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Archive for December 2006

Afghanistan: UN reaffirms commitment to help reinforce human rights

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UN News Centre

28 December 2006 – The top United Nations envoy in Afghanistan today pledged the world organization’s support in entrenching fundamental human rights in the strife-torn country.

Welcoming President Hamid Karzai’s recent decree confirming the appointment of three new commissioners to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Tom Koenigs stressed the crucial role played by the rights body.

“Since its establishment in June 2002, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has played a vital role in protecting and promoting the human rights of all of Afghanistan’s peoples,” he said in a statement.

“I welcome President Karzai’s recent confirmation of three new appointments to the commission and hope that the new commissioners will continue their work with the same commitment and effort that the AIHRC has demonstrated since it was established.

“The United Nations remains committed to supporting the work of the AIHRC and we will continue to work with the commission as it strives to build recognition and respect for fundamental human rights across Afghanistan,” he added.

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Written by afghandevnews

December 29, 2006 at 7:40 pm

Posted in Human Rights

Heavy snowfall brings life to standstill in Kabul

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Zainab Mohammadi

KABUL, Dec 25, (Pajhwok Afghan News): Though the people of Kabul have welcomed the flurry and have responded to it with jubilation, but the blizzard has also added to the problems of the people, particularly the transportation hurdles.

Since the other day it is snowing in Kabul and so far 70 centimetres snow has been recorded. It seems that Kabul has worn a white blanket that catches one’s eyes.

A resident of Kabul Ahmad Farid, who was tying chains with tyres in a shop, told Pajhwok Afghan News the roads were packed with snow and they could hardly reach their destination. He said due to heavy snow the trees along the roads were broken and this also hampered transportation.

Mohammad Jan, another resident of Kabul, said all pavement were full of snow and pedestrians should be meticulous while walking on the footpaths. Kabul Municipality also confirmed that flurry has caused various problems, but according to the office, due to poor resources they could not clean the roads with snow.

Ghulam Mohammad Nooristani, an official at the Kabul Municipality, told this news agency they had employed 2,000 people to clean the roads with snow. He said they had no equipment for cleaning the city. Nooristani also asked the foreign NGOs to help in cleaning the city with flurry that might cause serious accidents.

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December 28, 2006 at 10:39 pm

Posted in Environment

Afghanistan’s forgotten drought

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December 25, 2006
From Anjali Kwatra for CNN

Away from the frontlines of the war against the Taliban, thousands of Afghans in the grip of a drought face a fight their lives. Anjali Kwatra, a journalist with Christian Aid, contributed this story for CNN.com from the affected area.

SYA KAMARAK, Afghanistan — While the eyes of the world are focused on the international military coalition’s continuing struggle with the Taliban, Afghan children are dying because of a little reported drought which has hit huge areas of the country.

The U.N. says 1.9 million people are at risk because of the drought and along with the Afghan government has appealed for $76 million for food aid.

In one village, Sya Kamarak in western Afghanistan, three children died recently on the same day from malnutrition.

The father of one of them, Attalullah, said he was angry that millions of dollars were coming into his country in aid, but he did not have enough to feed his two-year-old daughter Uzra.

“We had very little milk or food to give my daughter. She was always hungry and crying,” he said, sitting by the small pile of stones that marks the grave of his daughter.

“Lots of money is coming into our country but here we do not see any of it.”

The villagers say 50 children have died so far this year — a far higher number than usual — because of the drought.

Almost all the 300 families in Sya Kamarak, which is a day’s drive along bumpy tracks from the nearest city Herat, live off the land and most lost all their wheat harvest when the rains failed in April and May.

A Christian Aid assessment of the drought in five northern and western provinces showed that farmers lost between 80 and 100 percent of their crops in the worst affected areas and water sources in many villages had dried up.

Jan Bibi, 40, whose three-month-old daughter Nazia also died, said she had been feeding her with boiled water and sugar because she had nothing else.

Her surviving twin daughter Merzia is the size of a newborn rather than a three-month old and cries continually for food.

Dark future

“I am worried about my baby,” said Jan Bibi. “The future is dark because we don’t have food or water. We don’t know how we will survive.”

The drought has also hit hard in the south of the country where British troops are fighting an insurgency. The Afghan government has said that 20,000 families have been displaced in the south because of a combination of fighting and drought.

Although the west of the country is not a Taliban stronghold, many of the poor farmers said they could understand why people would sign up to fight when they were desperately poor.

“We have just a few kilograms of flour left to make bread with and we spend all day collecting twigs to use for fuel for cooking and heating. If anyone will provide us with a means of livelihood then we would join them rather than starve to death,” said Attalullah.

Others said they would consider growing poppies which grow well in dry climates just to earn enough to buy food.

Not only is food scarce, but each day children as young as six are sent to collect water from taps or wells up to three hours away.

Christian Aid has so far allocated $1.2 million, including $735,000 committed by the European Union Humanitarian aid department (ECHO), to emergency drought projects including distributing food and animal fodder, digging wells, training women in carpet weaving so they can earn money for their families and counseling.

A partner organization, ADHAA (Agency for Humanitarian and Development Assistance for Afghanistan) is working in Sya Kamarak and nearby villages to provide fresh water through wells or laying pipes.

ADHAA is trying to work on long term irrigation projects as the droughts in Afghanistan seem to strike more and more frequently.

Village elders say that droughts used to occur every 15 to 20 years, but the last drought finished just two years ago. They also say that winters are not as cold as they used to be and summers are hotter. Some experts attribute these changing weather patterns to climate change.

Shirin, 35, a farmer from nearby Kazar Boolaq village, said: “This year I got nothing from my fields. I am selling my livestock slowly to survive. I have two children and we are eating tea and bread and potatoes. We are worried about winter and about losing our children.”

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December 27, 2006 at 6:27 pm

Posted in Food security

Afghan women suffer daily violence

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BBC News / Tuesday, 26 December 2006

Five years ago, after the fall of the Taleban, Afghanistan’s new government pledged swift action to improve the lives of women. But a recent report by the international women’s organisation Womankind Worldwide said millions of Afghan women and girls continue to face discrimination and violence in their day-to-day lives.

The BBC’s Afghan service has been talking to Afghan women about their lives.

Afghan women’s rights groups acknowledge that women now have a variety of rights which they didn’t have under Taleban rule.

But in practice, they say, many of those rights are ignored.

And activists face intimidation, or worse.

In September, the head of the Women’s Affairs Ministry in the southern city of Kandahar, Safia Amajan, who’d criticised the Taleban’s treatment of women, was shot dead.

One of her former colleagues, who was too afraid to give her name, says since then activists have been staying home.

There are many opportunities to work here, she says.

There’s a lot to do, but there’s no security so women don’t want to leave their homes.

They think about what happened to Safia Amajan and they’re afraid the same thing will happen to them.

‘He beats me’

All Afghans are affected by worsening security. But for women, widespread domestic violence is an additional problem.

“My husband beats me whenever he feels like it,” a young mother of three from Kabul told the BBC.

“Once he broke my arm, then my legs. Now he’s broken my arm again. I try not to make a fuss because of the children.”

Hamayra Daqiq, a policewoman in Kabul, says women like this turn up at the city’s central police station every day looking for help.

“There are many reasons why domestic violence happens,” she says.

“One big reason is poverty. Many parents marry their daughters off to wealthy, older men when the girls are very young, often when they are underage.

“Another reason is where a family resolves a dispute with another family by handing over one of their daughters. The girl usually gets treated really badly by the second family.”

About 57% of Afghan girls are married before the legal marriage age of 16; about 60-80% of marriages are forced.

Homeyra, an 18-year-old student from Mazar-e Sharif in the north, was promised in marriage to a much older man when she was just a few months old.

He’s now returned to claim her and she’s distraught.

“I went to the police,” she said. “But they couldn’t help me. His family says if I don’t go through with the marriage then my father should kill me.”

Many women who spoke to the BBC also said that they had tried and failed to get help from the police.

It’s a problem which Humayra the policewoman acknowledged: “We just don’t have enough experienced female officers to follow up all the complaints,” she said.

‘Suffering’

And even when the police do intervene, they don’t always manage to achieve results.

“The police have been to see my husband several times and they made him sign a written undertaking not to beat me anymore,” said the young Kabul mother with the broken arm.

“But it just doesn’t make any difference. I’ve asked my parents and my brother for help, but they always say, we are poor people, we can’t afford to take you back.”

Increasing numbers of Afghan women are resorting to desperate measure to try to escape situations like these.

Shaimi Amini an assistant doctor at Herat hospital in western Afghanistan, said she was seeing more and more cases recently of women setting fire to themselves.

“During the past five days we’ve had four cases. In the last six months we’ve had 53 cases,” she said.

“If someone in the family sees what’s happening and acts fast enough then there’s more of a chance to save these girls. But in many cases they die.

“The girls who survive are often terribly disfigured. They need lots more surgery and so they face even more suffering to come.”

Afghanistan’s Women’s Affairs Ministry now says it’s trying to introduce a new bill to prevent violence against women.

But it will also realise that even if a new law is eventually passed, in practice it may be difficult to ensure that it is widely enforced.

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Written by afghandevnews

December 27, 2006 at 6:25 pm

Posted in Women's Rights

Flower shops bring Christmas to Kabul

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By RAHIM FAIEZ
Associated Press
Sun Dec 24, 8:07 AM ET

KABUL, Afghanistan – In devoutly Muslim Afghanistan, Christmas is like any other day — people go to work, there are no blinking lights lining the streets and pine trees remain unadorned — except on Flower Street, where local tree vendors are making an extra buck from the foreigners’ holiday.

Located in the heart of Kabul, Flower Street is different at Christmas from any other time of year, transformed into a festive place full of trees decked with multicolored tinsel garlands and lights.

“After the Taliban, we started to make Christmas trees because lots of foreigners are around, and they are asking for them,” said Eidy Mohammad as he decorated a tree at his shop, the Morsal Flower Store. “Business is growing — we had only the wedding season before, but now we have Christmas as well.”

Unlike many non-Christian countries in Asia, Afghanistan does not recognize or celebrate Christmas. But thousands of foreigners who live in Kabul working with the United Nations, non-governmental organizations or international military forces, celebrate the holiday quietly in restaurants and behind military barracks.

Many shop at Flower Street for their holiday trees.

“Christmas is a good season for flower stores in Kabul,” Mohammad said, adding that during the Taliban’s rule, nobody was allowed to make Christmas trees in Kabul.

He has sold about a dozen Christmas trees, earning anywhere from US$20 to US$200 — a hefty sum for Afghans, many of whom make only about US$50 a month. The trees are from across Afghanistan and are adorned with Chinese-made artificial materials.

“I was amused when I saw trees with lights,” said 29-year-old Abdul Qader. He thought the lit-up trees were a new fad in Afghan home deco, but he later found out they were for Christmas.

“They looked beautiful to me,” he said with a smile.

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December 24, 2006 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Culture and Arts

Afghan street children finding way out of poverty through job training programs

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The Associated Press
December 23, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan: Ahmed Fawad pushed his handcart through Kabul’s chaotic market center, past honking cars and braying donkeys, looking for a profitable spot to sell his pile of yellow apples.

But the corner traffic cop did not like the 14-year-old fruit seller taking up a lane of his traffic and chased him away. “Go away,” the policeman shouted. “This is not the place to be selling apples.”

Youngsters have to grow up fast in Afghanistan — particularly the 60,000 children who eke out livelihoods on the street. They sell produce or newspapers, collect empty soda cans, shine shoes or hail passengers for taxi drivers as a way to help their families survive.

Fawad’s mornings are spent selling apples or red pomegranates, which can net him up to $8 (€6.22) a day.

His afternoons are dedicated to his future.

That’s when the teenager studies carpentry at a vocational training center sponsored by the Social Affairs Ministry. Fawad is one of 37,000 young Afghans taking part in some kind of job education across the country, said Mohammad Ghous Bashiri, a deputy minister.

The classes are held in provincial community centers, often with the help of aid groups. They are one way the Afghan government is trying to help street children, many of whom were orphaned by the country’s wars in the 1990s.

Many street kids do not go to regular schools, because they cannot afford to buy supplies or because they must dedicate every hour of the day to making money.

A recent survey by UNICEF, Save The Children and the Ministry of Social Affairs found some 8,000 children age 14 and younger work on the streets of Kabul, said Wahidullah Barikzai, a ministry official. There are not any statistics to show whether that is up or down from previous years, he said.

Poverty runs so wide and deep in Afghanistan that families must struggle to earn money. Years of fighting, first by Afghan groups against occupying Soviet troops and then among the factions themselves, killed thousands of men, leaving many households without a breadwinner and untold numbers of women and children to fend for themselves.

Some working children say they also cannot take time to go to the training centers. “My father is dead,” Ahmed Shafiq, 13, said while selling plastic bags on a crowded street. “And I have my mother and three sisters I have to support.”

Fawad’s fruit-selling job provides much of his family’s income and pays for the family’s $40 monthly rent. His father hasn’t been able to find work since he was fired from the Education Ministry last year, while his mother and 16-year-old sister make dresses they sell to neighbors. Fawad also supports his 9-year-old brother.

Fawad said he was excited when he heard about the carpentry course offered by a foreign aid group. He is tired of selling produce and wants the chance to do something different.

“I want to be a carpenter and participate in the reconstruction of my country,” said the teen, who will soon earn a certificate allowing him to look for work in carpentry. “I will have a good income when I make windows and doors.”

The Afghan aid organization Aschiana, which means “nest” in the Afghan language of Dari, offers street kids classes in subjects like carpentry, computers, music and theater.

Nearly 10,000 have attended the group’s classes in three provinces, and hundreds have found jobs so far, said Mohammad Yasouf, the Aschiana director.

“We try to help those children who have nobody in their families to support the family to learn one of the skills, then we will provide the opportunity for them to find a job,” he said. “We don’t want them to be on the streets anymore.”

Shoaib Ahmedi, a 12-year-old who washes cars and hails cabs for passengers to buy food for his family, comes to Aschiana’s music classes with dirty hands and dirty clothes. But his face lights up as he practices the harmonia, a small keyboard instrument that sounds like an accordion.

“I have to work on the street and support my family. I have no any other choice,” he said between songs. “I feel very happy when I play the harmonia by myself.”

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December 23, 2006 at 6:28 pm

Posted in Education

AFGHANISTAN: Communist era mass grave discovered highlights need for post-war justice

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KABUL, 22 December (IRIN) – Some 2,000 bodies are believed to have been dumped in a recently unearthed communist-era mass grave in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, officials said on Thursday.

The mass grave was unearthed one day earlier close to the communist era’s most notorious prison Poli Charkhi on the eastern outskirts of the capital by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said Dr Mohammad Halim Tanwir, director of the international press centre at the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture (MIC).

MIC officials believe that the massacre took place between 1978 and 1986 when the Moscow-backed communist presidents, Noor Mohammad Tarakai, Hafizullah Amin and Babrak Karmal were in power.

Human skulls with bullet wounds, broken bones, pieces of clothing and shoes were seen in the several metre-long grave.

“More than 50,000 of our innocent people – who were mainly jailed in Poli Charkhi prison, were executed at that time,” Tanwir asserted. “The recovered bodies show that many of them had been shot in the head and then buried.”

Tens of thousands of Afghans and their family members were imprisoned and killed by the security services of the communist regimes during 1978-1992 for their alleged links with the Mujahideen groups who were waging stiff resistance against the Russian invasion and its communist regime in Afghanistan, officials say.

“The soldiers surrounded our house at night and then handcuffed my father and took him in a Russian jeep during the regime of Noor Mohammad Tarakai [the Afghan president from 1978 to 1979],” 38-year old Ehsanullah of Alingar district of Laghman province told IRIN. “He was in Poli Charkhi prison for some time and then disappeared. I am sure he might have been killed by communists,” Ehsanullah claimed.

In January this year, a former Afghan intelligence chief, Assadullah Sarwary was sentenced to death for his alleged involvement in mass killings during the rule of Noor Mohammad Tarakai.

To date several mass graves belonging to the communist era [1978-1992], the period of factional fighting between Mujahideen [1992-1996] and the Taliban [1996-2001] have been discovered in Afghanistan.

In September 2005, local officials found a mass grave in southeastern Paktika province containing some 500 bodies of the communist government’s soldiers, which were allegedly killed by the Mujahideen.

In 2002, months after US forces and several Afghan militia groups toppled the Taliban, the bodies of thousands of Taliban fighters were found in a grave in northern Afghanistan.

Human rights groups blamed the killings on Abdul Rashid Dostum, one of Afghanistan’s most feared regional commanders, who is now an advisor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

But despite repeated calls from rights groups for the prosecution of those accused of mass killings and severe human rights violations during the nearly three decades of civil war, there is still no accountability, critics say.

Commenting on the recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on 12 December, calling on Karzai to address war crimes justice, Malalai Joya, a parliamentarian, criticised the president’s current policy saying he was being too soft on the country’s powerful warlords.

“The president needs to be more firm and crucial against the warlords and druglords and should not make compromises with them, because they are still being implicated in various human rights violations in our country,” Joya told IRIN.

“Our people demand justice to all the atrocities whether it is committed by the communists, warlords or the Taliban,” he maintained.

The HRW report said that several high ranking officials of the current Afghan government had been implicated in war crimes during the factional war that killed or displaced hundreds of thousands of Afghans in the early 1990s.

The rights group accused the parliamentarians Abdul Rabb Rasul Sayyaf, Mohammed Qasim Fahim and Burhanuddin Rabbani, Minister of Energy Ismail Khan, Army Chief of Staff Abdul Rashid Dostum, and current Vice President Karim Khalili as major human rights violators.

The report also accused former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and current Taliban leaders such as Mullah Omar, Mullah Daudullah and Jalaluddin Haqqani for human rights abuses during the late 1990s.

“Karzai and the international community have tried and failed, to establish peace without justice,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia research director at HRW. “Now it’s time to hold the killers accountable.”

Meanwhile, considering the HRW report incorrect, Afghan President Karzai maintains that a number of Jihadi leaders have played a positive role in ensuring peace and stability in the country over the past five years.

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December 22, 2006 at 6:31 pm

Posted in Human Rights