Human rights in Afghanistan

While the Taliban were well known for numerous human rights abuses, several human rights violations continue to take place across the country.[1] The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan had a strong human rights framework in its constitution. It is a member of the United Nations Convention against Torture since April 1987.

A bill of rights was enshrined in chapter two of the 2004 Constitution of Afghanistan. The right to life and liberty were constitutionally protected as were the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence for all persons. That gave the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan a strong human rights framework that is guaranteed to all citizens.

Some Afghan security forces have been accused of committing grave human right violation like enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture of suspected terrorists.[citation needed] Moreover, some members of the security forces have also been involved in killing civilians in ground operations as well as in air strikes.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]


Under the monarchy of Zahir Shah, human rights were usually respected.[8] As of 1949, the Afghan Prime Minister Shah Mahmud Khan, increased press freedom, but these moves were soon reversed. The Press Law which was implemented in July 1965, gave considerable freedom to the press for the first time.[9] While the press was mostly free, in some cases the King closed down media from dissidents that were considered threatening. The communist Khalq republic that governed Afghanistan after the Saur Revolution in 1978 was brutal, vigorously suppressing opposition. The government abducted and executed thousands of prisoners, rural civilian dissidents.[10]

In April 1987, Afghanistan ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture (CAT), which prevents the state from inflicting torture on any individual. New leader Babrak Karmal promised to end the Khalq's brutality, which it partly did, but human rights abuses still continued. The government along with the Soviets (during the Soviet–Afghan War) intentionally targeted civilian settlements in rural areas. Under President Mohammad Najibullah's reforms, freedom of expression was further improved but human rights overall remained restricted.[11]

In the 1990s, many atrocities were committed by various militias against civilians. Indiscriminate rocket attacks during the Battle of Kabul, especially those by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's militia, killed thousands of civilians. The Taliban, in power from 1996, imposed strong restrictions on women, performed public executions, and prevented international aid from entering the country for starving civilians.[12]

21st centuryEdit

Football fans inside the Ghazi Stadium in the capital of Kabul, which is multi-ethnic and the largest city of Afghanistan.

The Bonn Agreement of 2001 established the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) as a national human rights institution to protect and promote human rights and to investigate human rights abuses and war crimes. The Afghanistan Constitution of 2004 entrenched the existence of the AIHRC. While the ongoing turmoil, violence and reconstruction efforts often make it difficult to get an accurate sense of what is going on, various reports from NGOs have accused various branches of the Afghan government of engaging in human rights violations.[13]

There have also been various human rights abuses by American soldiers on Afghan civilians, most notably in the Baghram prisons where innocent civilians endured torture, humiliating conditions, and inhumane treatment. The United States was heavily criticized for lenient sentencing for the soldiers responsible.[13] Former Afghan warlords and political strongmen supported by the US during the ousting of the Taliban were responsible for numerous human rights violations in 2003 including kidnapping, rape, robbery, and extortion.[14] Several thousands of people in Afghanistan have been victims of enforced disappearance over the past four decades,

Torture agreementEdit

In March 2002, ABC News claimed top officials at the CIA authorized controversial, harsh interrogation techniques.[15] The possible interrogation techniques included shaking and slapping, shackling prisoners in a standing position, keeping the prisoner in a cold cell and dousing them with water, and water boarding.[15] A United Nations study in 2011 reported on interviews with 379 detainees. It found those held by police or intelligence services were subjected to beatings, removal of toenails and electric shocks.[16]

Elections during combatEdit

Several elections have been held in Afghanistan since 2001. The most recent election was held 18 September 2010, for the National Assembly with a reported 2,499 candidates competing for 250 seats. During the elections[17] the Taliban attacked many of those involved, killing 11 civilians and 3 Afghan National Policemen in over 300 attacks on the polls.[18] The low death toll at the hands of the Taliban can be attributed to stepped up operations specifically targeting the leaders of insurgents planning attacks in the days leading up to the elections,[19][20] which captured hundreds of insurgents and explosives. Turnout at election was 40%.

Justice systemEdit

Afghanistan has two dominant justice systems: the formal state system and the informal traditional system.[21] Despite existence of ordinary judicial system e.g. Supreme Court, National Security Court (dealing with terrorism related cases), first and second instance courts, "jirga" and "shura"-traditional institutions are operating.

Law and orderEdit

Some members of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) have been accused of running their own prisons, torturing suspects, and harassing journalists. They have also been accused of deliberately killing civilians during government raids.[5][22][23][24]

The security forces of local militias, which also have their own prisons, have been accused of torture and arbitrary killings. Warlords in the north have used property destruction, rape, and murder to discourage displaced Pashtuns from reclaiming their homes. Child labor and human trafficking remain common outside Kabul. Civilians have been killed frequently in battles between warlord forces. Poor conditions in the overcrowded prisons have contributed to illness and death amongst prisoners. To stop it, a prison rehabilitation program had begun in 2003.

In the absence of an effective national judicial system, the right to judicial protection has been compromised as uneven local standards have prevailed in criminal trials. Fair trial principles are enshrined in the Afghan constitution and the criminal procedure but frequently violated for various reasons, including the lack of well-educated, professional staff (especially defence lawyers), lack of material resources, corruption and unlawful interference by warlords and politicians.[25] Several thousands of people in Afghanistan have been victims of enforced disappearance over the past four decades.[26]

On 27 June 2020, two human rights defenders associated with Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) were killed in a bomb attack. They died after an explosive device attached to their vehicle detonated. The attack came less than a week after two prosecutors and three other employees from the attorney general’s office were shot dead by gunmen in Kabul.[27]

On August 14, 2020, the United Nations experts demanded the Afghanistan government to take an early decisive action to prevent the killing of human rights defenders. Nine human rights defenders have been killed since the start of 2020. The number has already surpassed 2019’s figure.[28]

Since the 2021 establishing of the Taliban-led Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, 100 former government officials and affiliates have been killed.[29] Human rights activists, civil rights activist and media workers are under 'constant attack' (threats and intimidations) under this new government.[30]

Freedom of speech and the mediaEdit

Article 34 of the Afghan Constitution allows freedom of speech and press, though there are restrictions on media that may invoke Islamic law or be offensive to other sects. However, there has been harassment and threats targeting journalists and legal experts, especially outside Kabul. Freedom of the press was guaranteed by interim President Hamid Karzai in February 2002.[31] The 2004 Media Law was signed by Karzai in 2005.[32] In 2008, documentary filmmaker Nasir Fayaz was arrested for criticising politicians from the President's cabinet on his weekly show on Ariana TV. The arrest caused an outcry from journalists and it violated Article 34 which reads "Freedom of expression shall be inviolable".[33][34] Afghanistan ranks 122nd in the 2020 dropping by 2 points from 120th rank in 2017 according to Press Freedom Index.But still it stands in a better position than all its neighbors.[35]

Journalist in Afghanistan face threat from both the security forces and insurgents. Journalist are threatened, assaulted and killed by Afghan officials, warlords and insurgents to stop them from reporting. Furthermore, Human Right Watch report claim that many Afghan journalists self-censors by steering clear of reporting on sensitive issues.[36] Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC) in 2017 claim that Afghan government accounted for 46% of the attacks on Afghans journalist. While insurgents were responsible for rest of the attacks.[37]

Religious freedomEdit

No registration of religious groups is required; minority religious groups are able to freely practice their religions but they are not allowed to proselytize them. Islam is the official religion; all law must be compatible with Islamic morality, and the President and Vice President must both be Muslims.

Officially, Apostasy remains punishable by death, per the Constitution of Afghanistan. In 2006, Abdul Rahman, an Afghan Muslim who had been arrested for converting to Christianity, was granted presidential permission to leave the country, and he moved to Italy, where he was granted asylum.[38] In 2014, an Afghan Muslim who had renounced Islam and had become an atheist was granted asylum in the United Kingdom, on the grounds that he could face death if he returned to his country of origin.[39]

Women's rightsEdit

Women had equal rights to men under the 2004 Constitution of Afghanistan

The 2004 Constitution of Afghanistan promised equal rights for men and women, including women being permitted to work outside the home, to engage in political activity, and a requirement for each political party to nominate a certain number of female candidates.

During the first period of Taliban rule, women had virtually all their rights taken away. Matters ranging from wearing nail polish to job opportunities were severely restricted. By keeping women indoors, the Taliban claimed to be keeping them safe from harm.

In late March 2009, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed into law an internationally condemned "Shia Family Law" which condones apparent spousal rape (in Article 132), child marriage and imposes purdah on married Afghan women. Although the offending legislation is said to have been dormant for a year, President Karzai was trying to gain the support of Afghan northern Shia legislators and the neighbouring Islamic Republic of Iran, which is Shia-dominated. According to Britain's Independent newspaper, the 'family code' was not read in the Upper House/Senate, and also enshrines gender discrimination in inheritance law and divorce against women.[40]

Despite various promises from the government to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, the law could not be implemented. The Kabul peace talks that took place in June 2017, included only two women among 47 government and international representatives.[41]

On 18 September 2020, President Ashraf Ghani signed a new law to include mothers' names on their children's birth certificates and identification cards. Afghan women's rights activists had been campaigning on social media for several years to include the name of both parents, under the hashtag #WhereIsMyName.[42]

In May 2022, the Taliban's Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice published a decree requiring all women in Afghanistan to wear full-body coverings when in public (either a burqa or an abaya paired with a niqāb, which leaves only the eyes uncovered).[43][44]

Sexual orientationEdit

Homosexuality and cross-dressing were capital crimes under the Taliban, but have been reduced to crimes punished by long prison sentences.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Afghanistan Events of 2019". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  2. ^ "Afghanistan officials sanctioned murder, torture and rape, says report". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  3. ^ "Is the Afghan air force trigger happy? Here's what the numbers say". Military Times. Retrieved 8 February 2017.
  4. ^ "Afghan forces 'kill civilians' in ground raid and air strike". Reuters. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Khogyani elders claim 160 civilians killed in night riads". Pajhwok. Retrieved 26 September 2018.
  6. ^ "Social activists, residents seek halt to airstrikes targeting civilians". Pajhwok. Retrieved 28 September 2018.
  7. ^ "Civilian casualties blamed on security operations". Pajhwok. Retrieved 2 October 2018.
  8. ^ "Last King of Afghanistan Dies". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  9. ^ Hyman, Anthony (2016-07-27). Afghanistan under Soviet Domination, 1964–91. Springer. ISBN 9781349219483.
  10. ^ Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape by Noah Coburn, Anna Larson.
  11. ^ "ASW". Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  12. ^ "Blood-Stained Hands | Past Atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan's Legacy of Impunity". Human Rights Watch. 2005-07-06. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  13. ^ a b "Afghan abuse sentence 'lenient'". BBC News. 25 August 2005.
  14. ^ Afghanistan: Warlords Implicated in New Abuses 29 July 2003
  15. ^ a b "ABC News: CIA's Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described". ABC News.
  16. ^ Kelly, Jeremy (10 October 2011). "Afghanistan officials 'systematically tortured' detainees, says UN report". The Guardian. Kabul. Retrieved 10 October 2011. Interviews with 379 people held by police or intelligence services describe beatings, removing toenails and electric shocks
  17. ^ Afghan Journal: Heroes & Demons September 2010
  18. ^ Afghanistan: Taliban Elect Explosives 18 September 2010
  19. ^ "War In Afghanistan News". 18 September 2010. Retrieved 3 August 2011.
  20. ^ "War In Afghanistan News 17 September 2010". 17 September 2010. Retrieved 3 August 2011.
  21. ^ "Afghanistan's Justice System - The Asia Foundation". The Asia Foundation. 2009-02-04. Retrieved 2018-02-17.
  22. ^ "14 civilians killed in special forces raid in Nangarhar". Pajhwok. Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  23. ^ "NDS forces beaten up journalists, smashed their cameras". Pajhwok. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
  24. ^ "U.S. had advance warning of abuse at Afghan prisons, officials say". The Washington Times. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  25. ^ See Tilmann J. Röder, ‘Human Rights Standards in Afghan Courtrooms: The Theory and Reality of the Right to a Fair Trial’, in: ‘Islam and Human Rights’, ed. by H. Elliesie, Peter Lang Verlag (Frankfurt am Main) 2010.
  26. ^ Agony of Afghanistan’s Enforced Disappearances
  27. ^ "Bomb attack kills two human rights workers in Kabul". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  28. ^ "Afghanistan: More action needed to stop killings of human rights defenders". UN News. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  29. ^ "Afghanistan: Taliban Kill, 'Disappear' Ex-Officials". Human Rights Watch. 2021-11-30. Retrieved 2022-05-14.
  30. ^ Press, The Associated (2022-01-31). "U.N. says over 100 ex-Afghan officials have been slain since the Taliban's takeover". NPR. Retrieved 2022-05-13.
  31. ^ "Afghanistan gets new press law". 2002-02-09. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  32. ^ "Afghanistan: Mass Media Law Comes Under Scrutiny". RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  33. ^ "Afghans urge probe into TV host's arrest -". Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  34. ^ "Mohammad Nasir Fayyaz, Ariana TV Journalist Detained by Afghan Intelligence Service". Kabul Press کابل پرس. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  35. ^ "2019 World Press Freedom Index | Reporters Without Borders". RSF. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  36. ^ "Afghan journalists 'face increasing attacks and threats' - report". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  37. ^ "Violence Against Journalists Surges In Afghanistan In 2017". RFERL. Retrieved 25 July 2017.
  38. ^ "Afghan convert arrives in Italy for asylum", CNN, 29 March 2006
  39. ^ "Atheist Afghan granted religious asylum in UK", BBC, 14 January 2014
  40. ^ "Afghan leader accused of bid to 'legalise rape'". The Independent. 2009-03-30. Retrieved 2022-04-22.
  41. ^ "Afghanistan Events of 2017". Human Rights Watch.
  42. ^ "Afghan Women Win Fight for Their Own Identity". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  43. ^ George, Susannah (7 May 2022). "Taliban orders head-to-toe coverings for Afghan women in public". The Washington Post. Retrieved 8 May 2022.
  44. ^ Graham-Harrison, Emma (7 May 2022). "Taliban order all Afghan women to cover their faces in public". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 May 2022.
  • Life Under the Taliban, by Stewart, Gail B.

External linksEdit