Bring Security to Afghanistan ;


By Mary Robinson

International Herald Tribune
March 12, 2002

The cry I have heard in Kabul is simple: "Enough is enough!" It is the message the Afghan people have for whoever cares to hear it. These days, unlike so often in the past, people are listening.

The Afghans have lived a nightmare of duress, starvation and oppression. They want change. They want leaders who won't abuse them. They want peace, security and prosperity. They want the ability to choose their own destiny without foreign interference, and the restoration of their rightful place in the family of nations. We have now an unprecedented opportunity to make these aspirations a reality. The Bonn agreement signed by Afghan parties under the auspices of the United Nations in December is a blueprint for the physical and political reconstruction of Afghanistan on the basis of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. The United Nations, through Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, who leads the program for the new Afghanistan, is committed to working in solidarity with the Afghan people in implementing that blueprint.

In concrete terms this program requires:

Government that is participatory, multiethnic, inclusive, accountable and committed to promoting and protecting the rights of all Afghans.

Support for constitutional development and legal reform in the transitional period to ensure that institutions are in place to protect human rights.

Attention to explicit safeguards in all aspects of life to protect the rights of women, ethnic and religious minorities, the landless, the internally displaced, those living in extreme poverty and other members of society who require greater protection.

A fair and effective justice system building on the proposals in the Bonn agreement, and in accordance with Islamic principles, Afghan legal traditions, the rule of law and respect for international standards.

Independent and effective national institutions that promote and protect the rights of victims and act as a bridge between government and civil society.

A vibrant and vigilant civil society determined to ensure that there is no return to the unchecked violence of the past. The participation and leadership of highly qualified Afghan citizens at home and abroad is key to reconstruction.

The Bonn agreement provides the framework for the first steps toward all of these goals. Significantly, too, Afghanistan is already a party to a number of international human rights instruments which provide the means to monitor progress over time.

My office will focus its partnership with Afghan authorities and civil society on developing programs on human rights education and the rights of women. We will also offer our expertise in the establishment of the new national human rights commission.

And yet, can we speak of rights when most Afghans are still unable to live freely and without fear? How can a culture of human rights take life and breath without the oxygen of security?

This, too, is being addressed. The continuing threat from Al Qaeda is being confronted by the alliance forces led by the United States. The International Security Assistance Force authorized by the UN Security Council is deploying in Kabul. That force must be rapidly expanded and extended beyond Kabul. A new Afghan security force and a civilian police service are being created with support from the international community. Without the success of these initiatives to guarantee human security, there can be little prospect of ensuring respect for human rights.

Sustainable peace, reconciliation, reconstruction and development are not built on a foundation of impunity. This has been the lesson from past experience, in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The Bonn agreement empowers the United Nations to investigate human rights violations and, where necessary, recommend corrective action.

There can be no amnesty for perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and gross violations of human rights. Accountability involves elements of justice, truth telling, reconciliation and institutional reform. When the time is right, a transparent and informed process of national dialogue and consultation must begin on how to tackle the abuses of the past, in a manner sensitive to the country's needs, realities and aspirations.

Afghanistan is at a crossroads. Coming as I do from the island of Ireland, where divided loyalties have led to the loss of thousands of lives in the last 30 years, I have an encouraging message: It is possible to move away from conflict, even long-term conflict.

The most critical need now is for internationalsecurity assistance. –

The writer, a former president of Ireland, is UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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