Afghan Human Rights Office Opens in Herat; Gender Advocacy, Security Needed

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, led by former women’s affairs minister Dr Sima Samar, opened its Herat office todayÑthe first beyond Kabul. Among those attending the inauguration ceremony were Herat Gov. Ismail Khan and UN and government officials. The Associated Press reported that after the ceremony, an Afghan journalist working for a US government-supported radio station was arrested, beaten, and then released. The Commission is expected to investigate the case. The warlord Khan is notorious for stifling political dissent and independent media throughout the province while imposing Taliban-like restrictions on women and girls.

International donors this week answered a call Monday from Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani requesting $2.25 billion in foreign aid for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Friday. Pledging $2 billion, the countries reiterated their commitment to assist in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. The US exceeded its earlier pledges with a promise of $820 million, while Japan and the European Union agreed to give $500 million over the next two and a half years and $432 million until 2005, respectively, according to Reuters. Afghan officials said $1.7 billion would go towards infrastructure redevelopment and other areas targeted for funding would include boosting security and combating the re-burgeoning opium industry.

The stream of foreign aid entering Afghanistan suggests that much work remains to be done. Last November, the US, Japan, and Saudi Arabia pledged aid to resume construction of the critical Kabul-Kandahar-Herat highway. Earlier this year, Japan donated US$35 million toward an UN-supported disarmament program, reported the Associated Press. Last week, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced $60 million to print textbooks and rebuild schools throughout Afghanistan.

Nonetheless, progress remains slow. A report released by the International Crisis Group (ICG) entitled “Afghanistan: Women and Reconstruction” argues that sustainable improvements will require an institutional and cultural overhaul, “mainstreaming gender issues in the development process as a whole,” stated the organization’s press release. ICG Senior Analyst in Afghanistan, Vikram Parekh stated, “Émany women activists operate in a difficult environment and some report being threatened. ICG has consistently argued for the extension of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond the capital and this is just as important in this context, so that Afghan women activist can operate effectively.”

Meanwhile, 15 women remain imprisoned in Kabul’s jail–mostly on charges of petty crimes, such as adultery or refusal to marry with parental consent. Last November, in celebration of Ramadan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai granted amnesty to 20 women jailed in Kabul.

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International Crisis Group 3/14/03; BBC 3/17/03; Associated Press 2/19/03, 3/12/03, 3/14/03, 3/18/03, 3/19/03; NY Times 3/16/03; IRIN 1/9/03, 3/10/03; Reuters 3/17/03

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