Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging the United States to commit to expanded support for human rights in Afghanistan amid what it calls “fears of increased insecurity” fueled by its announced plan to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan later this year.
The U.S. government “should boost assistance for education and health, especially for girls and women, and for independent media given the threat of a widening conflict that undermines human rights gains and exacerbates the country’s humanitarian crisis,” the New York-based human rights watchdog said in a statement on April 16.
HRW noted that U.S. assistance for legal reform in Afghanistan “has been vital for increasing access to justice for women and training hundreds of lawyers, prosecutors, and judges.”
Additional support will be needed to improve enforcement of laws protecting women and strengthen Afghan human rights groups so they can continue to monitor human rights conditions, it said.
President Joe Biden announced on April 14 his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11 -- 20 years to the day after the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States that triggered the conflict.
The announcement “has raised fears that further insecurity may erode important gains in human rights that have allowed Afghans, women and girls in particular, to enjoy greater freedoms and better education and health,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director for HRW.
Washington “should commit to providing vital funding and diplomatic support to preserve and expand on those gains and press for an end to abuses against civilians,” Gossman added.
The Biden administration has ensured it would “use its full diplomatic, humanitarian, and economic toolkit to … protect the gains made by women and girls over the course of the past 20 years … [and] bolster support for civilian, economic, and humanitarian assistance programs.”
But HRW said that previous U.S. administrations “have not made human rights in Afghanistan a sufficient priority.”
Noting that U.S. assistance to vital aid programs in the country has been “shrinking,” HRW said the United States should “expand its support for programs that increase access to education and health care, especially for women and girls.”
The watchdog also pointed out that the Taliban have made no firm commitments to protect fundamental rights in a transitional government or after a peace agreement.
And the insurgent group has “restricted the rights of women and girls to education” in areas under their control and is “engaged in a pattern of threats and attacks against Afghan media.”
Should the conflict continue following the U.S. pullout, Washington “should use all diplomatic and other forms of influence to press the parties to comply with international human rights and humanitarian law, especially to protect civilians,” according to HRW.
“Afghans who have endured decades of human rights abuses are understandably fearful that achievements in media freedom, education, health care, and women’s rights may soon be lost, and that there will be no accountability for the injustices they have endured,” said Gossman, who urged the United States to “seize this moment to express its commitment and strengthen its support for human rights in Afghanistan.”