The Human Rights Service (HRS) was established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1401 (2002) as an entity integrated within the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). It also serves as the OHCHR presence in Afghanistan, reporting to the High Commissioner. It operates with its headquarters in Kabul, with eight regional and three provincial offices throughout Afghanistan.
HRS engages in various types of human rights monitoring, documentation, analysis and reporting, as well as protection, advocacy and technical cooperation activities. Reliance on accurate and independently verified data lies at the core of HRS reporting and advocacy. It is the cornerstone of regular public and confidential outreach efforts with the Government, all parties to the conflict, civil society (including human rights defenders and vulnerable groups) and the international community. HRS is primarily engaged in the following thematic areas:
- Protection of civilians in armed conflict;
- Children and armed conflict;
- Elimination of violence against women and the promotion of women's rights;
- Prevention of torture and respect for procedural safeguards;
- Human Rights and Peace (including victim-centred justice), and promotion of the NHRI, civil society and HRDs.
Human rights-based approaches to development initiatives and humanitarian responses are ensured through participation in the United Nations Country Team and its six "One UN Framework" thematic working groups, one of which OHCHR co-chairs with the ILO – the Normative Thematic Working Group – as well as participation in the Humanitarian Country Team, including in its Protection Cluster.
Type of engagement
Human Rights Components in Peace Missions
Annual budget needs
UNAMA Human Rights fact-finding missions into Taliban-controlled territory: In June 2019, UNAMA Human Rights carried out its second-ever fact-finding mission, jointly with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, into an area under Taliban control to follow up on civilian casualty allegations arising from airstrikes conducted by US Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) in Farah province. The mission was critical in helping to establish facts on the ground in areas to which neither the Pro-Government Forces nor the Commission otherwise had access on the ground. The special report on the airstrike in Farah province represented the first time that the UN had publicly counteracted the US's narrow interpretation of international humanitarian law concerning the definition of civilian, thereby contributing to a more protective legal environment and upholding the fundamental principle of distinction. The mission and subsequent special report also helped to underscore the impartiality of the mission by demonstrating UNAMA/OHCHR will work to verify any civilian casualty incident, regardless of the perpetrator or location.
UNAMA Human Rights developed and delivered a training to the Taliban on international humanitarian law and international human rights for the first time: In early 2020, in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNAMA Human Rights designed and delivered a training to members of the Taliban's Political Commission and Commission for the Prevention of Civilian Casualties and Complaints in Doha, Qatar. The training provided by UNAMA focused on the practical application of principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality in the context of Afghanistan, using specific cases studies of civilian casualty incidents verified by UNAMA. The training was interactive and dynamic, provoking a discussion on how the Commission for the Prevention of Civilian Casualties and Complaints could play a larger role in preventing civilian casualties through guidance and instructions to the military Commission, rather than limiting itself mainly to investigations after civilian casualties have already occurred. The training also included international human rights principles concerning victims' rights to truth, justice and reparations.
Government of Afghanistan placed reported limits on search operations by NDS Special Forces, coinciding with a reduction in civilian casualty levels: In light of sustained record levels of civilian casualties from search operations, particularly by the NDS Special Forces, UNAMA Human Rights intensified its advocacy in 2019 with NDS and the National Security Council concerning civilian casualties resulting from search operations, related human rights violations and killings which may amount to summary executions. In the past, the National Security Council and NDS have considered the NDS Special Forces to be extremely effective at combatting high-value targets and as such, they were virtually immune from scrutiny (see above). However, following intensive advocacy by UNAMA, particularly on high-profile incidents carried out during the first half of the year, as well as community protests, President Ghani reportedly placed certain limits on the conduct of search operations by NDS Special Forces. This coincided with a noticeable decrease in resulting civilian casualties by these forces, as verified by UNAMA.
- Throughout 2019 and 2020, after widespread allegations of sexual violence against children emerged in the media in Logar province, UNAMA/OHCHR has provided technical assistance to the Attorney General's Office on child-friendly investigatory approaches to cases of sexual violence against children. UNAMA/OHCHR will continue to support the Government's efforts to combat impunity and implement the provisions of the revised Penal Code concerning the crime of
bacha bazi, a form of sexual exploitation of boys in Afghanistan.
- With regard to torture and ill-treatment, during the first reporting period (between October 2010 and August 2011), 46 per cent among UNAMA HRS' interviewees in the National Directorate of Security custody and 35 per cent among those in the Afghan National Police's custody provided credible and reliable allegations of torture and ill-treatment. In the latest year monitored, between January and December 2018, these numbers dropped to 19.4 per cent of those in the National Directorate of Security custody and 31 per cent of those in the Afghan National Police's custody. UNAMA HRS contributed, through its awareness-raising, capacity building and advocacy, to this progress made by the Government of Afghanistan.
- Prosecutions of the crime of torture under the revised Penal Code have been on-going, with 15 cases under the relevant provisions reported between in the period January 2019-May 2020. Out of these 15 cases, four have so far led to convictions. In 2019-2020, HRS has documented an increase in frequency of visits of human rights officers of the National Directorate of Security and Afghan National Police to detention facilities to identify possible cases of torture and ill-treatment.
- UNAMA continues to support Government efforts to improve implementation of the landmark Elimination of Violence Against Women Law, 2009 (EVAW Law), including by providing technical advice to the Ministry of Women's Affairs' ongoing review of the EVAW Law. UNAMA/OHCHR also continues to assist MoWA with the preparation of its public reports on the Government's Implementation of the EVAW Law.
- In response to information about sexual harassment of women in the security service, UNAMA/OHCHR has been working with the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence to establish and effectively implement a comprehensive, confidential and independent complaint mechanism for women suffering harassment in the workplace, as provided for in the Anti-Harassment Law.
- HRS implements its mandate in close partnership with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). In October 2019, the AIHRC was re-accredited with "A" status by the General Assembly of National Human Rights Institutions, who commended the efforts undertaken by the AIHRC to promote and protect human rights in a challenging context, including by taking public stands on sensitive issues.
- In close partnership with UN/DPPA Mediation Support Unit, HRS supports the AIHRC and civil society in the promotion of victim-centred justice in Afghanistan, including in the peace process between the government and the Taliban. On 2 June 2020, the AIHRC published a position paper on the inclusion of victims in the peace process, directly (e.g. victims addressing the negotiating parties) or indirectly (through consultations, expertise and other mechanisms). With HRS support, the AIHRC also advocates for the promotion of human rights standards with the negotiating parties, through expert advice and advocacy. The recommendations included in the 34 provincial road maps for peace, launched by HRS in 2018, also continue being promoted.
- HRS continues to supporting the civil society Human Rights Defenders Committee (HRDC) in its coordination, advocacy and protection role, while also seeking opportunities for international and domestic temporary relocations for human rights defenders at risk (several instances in 2019-2020). In 2020, the HRDC adopted a standard operating procedure document, while a HRDs Protection Strategy, drafted by civil society actors, was launched in January 2020.
Partners and Donors
Partners: Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), UN agencies, international and regional organizations, Government of Afghanistan, Afghan National and Defence Security Forces, NATO Resolute Support Mission and US Freedom Sentinel counter-terrorism operation, international community, non-state actors, civil society, women’s rights organizations, legal professionals.
UN Human Rights Focus Areas
Mechanisms: Increasing implementation of the international human rights mechanisms outcomes
Peace and Security: Early warning, prevention & protection of human rights in situations of conflict & insecurity
Accountability: Strengthening rule of law and accountability for human rights violations
Participation: Enhancing & protecting civic space and people's participation
Digital space & emerging technologies
Last reviewed: November 2020