Afghanistan must shield and develop its real human rights advances, said a senior UNAMA official in an interview issued Tuesday, pledging the UN’s commitment to remaining centre stage with Afghans to safeguard the gains and prevent any rollback.
Speaking after completing more than five years’ service as UNAMA’s Human Rights Director, Georgette Gagnon highlighted positive and encouraging indicators against a backdrop of enormous challenges posed by conflict, as well as by the complex political and economic situation.
Ms. Gagnon expressed hope that human rights achievements will be advanced in the years ahead. “We’re expecting that the gains made will be sustained, will not be rolled back, and will not be sacrificed,” she said. In outlining these expectations, the Human Rights chief said civil society groups, in particular, are advancing the human rights struggle here.
“Civil society in Afghanistan is vibrant; it is very human-rights based and human-rights friendly, and it is taking forward the human rights struggle here” she said “That, of course, is very encouraging.”
In the interview, Ms. Gagnon spoke about critical issues for Afghanistan, such as the protection of civilians during armed conflict, children in conflict, women’s issues, detention practices and peace and reconciliation initiatives.
On protection of civilians, the UNAMA Human Rights chief said that, during the last five years, UNAMA had dedicated resources to meticulously documenting the impact of the conflict on civilians across the country to get the parties to the conflict to take concrete steps to mitigate the effects on civilians – to protect lives.
Tragically, while UNAMA’s work did result in government and international forces adopting procedures to limit their actions’ impact on civilians, the figures of civilians killed or injured is higher in 2015 than at any previous recorded stage in the conflict. Ms. Gagnon described how the UN continues working with all parties to abide with their national and international obligations to protect civilians.
“We’re bringing forward our findings, our documentation, our reporting, and we’re urging and putting forward recommendations, practical ways and means to reduce civilian casualties,” she said. “We have regular dialogue in the field with the military actors, urging them to abide by their obligations to protect civilians – ensure they have directives in place, rules of procedure, rules of engagement that put the protection of civilians at the centre.”
On the issue of women’s rights, Ms. Gagnon described how the UN has been focused on documenting and reporting how the government is implementing the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) legislation. “We’ve actually seen quite a bit of change,” she said. “We’ve seen the government setting up what’s called EVAW prosecution units across the country.”
She said that while there hasn’t been a large increase in prosecutions, there has been more reporting, with women going to institutions to get justice. “Most women we’ve interacted with would say there have been achievements and change over the last five years,” she said, explaining that there is much greater awareness now across the country of the rights of women and of the government’s obligations to do everything it can to empower them.
Ms. Gagnon referred to the case of Farkhunda, an Afghan woman who was brutally murdered by a Kabul mob on 19 March. “Many women’s groups and others went on the street to demonstrate for proper, prompt justice,” she said. “Unfortunately, there has not been proper, prompt justice.”
What this case suggests, she indicated, is that there is still much more to be done to address women’s rights issues and how the government responds to those issues.
“There still are many serious issues with women’s rights,” she said. “The level of violence against women is still high; the government does need to do much more to address it.”
UNAMA is mandated to support the Afghan Government and relevant international and local non-governmental organizations to assist in the full implementation of the fundamental freedoms and human rights provisions of the Afghan Constitution and international treaties to which Afghanistan is a State party, in particular those regarding the full enjoyment by women of their human rights.