on such subjects as human rights, civilian
casualties, and elections. She noted while the U.S. is proud
of our efforts to help protect human rights in Afghanistan,
we know that significant human rights issues remain. She
emphasized that the U.S. deeply regrets any civilian
casualties, and that U.S. is doing everything possible to
minimize civilian casualties. She also highlighted the USG's
commitment to supporting free, fair, transparent, and secure
Afghan elections. Hasht-e-Sobh newspaper and Radio Asadi
reported positively on DAS Barks-Ruggles' comments,
characterizing her remarks as expressing support for human
rights and the Afghan electoral process.

4. (SBU) In a separate meeting Moby Media Group Director Zaid
Mohseni told DAS Barks-Ruggles that Moby Group's Tolo T.V.
and its affiliated stations face more interference from the
government than from the Taliban. The Taliban do not have a
problem with Tolo, he said, in part because Tolo airs in an
indirect manner, such as paraphrasing, content from Taliban
sources. He said the Taliban are increasingly media savvy
and have business cards, web sites, and press releases. They
always are available to discuss their view, as contrasted to
GoIRA officials who many times do not respond to media
inquiries. Tolo T.V. developed and airs several public

KABUL 00002978 002 OF 005


service announcement-type commercials including several
warning about the dangers of IEDs and buried munitions, one
encouraging service in the Afghan National Army, and one with
an anti-suicide bomber message. Mohseni said Moby Media
Group's Arman Radio carried a lot of information about the
recently started voter registration process, and that in
several provinces 50% of voters surveyed said they heard
about voter registration through Arman. Lemar, Moby's
Pashto-language television station, is the most popular
station in the Pashtun tribal areas in Pakistan, although it
is frequently banned by Pakistani authorities, Mohseni said.


MOWA: Focused but Under-Resourced
---------------------------------

5. (SBU) MOWA Minister Dr. H.B. Ghazanfar told DAS
Barks-Ruggles that the situation for girls and women in
Afghanistan has improved over the last seven years, noting
that women make up twenty-eight percent of the Parliament,
hold high ranking positions at universities, and
approximately 300 women now own their own companies. That
said, Afghan women still face many challenges such as
poverty, illiteracy and violence. Many girls still do not
attend school, and many are forced into early marriage. Some
are treated like animals and are bartered in tribal
agreements. Even in the most "liberal" and educated
families, women are not treated as equals to men, she said.
MOWA's work in Kabul revolves around initiating
implementation of the ten year National Action Plan for the
Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA). In addition, MOWA counselors
in Kabul and in the provincial Department of Women's Affairs
(DOWA) offices daily see hundreds of women seeking help
resolving legal, economic, educational, and health problems.
If the issue is not one MOWA can solve, MOWA refers the woman
to another service provider or organization that can address
the situation, including many NGOs and UN offices. She noted
MOWA faces staff and budget shortfalls. The majority of
problems facing women occur in rural areas, and MOWA does not
have the resources to do more than occasionally visit these
areas and express support to the women living there.
Furthermore, MOWA's work in the provinces is extremely
dependent on security conditions. In Oruzgan, Khost, and
Paktika, the DOWA offices are not able to be very active due
to ongoing security concerns. She said generally good
security in the provincial centers of Herat, Balkh, and
Jowzjan allows for many programs to be conducted in those
provinces.

6. (SBU) DAS Barks-Ruggles asked what kind of cooperation
MOWA received from other government ministries including the
police. Ghazanfar said some ministries are more cooperative
than others, citing MOWA's coordination with the Ministry of
Education as particularly positive. She said that
cooperation from the Ministry of the Interior, up until the
recent past had been very good as well, noting that dozens of
women had trained to be police officers and coordination
between MOWA, police, and women's shelters had improved. MOI
changed its policy, however, and is no longer providing
security to the provincial DOWA offices. Cooperation between
MOWA and other ministries frequently stalls as other
ministries claim they do not have the budget to implement
"women's" projects. Ghazanfar's deputy said MOWA is lobbying
to have a MOWA technical advisor work inside each ministry
during the budget drafting process to ensure that funds are
included for women's programs. DAS Barks-Ruggles said that
it is important that women be represented in other ministries
and that women's issues are mainstreamed and not just handled
by MOWA. Ghazanfar agreed that one cabinet position and one
ministry are insufficient to represent 12 million Afghan
females. Sometimes it is difficult for her to advocate
during cabinet meetings as it is apparent that women's issues
are not a priority for other ministries and she is the only
woman in the Cabinet. Her deputy noted that MOWA is working
with the civil service commission towards a goal of having
ministries' staff be 30 percent women by 2010. DAS
Barks-Ruggles expressed admiration for the extremely
difficult work MOWA does on a daily basis and emphasized that
the U.S. is committed to working with MOWA to advance women's
rights in Afghanistan.

Female MPs: Facing Insecurity, Lacking Advocacy Skills, But
Determined
--------------------------------------------


KABUL 00002978 003 OF 005


7. (SBU) DAS Barks-Ruggles met with four female members of
the Wolesi Jirga (the National Assembly's Lower House):
Fatima Aziz from Kunduz, Saltanat Kohi and Fawzia Raufi from
Faryab, and Nasima Niazi from Helmand. DAS Barks-Ruggles
asked what challenges they faced as women parliamentarians.
Kohi said women MPs do not often advocate forcefully with
their male MPs or with other government officials, and that
the Parliament Women's Affairs Committee is weak. Raufi said
that the women present were members of a group of about 12
female MPs from different backgrounds, all of whom are
independent and not belonging to any political grouping. The
members meet and discuss issues, and when there is a vote
they ask for and respect each other's opinions, trying where
possible to coordinate their votes. DAS Barks-Ruggles
expressed concern about the morality bill recently drafted by
a Wolesi Jirga committee (reftel), and asked for the women's
opinions about the bill. Niazi said all the female MPs were
strongly opposed to the law and had told the male MPs that
they would not accept it and would not vote for it.

8. (SBU) Raufi said female MPs faced many security concerns
and expected that these concerns would increase during the
Afghan elections. Niazi said because of poor security in
Helmand, she cannot travel alone and that if she travels with
a security detail she is also a target. Aziz said during the
2005 parliamentary election she campaigned door-to-door, but
this local level of campaigning would be impossible for the
2010 elections because of poor security. All expressed
concern for their personal safety and for that of their
families. Niazi noted that her children have been pulled out
of school and complained that they are not allowed to play
outside as she and her family are afraid they will be
kidnapped or killed by the Taliban. DAS Barks-Ruggles told
the MPs that the U.S. takes these concerns very seriously and
is committed to supporting women's participation in the
2009-2010 elections. It is important that other Afghan women
see the female MPs out campaigning and meeting with
constituents. DAS Bark
s-Ruggles asked how the international community could improve
security for women participating in the elections. Niazi
suggested that the U.S. publicly support Afghan women's
participation in the government. Bark-Ruggles reiterated
that the U.S. strongly supports Afghan women registering to
vote, voting, running for election, and serving in elected
office.

9. (SBU) Niazi told DAS Barks-Ruggles, "I will give you the
assurance that we will not quit our jobs halfway through. We
have to wear burqas to go into certain areas, but as soon as
we are in a safe place, we tear them off and talk to the
Afghan people we represent." She reiterated that the Afghan
female MPs need U.S. support. Kohi said that women in
high-level federal positions in Afghan government benefit
from training programs offered by the international community
and urged that these programs continue. She noted, however,
that women in the provinces could also benefit from
international support including capacity-building training.
DAS Barks-Ruggles mentioned the U.S. is trying to expand
programs that work with the informal justice sector in rural
areas, educating both men and women on their rights and
obligations.

AIHRC: Accomplishments and Concerns
-----------------------------------

10. (SBU) Nader Naderi Afghanistan Independent Human Rights
Commission (AIHRC) spokesperson thanked DAS Barks-Ruggles for
her public comments emphasizing the importance of human
rights in Afghanistan. Naderi said Afghanistan had some
significant human rights achievements, citing the new law on
countering human trafficking and introducing a draft law to
protect juvenile offenders as positive steps taken by
Parliament. Furthermore, four hundred lawyers have
registered in the newly established bar association, and the
commission on senior appointments reviewed 20 senior level
government nominees in its first month. This commission
checks candidate backgrounds against several sources
including the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG),
National Directorate of Security (NDS), the courts, and AIHRC
before clearing the candidate for appointment.

11. (SBU) Naderi summarized human rights concerns as follows:
killings and other atrocities by anti-government forces
continue and are rarely covered in the media, while
government forces continue to act with impunity and

KABUL 00002978 004 OF 005


corruption remains a serious problem threatening Afghanstan's
insitutions. AIHRC will soon release a report covering
civilian casualties by government and anti-government forces.
The latter is not often reported and more needs to be done
to expose the toll anti-government forced have taken on the
population. Fifty percent of girls' schools in Helmand,
Paktika, Zabul, and Oruzgan provinces are not operating due
to security concerns, and insurgents killed hundreds of
teachers and students during the past year. Government
arbitrary detention of people without charges is still a
major concern. NDS operated some detention facilities and NDS
officials frequently make excuses in order to prevent AIHRC
monitoring visits. He said violence against women and child
sexual abuse are widespread problems, stating that AIHRC
received reports of 36 cases of child sexual abuse in the
last six months. Farid Hamidi, AIHRC Commissioner for the
Investigations Unit said President Karzai has 83 death
sentences pending for his confirmation. AIHRC has serious
concerns about these death sentences due to the high level of
corruption in the Afghan judicial system and many instances
of trials that are not fair and independent. The continued
imprisonment of Pervez Kambakhsh (reftel) is another area of
concern, Naderi said.

12. (SBU) DAS Barks-Ruggles asked how the US could support
the mission of the AIHRC. Naderi asked that the U.S. support
a mechanism to vet political candidates in Afghanistan's 2009
elections for past human rights abuses. DAS Barks-Ruggles
suggested that a positive policy could be that if a person
failed vetting for a senior position done by the senior
appointment panel, then the person would not be eligible to
run for office. Public statements by U.S. officials against
increasing impunity in Afghanistan are very helpful, as are
similar statements during bilateral meetings, Naderi noted.
In reference to the Kambakhsh case, Naderi urged the U.S. to
continue to raise the case during bilateral meetings with
Afghan officials, but to avoid public statements. He also
recommended releasing any U.S. reports on the results of
civilian casualty investigations in Dari and Pashto.
Finally, he asked that human rights training be emphasized
during U.S.-supported police training.

Equal Access: Human Rights and Islam
------------------------------------

13. (SBU) Equal Access staff briefed DAS Barks-Ruggles on
several Equal Access programs including the DRL-funded Aspire
program which works with religious leaders and members of
civil society in hosting roundtable discussions emphasizing
similarities between human rights principles and Islam.
Aspire project manager Abdul Samad Seraj discussed the recent
roundtable in Jalalabad, reporting that the participants had
a very positive discussion focused on women's rights and
Islam. Dave Larson, Equal Access Senior Program Manager,
noted follow up surveys indicated that participants were
spreading the message of the compatibility between human
rights and Islam. Seraj said one Jalalabad mullah and
roundtable participant that initially strongly opposed the
idea of any link between Islam and human rights became a
strong advocate for human rights and now has a weekly
television show promoting human rights. DAS Barks-Ruggles
asked if security concerns affected Equal Access' work in the
provinces. Larson said that security is getting worse,
reporting that it is now necessary to confirm security
conditions with private and government security companies and
that more illegal checkpoints were appearing. Equal Access
staff often must take different, longer routes because the
direct route roads are closed. Some districts in Kapisa
where they used to work are no longer accessible due to poor
security concerns.

ALSO: First Afghan Peer-to-Peer Support Organization
--------------------------------------------- ----

14. (SBU) DAS Barks-Ruggles met with founders and staff of
the Afghan Landmine Survivors' Organization (ALSO) a year-old
Afghan NGO that provides peer support to disabled people and
advocates for a ban on landmines. ALSO co-founder Sadiq
Mohibi told DAS Barks-Ruggles that disabled people in
Afghanistan face enormous obstacles, for example, only 1% of
government buildings are handicapped accessible. The Wolesi
Jirga recently approved a bill giving some additional
government benefits to disabled people. ALSO lobbied
extensively for the bill by meeting with individual
parliamentarians and parliamentary committees, and by holding

KABUL 00002978 005 OF 005


awareness-raising workshops about the challenges faced by
disabled Afghans. The bill is currently under debate in the
upper house. ALSO peer counselors coordinate with Kabul
authorities to meet disabled people at the hospital or home
and offer support for their reintegration into society. ALSO
peer trainers assisted 205 disabled people in the last six
months, reported Mohibi. ALSO lobbies the Ministry of Public
Health for additional services for all disabled people, but
with a focus on women and children. DAS Barks-Ruggles told
the ALSO staff she was impressed by their perseverance, that
getting started was always the hardest part and she
congratulated ALSO on that accomplishment.

TAF: Capacity Building with GoIRA Ministries
--------------------------------------------

15. (U) The Asia Foundation (TAF) staff briefed DAS
Barks-Ruggles on several programs including work with the
Office of the State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs
(OSMPA), the Independent Directorate for Local Governance
(IDLG), and MOWA. The work with the OSMPA focused on
training and orientation of staff and preparation of a manual
explaining parliamentary procedure. The work with IDLG
focused on supporting policy and institutional development.
The work with MOWA included facilitating the creation of
standardized procedures for the DOWA offices and supporting
MOWA senior management capacity and leadership development.

16. (U) DAS Erica Barks-Ruggles cleared on this message.
WOOD

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