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Demands Grow for Human Rights Office in Afghan Province

Locals say that only outside intervention can help reduce abuses.
By Ahmad Shah

Activists in Khost have called for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commision (AIHRC) to establish an office in the southeastern province to help combat rampant violence against women.

They warn that despite widespread forced marriages, violent attacks and so-called honour killings, a lack of specialised support meant that few victims were able to report their abuse. State insitutions were also slow to respond to complaints of violence.

The nearest AIHRC office was in Gardez, the capital of neighbouring Paktia province, and was hard to access.

"My information shows that women have more facilities at their service in provinces where there are [AIHRC] offices,” said Zeba Barekza, head of the Afghan Women's Network. “The government then tries their best to address problems because they fear the office of human rights."

Barekzai explained that although her organisation reported cases of violence against women to the relevant authorities, they seemed unwilling or unable to address their concerns. Legal cases, for instance, were delayed without resolution.

A regional AIHRC office could serve as a lever to exert further pressure, she continued.

The AIHRC has offices in 14 of Afghanistan 34 provinces, but officials said that resources were too thinly spread for more to open any time soon.

"Because of a lack of personnel and budget, we cannot open offices in all the provinces," said Shamsullah Ahmadzai, the head of the AIHRC’s Kabul headquarters.

He suggested that people in Khost register their concerns at the AIHRC regional office in Paktia or contact head office in Kabul.

This explanation did not satisfy local activists, who warned that without  outside support the situation would only deteriorate.

Kamila Akbari, head of a women’s capacity building organisation in Khost, said that life in the remote province was mostly ruled by conservative, traditional customs.

"I am aware of dozens of cases in which women have been beaten and killed, but nobody cared,” she continued. “If we had an AIHRC office here, violence against women would be investigated to a far greater extent."

Khost civil activist and journalist Elyas Wahdat added that not one of the honour killings that he knew had taken place in the district of Jaji Maidan last year had been registered.

"If a human rights' office was present in Khost, it could have recorded each case and shared the issue with government offices in the capital. This would have helped find solutions to such problems. However, since there is no AIHRC office, one cannot expect the inefficient department of women's affairs to do something like this."

Malalay Wali, the director of women's affairs in Khost, denied such charges of negligence while agreeing a dedicated office would help protect women.

"We have worked to eliminate violence against women,” she said. “We have registered cases of violence against women, forced marriages, and other cases of violence [including marriages where women were married off to resolve disputes]. This is the progress we have made with the access we have, but it would become easier to provide women with more facilities if an office of human rights was established.”

Government officials in Khost agreed that an AIHRC office would help gender equality in the province.

Khost deputy governor Abdul Wahed Patan said that although women's life had greatly improved in recent years, they still faced many problems that only the AIHRC could help address.

"We have not been silent. We have made efforts to improve the lives of women and to eliminate violence against them,” he continued. “However, if an AIHRC office is established here, women's problems will take on an international dimension and the international community will show interest and further pave the way for women's development."

This report was produced under IWPR’s Promoting Human Rights and Good Governance in Afghanistan initiativefunded by the European Union Delegation to Afghanistan.

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