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Afghanistan:Only A Human Rights Solution Will Last

* News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International *

26 November 2001 ASA 11/033/2001 208/01

Amazing images of both fear and hope have been coming out of Afghanistan since the taking of Kabul by the United Front. The beaten and bloody executed bodies of Pakistanis and Arabs, a female newsreader happy to be back at work, and perhaps the most poignant - a nine-year-old Hazara child soldier intent on defeating the Taliban.

It is in this new context of fear and hope that everyone is talking about the future of Afghanistan. After a failed peace process ten years ago the world turned its back on Afghanistan. This time round the country must not be left in the dust again. The international efforts to strike a peace deal indicate that states realise that it is in their long term interest to ensure political stability in Afghanistan. But we must not leave the negotiation only at the level of power-sharing.

The focus of this discussion must be on the human rights of the people of Afghanistan. Human rights protection is not romantic idealism but hard-nosed pragmatism -- it is the key to the future. If human rights are not put at the centre of the political negotiations, the cycle of violence is likely to continue.

First and foremost there needs to be immediate protection on the ground. The UN must be given the mandate to monitor human rights violations.

Human rights monitoring would go some way in verifying the reports of breaches of international humanitarian law. Impartial reporting would also build the people's confidence in the process towards peace and send a message to all parties to the conflict that they are being watched.

Arms transfers from foreign governments urgently need to be restricted. For years foreign governments have fuelled human rights abuses through prolific arms transfers. Those governments have a responsibility to ensure that any transfer of arms and military assistance is not being used to commit human rights abuses. Disarmament and demining should be included in the political settlement and should be adequately resourced by the international community.

The second issue is who will form the transitional government. It must not involve human rights abusers. Such short-sightedness will lead to problems further down the track. Those responsible for past abuses need to be held accountable. Individuals known to have ordered massacres and torture cannot be trusted to lead a country.

Ignoring a past history of human rights violations for reasons of political expediency has a poor track record. From Cambodia to Sierra Leone, Angola to Chile, the legacy of grave human rights violations have hampered the peace process, and affected whole communities - even decades after the violations occurred.

The need for national reconciliation in societies which have experienced war and repression is paramount, but condoning impunity as part of a political settlement today will not lead to stability in the long run.

Thirdly, those who are negotiating for a political settlement should insist on human rights guarantees from the Afghan parties. These guarantees should not be paper guarantees. They should be backed in the immediate term by monitoring, and in the longer term by effective institutions of criminal justice, based on human rights and the rule of law.

Finally, there is talk of a "broad-based, multi-ethnic government". This talk must become the reality, and it must include to women.

Throughout the 23 years of conflict, women have suffered immeasurably. In the 1970s, women played an important role in Afghan society, particularly in medicine and education. This history provides a valuable foundation for the meaningful participation of women in the rebuilding of the country today.

There are no quick fixes for peace and stability in Afghanistan. Peace building is a long-haul exercise that requires the commitment of the international community and most of all, the Afghan people. One thing must be clear from the outset - that human rights should not just be on the agenda, human rights must become the agenda.

645 words

Irene Khan Secretary General Amnesty International London

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