Covering events from January - December 2002

President of the Transitional Administration: Hamid Karzai
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: not signed

There were significant improvements in the human rights situation following the establishment of a new government in late 2001. Reconstruction of institutions responsible for enforcing the rule of law was ongoing, but essential institutions, including the police, prisons and judiciary, were undermined by a lack of resources and a tenuous security situation. Grave human rights abuses and armed conflict continued. Hundreds of people were arbitrarily detained and held in poor prison conditions. Impunity remained entrenched and perpetrators of human rights violations largely went unpunished. Violence continued with factional fighting between regional commanders and armed militias. Mass graves were discovered. Despite the lifting of restrictions on their freedom of movement, women feared for their security and were subjected to acts of violence, rape, public harassment and intimidation. Civilian deaths mounted as a result of continued US-led military air strikes and ground operations. Ethnic violence and retribution killings left a vast number of people internally displaced. Around 1.9 million refugees returned from neighbouring states, some under pressure from host countries, to live in an unsustainable and unstable post-conflict environment. The death penalty was imposed after trials that fell short of international fair trial standards.


The six-month Interim Administration of Afghanistan inaugurated in December 2001 was in place until the convening of a traditional grand assembly or Emergency Loya Jirga in June. The Loya Jirga, originally intended to accord national legitimacy to the peace process, failed to open up space for democratic debate and entrenched in power many against whom there were allegations of massive human rights abuses. Reports of political intimidation, violence and insecurity surrounded the Loya Jirga. The Afghan monarch, Mohammed Zahir Shah, withdrew his candidacy shortly before the Loya Jirga to support Hamid Karzai, who was elected President. The new Transitional Administration differed only slightly from the Interim Administration, retaining several powerful cabinet posts in the hands of those from the Tajik-dominated United Front.

In February Civil Aviation Minister Abdul Rahman was killed at Kabul airport and in July Vice-President Haji Abdul Qadir was shot dead in Kabul. In September President Karzai survived an assassination attempt in Kandahar.

The central government had no real control outside Kabul following the departure of the Taleban, resulting in increased lawlessness, factional fighting and repression, and continued human rights abuses. Despite numerous calls to expand the UN-mandated peace-keeping operation, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was only present in Kabul.

The administration was mandated to form a constitution, army and legal system before the election of a new government through the Constitutional Loya Jirga by December 2003. However, efforts to rebuild Afghanistan's devastated infrastructure, institutions and civil society were hampered by the precarious security situation. Many people in the country called for an increase in aid and rapid fulfilment of promises for assistance from donors.

Impunity and the administration of justice

Impunity remained entrenched. Reports of violence, torture, including rape, and ill-treatment by armed militia, regional commanders and police continued. US coalition forces allegedly funded and rearmed militias and those regional commanders crucial to helping their "war on terror" despite concerns about abuses by these groups. AI received information about "informal" or "private" jails supervised by commanders not authorized to carry out such activities, raising fears about the arbitrary nature of detention by parallel systems of "law enforcement" frequently run by armed militias outside the ambit of the rule of law.

The police, prisons and other institutions essential for the implementation of the rule of law were hampered by a shortage of funds, lack of training for personnel, and a lack of command and control structures that would help to ensure accountability. Extortion and arbitrary detention by police, fuelled by a lack of pay, were reported in many parts of the country. Torture during police interrogation was common. People were detained for long periods without a court appearance. Living conditions for detainees and working conditions for prison wardens were poor. The German Project for Support of the Police in Afghanistan provided support and coordination for training a new police force. However, by the end of the year no donor had stepped forward to provide such support for the reconstruction of the prison system.

In November a judicial commission was established to oversee the rebuilding of the dilapidated justice system but had made little progress by the end of the year.

AI welcomed the establishment of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in June, although lack of political support from sections of the central government, and administrative and organizational difficulties, meant it failed to make significant progress. The AIHRC's mandate included overseeing a process of national consultation on transitional justice, instituting a program of human rights education, and monitoring and investigating human rights abuses. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, mandated to monitor and investigate human rights abuses, was often silent or appeared inactive on these issues.

Little action was taken to bring to justice perpetrators of human rights abuses committed over the past 23 years or to identify a transitional justice strategy on war crimes. Military commanders suspected of past grave human rights abuses were integrated into the Transitional Administration.

The first and only attempt to date to bring to justice a former Mujahideen commander accused of grave human rights violations fell far short of international fair trial standards, highlighting the inadequacies of the current justice system to cope with such cases. Abdullah Shah, a commander from Paghman, was brought to trial in September, and later called for a retrial in October. No defence lawyer was present. Twenty-three written complaints formed the bulk of the evidence but there was no opportunity for cross-examination. Following the retrial Abdullah Shah was sentenced to death. President Karzai had not made the final decision on his death sentence by the end of the year.

In the debate about what to do regarding mass graves in Afghanistan, important questions were raised about the need for effective witness protection programs and about what should be prioritized for investigation.

The mass grave in Dasht-e-Leili, near Shibarghan desert, contained the remains of hundreds of Taleban prisoners who reportedly suffocated to death while being transported in sealed containers from Kunduz to Shibarghan prison near Mazar-e-Sharif in 2001. In May the UN conducted a preliminary investigation at the site with the assistance of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Physicians for Human Rights. Three bodies from the grave were exhumed and autopsies conducted, which found injuries consistent with death by asphyxiation. The United Front under the command of General Abdul Rashid Dostum was implicated in these deaths by witnesses. Several of the witnesses were themselves reportedly later harassed and subjected to torture, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial killing. The UN was called on to protect the site until a full investigation could be completed, following accusations that evidence had been disturbed.

Death penalty

At least five people were sentenced to death, charged with murder, by courts whose procedures did not conform to international fair trial standards. No executions were known to have been carried out.

Women's rights

Taleban decrees that restricted women's movement to the home were lifted with the inauguration of the Interim Administration. However, sexual violence by armed factions and public harassment linked to cultural beliefs continued to restrict women's movement, expression and dress. Fears for their personal security prevented women from participating fully in civil society and denied them the opportunity to exercise their basic rights. This was heightened in areas outside Kabul, where security was administered by local and rival commanders. In Mazar-e-Sharif, rape, other sexual abuse and violence against Pashtun women were reported following the fall of the Taleban.

Repressive decrees that restricted women's movement and participation in civil society were proclaimed in Herat, an area governed by Ismail Khan, and women's NGOs increasingly suffered discrimination and intimidation.

Discrimination against women in the form of political intimidation was widely reported. Seven women school teachers from Pul-e-Chumri were dismissed because of their political activity during the Loya Jirga. The former Women's Affairs Minister, Sima Samar, was intimidated for her outspokenness in the Loya Jirga. She was summoned to a Kabul court in June on apparently politically motivated blasphemy charges that were later dropped.

Violence against women by both state and non-state actors continued. The violence took the form of rape, forced marriages, kidnappings, and traditional practices discriminatory towards women in settling tribal disputes. Women were unable to seek legal redress through the judicial system, which remained ill-equipped and deeply discriminatory. The traditional jirga/shura, an informal justice system, continued to operate, often resulting in discriminatory outcomes. The majority of women in prisons were detained for violating social, behavioural and religious codes.

Killings of civilians and reported violations of international humanitarian law

US-led military action in Afghanistan targeting the Taleban and al-Qa'ida continued throughout the year. An unknown number of civilians were reportedly killed during the US-led bombing campaign that began in October 2001. The exact number of casualties was not independently verified owing to a lack of independent investigations and public information. As a result, a lack of accountability for the civilian death toll caused by US-led military operations continued.
Prisoners associated with the conflict

Hundreds of suspected members of the Taleban and al-Qa'ida were arbitrarily detained by Afghan authorities and remained in prisons throughout the country without charge or trial. There were serious concerns about reported ill-treatment of these prisoners. Reports of overcrowding, inadequate medical treatment and food shortages exacerbated fears about poor prison conditions. A series of releases of detainees began in April, which helped to relieve overcrowding.

Ethnically motivated violence and internally displaced persons

Fears over ethnic violence and retribution killings kept thousands of refugees from returning to their homes. People fled their homes in northern Afghanistan where violence and factional fighting plagued the region after the fall of the Taleban. Ethnic Pashtuns faced widespread abuses, including killings, sexual violence, extortion, looting and the burning of houses. The three main armed groups in the north and their militias were implicated in the violence.

Dozens of such incidents were reported in Balkh, Samangan and Sar-e-Pul in January and February. Pashtuns were also reportedly attacked in Badghis and Kunduz and in Herat province. Numerous attempts by the authorities and the UN to bring peace and security in the north were undermined, and Pashtun communities and displaced families remained vulnerable to persecution. Families fleeing human rights abuses and violence contributed to an estimated 700,000 internally displaced people within Afghanistan.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

Up to two million refugees returned to Afghanistan following the collapse of the Taleban government, despite ongoing conflict and insecurity in the country. The situation in Afghanistan was not conducive to the promotion of voluntary repatriation.

More than 1.6 million Afghans returned from Pakistan and over 350,000 returned from Iran, many under the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) repatriation program. Erosion of protection standards in Iran and Pakistan, and considerable pressure on the refugee population to leave, undermined the voluntariness of return. Non-neighbouring states took advantage of this to return Afghan asylum-seekers. Australia signed a bilateral agreement with Afghanistan's Interim Administration and the United Kingdom and France signed tripartite agreements with the Transitional Administration and UNHCR offering cash incentives for the voluntary return of Afghan refugees and asylum-seekers.

The lack of infrastructure and functioning health and education systems, and continued human rights violations, insecurity and drought continued to be major problems affecting the reintegration of the large number of people returning. In June UNHCR reported a shortfall of funds for the return operation. This raised serious concerns about the sustainability of returns and called into question the implementation of the principle of non-refoulement.