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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review

7 May 2009 (afternoon)

For use of information media; not an official record

· The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by the Afghanistan this afternoon, during which 59 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

· This afternoon, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Chad, following the review of the country on Tuesday, 5 May.

· Presenting the national report of Afghanistan was MOHAMMAD QASIM HASHIMZAI, Deputy Minister of Justice of Afghanistan, who noted that following almost three decades of war and disorder, Afghanistan’s legal, political, social and cultural infrastructure was weakened and Afghanistan was facing a wide range of problems in those areas. Nevertheless, in direct cooperation with the international community Afghanistan managed to make a number of important achievements such as adoption of 2004 constitution, formation of a democratic government, holding presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections, among other important measures. Despite all these achievements, some challenges existed in the area of human rights that caused significant burden on the citizens of Afghanistan. The 2004 constitution that laid the foundation of our legal framework, bounds the Government to monitor and observe the UN Charter, the International Declaration of Human Rights, international treaties, and human right conventions that Afghanistan had ratified. The legal and political systems of Afghanistan have provided necessary mechanisms for systematic protection of human rights through the establishment of a number of national institutions. The Government of Afghanistan has taken effective measures to enhance the professional capacity of national institutions for the protection of human rights. The Supreme Court has trained some 800 judges on fair trial and more then 750 modern and Sharia law graduates have been employed in the justice sector and the Afghan National Assembly was working hard to protect human rights. The Ministry of Justice administered all prisons and juvenile correction centres, defended public rights and properties, addressed lawsuits of real and legal persons, provided legal aid to the indigent before the courts, and enhanced public legal awareness. Moreover, the Attorney General Office aimed to provide equal treatment to suspects and accused before the law and the Ministry of Interior has made efforts in training the Afghan National Police to protect human rights in the course of discharging its duties.

The Deputy Minister reported that the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has been authorized to monitor the implementation of human rights commitments, the work of executive and non-governmental agencies, the judicial sector and detention centres. A number of additional and specialized commissions have been established recently to ensure security of human rights. Civil society institutions active in the area of human rights have also played an important role in the last seven years in incorporating human rights concepts in the process of adopting and amending laws and have carried out a number of valuable researches on different human rights issues. In order to systematically support human rights in Afghanistan, a number of national policies and strategies have been adopted recently, amongst was the Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS), approved by the President on April 21, 2008, and the Transitional justice strategy and Action Plan on Peace, Justice and Reconciliation, adopted in 2005. Furthermore, a number of other related strategies have been adopted, including Justice For All Strategy - 2005, National Judicial Sector Strategy - 2007, National Judicial Action Plan - 2007, National Education Strategy - 2007, National Public Health Strategy - 2008, National Strategy for Children at Risk - 2004, and National Higher Education Strategy - 2007.

In terms of social protection, the head of delegation noted that his government was currently providing shelter to 312 orphan boys and girls in 54 orphanages, and that a total of 362 kindergartens were fully functional throughout the country, and special schools established to fulfil the needs of disabled children. Despite all these efforts, the government has been unable to provide adequate social protection to its citizen due to shortage of resources and facilities. According to statistics in 2005, 44% of Afghans lived under the poverty line, and 75% did not have food security. The Ministry of Agriculture has developed a special food security program in May 2008 aimed at ensuring better food supply to the people and it was hoped this would decrease the number of people facing food shortages. It was further noted that in 2008 more than six million students attended schools, one-third of which were girls with 15,842 attending schools in rural areas.

The Deputy Minister affirmed that ensuring and protecting the right of life for the citizens of Afghanistan has been one of the biggest challenges, as this was often violated through civilian casualties and mainly suicide bombings. Despite the fact that the government was taking necessary steps to ensure this right, civilian casualties during international forces operations remained the main challenge in this area. It was noted that currently a total of 3.3 million Afghan citizens lived in neighbouring countries, mainly in Iran and Pakistan. In order to house the returnees and the internally displaced person, the Government has made efforts, in cooperation with international organizations, to alleviate the situation; however it did not seem to be sufficient. The Government tried to take serious measures for the refugees in accordance with the provisions of international human rights conventions, but the success depended on the level of cooperation by the host countries, he added.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included accession to the majority of the core international human rights treaties; progressive steps taken in education and in respecting the rights of women and children; the strides made in creating child protection networks; the national strategy for health and nutrition; the commitment to combat poverty; progress made in delivering political freedoms; the adoption of a new Constitution; the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections; the establishment of the Independent Human Rights Commission and the Special State commissions tasked with monitoring the human rights situation in the country; the positive engagement of Afghanistan with the United Nations; steps to improve respect for the rights of women and girls; steps to address corruption; and the commitment and determination of Afghanistan in improving the human rights situation in the country despite the three-decade long conflict.

· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to, among other things, the legal basis upon which the judiciary was based in Afghanistan and to what extent the judiciary respected human rights norms; steps taken to review the constitutionality of the Law on Personal Affairs of the Followers of the Shia Jurisprudence and whether any amendments were proposed for this Law; measures intended to improve the understanding on the rights of detainees; the position of the State on abolishing the death penalty; steps to reinforce the role of civil society; efforts made to eliminate restrictions with regard to freedom of expression; steps being taken to ensure a free press and that journalists were protected from harm and intimidation; steps to address acts of violence against women, given that some 2,000 cases were reported in 2008; information on the activities of the Ministry of Women Affairs and the Commission for the Elimination of Violence Against Women; information on the political participation of women; plans to combat ongoing discrimination against women and girls; measures taken to ensure equality between men and women; and further steps envisaged to protect women from discrimination and harassment.

Other issues and questions pertained to the measures in place to stop child abuse and trafficking; steps to promote education and school attendance; reasons for the low enrolment rate of girls; strategies and programs adopted on the right to health; steps to promote food security in rural areas; measures being taken to control HIV/AIDS; efforts to increase access to safe drinking water; the steps envisaged to implement poverty alleviation strategies; specific measures to overcome the problem of limited access to basic services as a result of the armed conflict; and the increase in the number of child victims of attacks against schools by Taliban insurgents who deny children their right to education.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: to consider to assign increased resources for the independent national human rights commission; to take steps to ensure an equitable and truly representative appointments of members of the Independent Human Rights Commission; to consider adopting human rights education the national education curriculum; to include civil society and human rights defenders in the development of legislation and decision-making processes; that domestic legal reform initiatives incorporated international conventions to which Afghanistan was a State party translated into concrete policies and programmes; to establish a human rights unit within the Ministry of Justice; to continue cooperation with the international community; for the international community to assist Afghanistan with capacity building in the area of human rights; and to consider extending a standing invitation to the United Nations Special Procedures.

Other recommendations included: To make good on its commitment to ensure that women took in 35% of positions in public life; to launch public information campaigns to raise awareness about the legal rights for women and girls; to involve the Ministry for Women’s Rights and women’s rights organizations in the legislative process; to redouble advocacy efforts to enhance public awareness on gender equality and women’s role in society; to commit resources to enforce legislation to protect women; to amend the Shia Personal Status Law consistent with its international human rights obligations to ensure equal respect for the human rights of all Afghans, including women; to implement the National Action Plan for Women; to include women in decision-making about maternal health; to submit its first periodic report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; to adopt a strategy for the elimination of violence against women; to address the issue of child labour in the country.

Afghanistan was also encourage to take all measures to prevent further civilian casualties by foreign military forces in Afghanistan; to begin implementing the Action Plan on Peace, Justice and Reconciliation; to ensure the protection of the civilian population, especially vulnerable groups such as women and children and the elderly; to explore every possible way, in cooperation with the international community, to provide IDPs with immediate assistance; to strengthen efforts to promote self-reliance of the returned refugees and IDPs; to continue reconstruction efforts in cooperation with the international community and in accordance with national priorities reflected in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy; to consider increased State monitoring of international Private Security Companies, including the regulation of their activities; to take immediate measures in order to comply fully with the Optional Protocol to the Convention on Rights of the Child on children in armed conflict; and to take all necessary measures to prevent the recruitment of children and the use of child soldiers by the Taliban.

States also called on Afghanistan to continue efforts to put in place effective poverty reduction and health strategies, particularly to solve the problem of low life expectancy and high mortality rate; to take firm action, in coordination with the international community, to combat drug trafficking; to pursue the achievement of the MDGs in the areas of health and education through national plans of action; to strengthen efforts to ensure access to education and to health care for all; and to expedite the implementation of all measures to address the situation of vulnerable groups in particular women and children. The international community was also called on to maintain its assistance to ensure Afghanistan could attain the MDGs.

Other recommendations included: To persevere in fighting corruption and impunity; to continue the process of transitional justice; to investigate all allegations with regard to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment by the Afghan National Police and the National Directorate of Security; to continue to professionalize the judiciary; to establish mechanisms for the independent appointment and dismissal of judges and for the punishment of corruption among judges; to continue to work towards comprehensive rule of law reform including strengthening the police, corrections, and justice sectors, and building the institutional capacity of the Ministries of the Interior and Justice; to provide and improve training programmes on human rights for the judiciary, law enforcement personnel and lawyers; to elaborate a road map to improve prison conditions and to prevent the mistreatment of prisoners; and to investigate cases of arbitrary detention. Several States encouraged Afghanistan to introduce a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to its eventual abolition.

Moreover, Afghanistan was encouraged to strengthen safeguards for the exercise of the freedom of expression and to adopt legislation to protect media diversity; to make efforts to provide the resources, funding, personnel and authority necessary to implement the 2007 labour law that permitted workers to join and form labour unions; to enact a media law, in accordance with international human rights obligations; that harassment and attacks on journalists were fully and effectively investigated and that those responsible brought to justice; to reinforce cooperation with human rights defenders; to review and amend law that prevented journalists from carrying out their work; to pursue justice in cases of murdered journalists; and to prepare a transparent and well-administered system of rules for verifying candidates’ eligibility in view of elections.

· Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were India, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Switzerland, the Republic of Korea, France, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Mexico, South Africa, Germany, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Slovenia, Slovakia, Malaysia, China, Argentina, Jordan and Japan.

· Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Qatar, Finland, Iran, Singapore, Norway, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Belgium, Nepal, Morocco, the United States, Austria, Turkey, Palestine, Australia, New Zealand, Tunisia, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Uzbekistan, Ireland, Hungary, Latvia, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Maldives, the Czech Republic, Greece and Albania.

· The 13-person delegation of Afghanistan consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, the Ministry of Health, the Supreme Court of Justice, the Council of Ministries, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the University of Kabul and the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Afghanistan are Azerbaijan, the Republic of Korea and Cameroon.

· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Afghanistan can be found here.

· Adoption of report on Chad: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Chad are the Zambia, France and Slovenia. Introducing the report DARLINGTON MWAPE (Zambia) thanked the delegation of Chad for its constructive engagement with the troika and secretariat which made it possible for the parties to agree on the report. He then read out a few oral amendments to the report. Representing the State under review, ABDERAMAN DJASNABAILLE, Minister on Charge of Human Rights and the Promotion of Freedoms, after thanking the troika and the secretariat, as well as States who participated in the dialogue, said his country was committed to working to eliminate human rights violations and to promote the observance of human rights. It was the intention of Chad to extend a standing invitation to the Special Procedures. In general, Chad accepted the majority of recommendations posed in the report and would begin to implement them as soon as possible. Other recommendations would need to be considered further and would be reported on at the session of the Human Rights Council in September.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Afghanistan on Monday, 11 May.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Chile after which it is scheduled to adopt the report on the Republic of Congo.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp 

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