KABUL, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski expresses hope for Afghanistan's future, saying that the country must first learn to face its past before being able to move forward on building trust with the public and the support of human rights.
RFE/RL: What brings you to Kabul? What do you want to achieve?
Tom Malinowski: As everybody knows, [Afghan] President [Ashraf] Ghani and [Afghan] Chief Executive Abdullah [Abdullah] were in Washington in March. And they have made to the international community, and more importantly to the Afghan people, a number of extraordinary commitments to continue the human rights progress in this country, to protect women, to protect journalists, to hold accountable people who violate human rights, including in the security forces.
So I wanted to come to talk to them in greater detail about how to turn those commitments into actions. These are difficult [and] complicated, but I think the leadership here has expressed a very real and very welcome commitment, and the United States wants to help them in every possible way.
RFE/RL: You've met the Afghan leaders. Are they ready to move toward establishing the rule of law and promoting human rights?
Malinowski: The leaders we have spoken to recognize that the key ingredient to fighting terrorism successfully is to maintain that trust between the security forces and the people, which means eliminating human rights abuses, and we talked in practical terms about how that can be done.
RFE/RL: How do you evaluate the human rights situation in the country?
Malinowski: There have been huge gains in the past 14 years: gains for women, for political participation, elections, people choosing their leaders, for freedom of the press, freedom of the media. But the gains are extremely fragile; nothing is assured, and there are still many brave people in Afghanistan who are fighting for their rights who face threats -- who face violence -- and there are still institutions that need to change.
RFE/RL: In recent months, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations Assistance Mission In Afghanistan (UNAMA) published detailed reports regarding rights abuses in Afghanistan, which painted a bleak picture, particularly about women's rights. Do you agree with their concerns and findings?
Malinowski: I think these organizations have highlighted some of the most pressing problems in the country. The problems they have highlighted are extremely painful ones. I have been struck by the fact that the government's response to these reports has not been defensive. They have not denied the problem. They have recommitted themselves to try to address these very difficult issues. I find that hopeful. I find that refreshing.
RFE/RL: Some powerful figures in the Afghan government do not want to implement any steps toward transitional justice in the country. How important do you think is transitional justice for Afghanistan?
Malinowski: I have seen many, many societies that have had the problems of divisions that Afghanistan faces, and the challenge of transitional justice is always difficult and there is always some resistance. But it is very difficult for a country to move forward if it doesn't face its past.
RFE/RL: Washington and its allies have indicated support for human rights. How are you supporting Afghanistan to move toward preserving human rights?
Malinowski: When President Ghani was in Washington, he thanked [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama, above all, for making America's support to Afghanistan conditional on Afghanistan's performance, and I thought that was interesting that he wants us to make our assistance on Afghanistan's performance.
All of our work with the security forces, with the police and the military, comes with the expectation that those institutions will continue to improve their performance and root out human rights abuses in the future.
RFE/RL: Afghan women's rights activists are worried that after the direct engagement of the international community the recent gains in human rights will be lost. How would you respond to their concerns?
Malinowski: First of all, precisely because the new [Afghan] government has made these commitments and shown a new direction, President Obama has extended our [U.S.] presence, so again you see, we do respond to the direction of the Afghan people and the Afghan government; when they are moving in a right direction, we will support them.
Even when our military presence is no longer what it was, 100,000 troops, we will still be present here, in many, many ways, in many deep ways, in terms of our financial support, training and other things that come with accountability, come with expectations for the government of Afghanistan.
In terms of the future regarding the peace process, President Obama and [U.S.] Secretary of State [John] Kerry have been absolutely clear that there can be no compromise in terms of the gains of the past 14 years: The gains for women, the gains for human rights, the gains for civil society, for the media must be irreversible; they are non-negotiable. And that is the position we will maintain.