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Afghanistan: UN human rights official urges stronger protection for civilians

KABUL/NEW YORK/GENEVA (21 April 2015) – “Afghanistan finds itself in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, there are new opportunities for peace talks that would have been unimaginable only a few months ago. On the other, the conflict looks set to intensify as insurgents test the strength of the security forces hoping to gain leverage in future negotiations,” said Ivan Simonovic, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, at the end of a seven-day mission to Afghanistan which took him to Kabul and the provinces of Nangarhar and Kapisa.

“Sadly, as the violence of the past week has shown, it will be Afghan civilians who pay the price, and more needs to be done to protect them.”

During his second official visit to Afghanistan, the Assistant Secretary-General focused on the increasingly difficult security situation following the withdrawal of foreign troops and the transfer of security tasks to the Afghan National Security Forces.

"2014 was already a terrible year for the civilian population of Afghanistan, and figures for the first quarter of 2015 have confirmed that negative trend,” Simonovic said. According to preliminary figures compiled by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 655 civilians have already been killed and 1155 injured in the first quarter of 2015.

“On Thursday, I met a number of children detained for conflict-related crimes, including attempted suicide bombing. On Friday, I met with civilian victims and their doctors at the emergency hospital in Kabul. And then on Saturday I was in Jalalabad at the time of a ferocious suicide attack by anti-Government elements on a crowded marketplace, killing at least 35 people,” Simonovic said. “It is unacceptable that Afghans should face such violence on a daily basis. There can be no doubt that the use of tactics of this kind represent war crimes, and those responsible for organizing or perpetrating such attacks must be brought to justice.”

“I was greatly encouraged by President Ghani’s and Chief Executive Abdullah’s personal commitment to ending torture in Afghan detention facilities, and the steps being taken to prepare a national action plan on torture prevention,” Simonovic said. “These institutional reforms must be reinforced by strict accountability measures. Torturers must be prosecuted and punished, not transferred to other positions.”

The Assistant Secretary-General encouraged Afghanistan to institutionalize torture prevention by ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which would lay the basis for a national inspection mechanism for places of detention.

During his visit, Simonovic participated in the launch of a new report by UNAMA and the UN Human Rights Office on the barriers to justice women still face. “Clearly the gains for women’s rights in Afghanistan need to be reinforced and protected,” Simonovic said. “I welcome the appointment this week of four women ministers, and the imperative now should be to ensure women’s representation in key institutions like the police and judiciary, and participation in the peace process.”


For further information and interview requests, please contact:
In Kabul: Dominic Medley (medleyd@un.org / +93 79 000 6386)
In New York: Nenad Vasic (vasic@un.org, +1 917 941 7558)
In Geneva: Ravina Shamdasani (+41 79 201 0115 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)