Rights Watchdog: Ban Warlords From Afghan Election

April 19, 2009

Rights Watchdog: Ban Warlords From Afghan Election

KABUL (Reuters) — Afghans accused of human rights violations over three decades of war should be barred from running in the August 20 presidential election, a commissioner of the state-appointed rights watchdog said.

Western backers of Afghanistan, which is in the grip of a growing Taliban insurgency, have pledged extra troops for securing the poll and for paying most of the cost of $230 million for the vote, the second direct one in the country’s history.

The official nomination of candidates is planned for next week, and names that have appeared on unofficial lists include warlords linked with past crimes, Ahmad Nader Nadery, officer of the Independent Human Rights Commission told Reuters in an interview.

Without naming names, Nadery said a culture of impunity since Taliban’s fall meant that human rights abusers managed to stand in the 2004 poll as candidates for president or one of two posts as deputies, and the case was same this time.

“We are concerned again with the lack of a mechanism that would properly screen individuals (with) past human rights records,” he said.

Afghanistan’s new constitution, drawn up after the Taliban’s ouster in 2001, says members or leaders of armed groups, as well as individuals sentenced by a court for war crimes, are not eligible to run for the office of president, Nadery said.

Afghanistan has been caught in a cycle of foreign interventions and civil war for 30 years. Leaders of many former warring factions — many of whom have been accused by rights groups of abuse — now occupy positions in the government of President Hamid Karzai, who has ruled the multi-ethnic nation since Taliban’s ouster and won the 2004 poll.

Nadery said members of the public can complain to the election commission about past rights abuses by candidates, but neither the commission nor the government had drafted rules for a mechanism to bar warlords or abusers from office.

Afghanistan has not set up a special court to hear cases of past abuse, and Nadery said Karzai and his Western backers have lacked the political will to put warlords on trial for fear of stoking more violence while the Taliban insurgency rages.

“There is a false belief in the international community — if they touch the justice issue then this fragile peace will be challenged as well. Surveys and studies have showed that in Afghanistan it’s actually the other way round,” he said.

“People talk about justice and good governance as a means to promote peace. The Taliban are finding their way in the villages and provinces because people are disillusioned with the government officials,” he said.

“If you establish justice and good governance, and remove these people from office, you would actually help build confidence of the population in government. That in itself would serve as a preventive measure against the Taliban.”