UN rights council creates Afghanistan rapporteur

NEW YORK (AFP): The European Union on Thursday won its battle at the UN Human Rights Council to create a new special rapporteur on Afghanistan, despite opposition from China, Russia and Pakistan.

The rapporteur will be responsible for monitoring the rights situation in the country following the Taliban takeover, and will make recommendations on improvements.

“This is an essential step to ensure continued monitoring, through a dedicated and independent expert, and to help prevent a further deterioration of the human rights situation in Afghanistan,” said Lotte Knudsen, the EU’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

“The rights of women and girls are of particular concern to us. The actions of the Taliban directed against women and girls and the violation of their rights is highly worrying.”

The resolution creating the 12-month post was tabled with backing from the United States and the envoy appointed by the former Afghan government before the Taliban seized power.

It was comfortably adopted by the 47-member council, the United Nations’ top rights body.

Twenty-eight countries voted in favour, 14 abstained and five voted against, with Venezuela and Eritrea joining Pakistan, Russia and China.

Before the vote, Beijing’s representative said the resolution had “serious defects”, adding: “The US and its allies are the initiators of the Afghan problem” caused by their military intervention and occupation for 20 years.

– Recommendations role –

During the council’s August 24 special session on Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover, some nations unsuccessfully tried to establish a mechanism to monitor the rights situation in the country.

Since taking power on August 15, the Taliban have tried to convince Afghans and the outside world that their regime will be less brutal than their 1996-2001 spell in control.

In recent weeks, the EU and UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet took up the cause again.

A European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters they had tried to make the resolution as consensual as possible.

“The amount of support is as important as the message” that the world is watching Afghanistan, the diplomat said.

The rapporteur is charged with following the developing human rights situation in Afghanistan and making recommendations to improve it.

The expert will also be tasked with helping the country to fulfil its human rights obligations and “offer support and advice to civil society”.

– ‘Quest for justice’ –

The resolution also calls for an “immediate end to all human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in Afghanistan”.

It also calls for respect for fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression.

The text condemns discrimination against women and girls, including forced marriages, and calls for an inclusive and representative government.

The rapporteur will submit a written report to the council within a year.

Amnesty International’s secretary general Agnes Callamard hoped it would be “a cornerstone in the quest for justice, truth and reparation for the people of Afghanistan”, given the gravity of the crisis engulfing the country.

John Fisher, the Geneva director of Human Rights Watch, said the rapporteur would bring “much-needed scrutiny to the rights crisis in Afghanistan” and “pave the way for a full investigative body to ensure that those responsible for violations and abuses are held to account”.

US charges Afghan with killing American troops

US prosecutors on Thursday charged an alleged former Taliban commander with terrorism-related offenses over the killing of American troops in 2008.

Haji Najibullah, 45, is already in US custody, charged with kidnapping an American journalist and two Afghan civilians.

He was arrested and extradited from Ukraine to the United States in October of last year.

On Thursday, prosecutors in New York said they had filed a superseding indictment that added counts of murder to his chargesheet.

Taliban fighters under Najibullah’s command killed three US soldiers and an Afghan interpreter in an attack on their military convoy in June 2008, the Justice Department said.

The assault was made with improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York said.

“As alleged, during one of the most dangerous periods of the conflict in Afghanistan, Haji Najibullah led a vicious band of Taliban insurgents who terrorized part of Afghanistan and attacked US troops,” prosecutor Audrey Strauss said in a statement.

Najibullah is also accused of kidnapping an American journalist and two Afghan nationals and holding them hostage for seven months.

The Justice Department has not given the hostages’ names, but New York Times journalist David Rohde was kidnapped in Afghanistan in November 2008, along with a translator and driver.

According to the Times, which managed to keep the news of his kidnapping secret so as not to endanger him, Rohde managed to escape from his captors in June 2009.

Ten of the 13 counts Najibullah faces carry maximum sentences of life in prison.

American troops withdrew from Afghanistan in August after 20 years of war ended with the Taliban back in power.