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Archive for June 2008

UN official: Afghan civilian deaths up 60 percent

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By STEPHEN GRAHAM
Associated Press / June 29, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan – The number of civilians killed in fighting between insurgents and security forces in Afghanistan has soared by two-thirds in the first half of this year, to almost 700 people, a senior U.N. official said Sunday.

The figures are a grim reminder of how the nearly seven-year war has failed to stabilize the country and suggest that ordinary civilians are bearing a heavy toll, particularly from stepped-up militant attacks.

John Holmes, the world body’s humanitarian affairs chief, said the insecurity was making it increasingly difficult to deliver emergency aid to poor Afghans hit by the global food crisis.

“The humanitarian situation is clearly affected and made worse by the ongoing conflict in different parts of the country,” Holmes told reporters in Kabul during a multi-day visit.

“Most of those casualties are caused by the insurgents, who seem to have no regard for civilian life, but there are also still significant numbers caused by the international military forces,” he said.

Holmes said U.N. figures show that 698 civilians have died as a result of the fighting in the first half of this year. That compares to 430 in the first six months of 2007, a rise of 62 percent.

Militants caused 422 of the recorded civilian casualties, while government or foreign troops killed 255 people, according to the U.N. numbers. The cause of 21 other deaths was unclear.

Holmes said the proportion of civilian casualties caused by security forces had dropped from nearly half last year and that clashes had become less dangerous to ordinary Afghans.

“It is clear that the international military forces are making every effort to minimize civilian casualties and recognize the damage this does and want to deal with that,” he said.

“Nevertheless these problems are still there and we need to deal with them and make sure that the safety of civilians comes first and international humanitarian law is respected by everybody.”

NATO’s reaction to the U.N. figures was cool.

“The U.N. Human Rights rapporteur made an accusation (in May) that we had killed 200, and I said then that those numbers were far, far higher than we would recognize, and that is still the case,” said Mark Laity, a spokesman for the alliance in Kabul.

Laity provided no alternative figures.

Afghan leaders including President Hamid Karzai have accused NATO and the U.S.-led coalition of recklessly endangering civilians by using excessive force, including airstrikes, in residential areas.

Foreign commanders insist they take all reasonable precautions to avoid killing innocents and say militants routinely fire on them from houses and flee into villages.

Holmes said he came to Afghanistan because the humanitarian situation was “serious and is getting worse.”

Drought in parts of northern and western Afghanistan has exacerbated food shortages caused by rising global prices for staples such as wheat and rice.

Holmes said the U.N. was providing food aid to 2.5 million people but would soon join the government in appealing to international donors for more funds to expand the program.

He said U.N. agencies and aid groups were finding it hard to reach vulnerable communities because of the risk that its staff would be attacked. He said the world body would try to negotiate “days of tranquility or humanitarian corridors” with militants so that aid could get through safely.

U.N. food convoys have suffered 11 armed attacks this year, including one on Sunday in which several trucks were burned, and lost a total of 340 tons of food, he said.

___

Associated Press writer Jason Straziuso contributed to this report.

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June 30, 2008 at 3:49 am

Years of Hardship Take a Toll on Families in Afghanistan

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A counseling center, the nation’s first, tries to help battered wives and troubled husbands
By Anna Mulrine
Posted June 27, 2008

KABUL—Through the doors of Afghanistan’s first and only counseling center, families come to sort through the emotions that accompany decades of war and hardship. Along with the loss and grieving, of course, there are concerns that life in Kabul isn’t getting any better—and may be getting worse.
A mother walks with her children in Kabul, where soaring food prices add to family stress.
A mother walks with her children in Kabul, where soaring food prices add to family stress.
(Veronique De Viguerie/WPN)
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Unemployment is rampant, and food prices are on the rise. Watermelon, a beloved summertime snack, has become too pricey for many Afghans. Families struggle to be able to buy a 40-pound bag of wheat for $40. That cost is equivalent to two thirds of an average monthly salary—for someone lucky enough, that is, to have a job.

After 30 years of war, post-traumatic stress here is widespread. Food insecurity, in particular, takes a heavy psychological toll, says counseling center director Manizha Naderi. One comprehensive study in Kabul found that going hungry is what families report to be one of the most traumatic experiences they suffer during times of war.

The counselors here see a connection between this stress and cases of domestic violence. Until the center opened in March 2007, there were no programs for victims of domestic violence. The center is run by a nonprofit called Women for Afghan Women, although its name belies the importance that counselors place on reaching out to men as well. In the United States, domestic violence shelters tend to advocate separating a husband and wife, the philosophy being, once a batterer, always a batterer. But Afghanistan, says Naderi, “is a family-oriented country, and a woman cannot realistically live by herself. So instead of separating, the best thing is to give the man counseling.”

Sometimes the center’s methods are decidedly unconventional, at least by American standards. After being confidentially approached by a wife, for example, mal e counselors from the center might show up at the husband’s favorite hangout. “We pretend we never met his wife,” says counselor Jamila Zafar. “That’s how we get to the root of the problem.” They might strike up a conversation with the husband, mention in passing that he seems unhappy and stressed out, and offer the location of agencies that could help him find a job. They might mention, too, the availability of guidance at the counseling center.

Recently, the staff was unpacking boxes after the center’s move to a larger office on a quiet, tree-lined street. The counselors have helped some 350 families to date and are now taking an average of 40 to 50 new cases a month with the help of private donations and international foundations.

Second wives. Naderi, 32, grew up in Queens, N.Y., after her family fled Afghanistan when she was 4. Now back, she and the rest of the staff troubleshoot the sort of cases that would be unusual among American clientele, such as a second wife feeling left out when her husband takes a third wife. Or young couples who want to break off engagements arranged by their parents, because they want to marry others for love and in doing so risk ostracism or retribution. There are, too, the perennial cases of meddling in-laws. “They are important in our Afghan culture,” says Khalida Silander, legal counselor at the center. “It’s different than in America. We can’t just say, ‘Oh, ignore them.’ ”

The most dire cases are those of severe domestic violence, exacerbated in some instances by rising drug abuse in Afghanistan. Many times, counselors are able to speak to the husbands about the consequences of violence, including its impact on their families. This, they say, has often proved surprisingly effective. Unannounced follow-up home visits, as often as once a week, also help.

But in addition, the center provides emergency shelter when a woman’s life is at risk. One such victim was beaten severely by her husband, who was said to be involved in planning suicide bombings. She has gone into hiding, and he has threatened through family members to kill her if he finds out where she is.

Meanwhile, her chances of gaining custody of their two young children are slim, although she is fighting the case in court with the help of the center’s legal team. There has not yet been a single instance of a woman retaining care of her children after a divorce here. “Women who decide to leave their husbands,” says Naderi, “eventually have to leave the children as well.”

Women for Afghan Women is preparing to open another center in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif this fall. “Our plan is to have a center in every province,” Naderi says. “The need is so great. Security is getting worse, and our clients feel as though the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.”

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June 27, 2008 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Society

AFGHANISTAN: Juvenile justice system lacks resources

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KABUL, 25 June 2008 (IRIN) – Shahla (not her real name), aged 14, fears the future: Her father has threatened to kill her when she is released from a juvenile centre in Herat Province, western Afghanistan.

“She was sentenced to one year in a reformatory because she escaped from home three months ago,” Hangama Anwary, a commissioner for children’s rights at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), said on 25 June.

Shahla did not like the fiancée chosen for her by her father and had no option but to leave home, according to the AIHRC.

“Child law does not consider escaping from home a crime, but in reality many girls and women, including children, are penalised,” Anwary told dozens of judges and prosecutors in Kabul at the launch of a report on the plight of children in juvenile centres.

The report entitled Justice for Children: The situation of children in conflict with the law in Afghanistan was produced by the AIHRC in cooperation with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and sheds light on a series of problems and shortcomings in the country’s juvenile justice system [http://www.aihrc.org.af/Juvenile_Detention_eng.pdf].

“Forty-eight percent of children reported being beaten during detention and 36 percent said they were ill-treated in police custody,” the report said.

“Fifty-eight percent of children reported falling ill during their detention,” it said.

“The situation of girls is usually much worse than boys, and in many provinces there are no separate detention centres for girls; they are mostly locked up with adult female prisoners,” the report said.

Juvenile centres lack funds

There are 501 children – 448 boys and 53 girls – in 30 juvenile centres across Afghanistan, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.

“Most of them are accused of murder, theft, escaping from home, smuggling narcotics, sexual crimes and forgery,” said Deputy Justice Minister Abdul Qadir Adalatkhowa.

Almost all children in juvenile centres do not have access to proper education, vocational training, entertainment or other facilities which might promote their rehabilitation, the joint AIHRC/UNICEF report said.

Also, the food given to children in juvenile centres was very poor; recent food prices rises had further worsened their diet, commissioner Anwary said.

According to the Justice Ministry, which administers the juvenile centres, the government has earmarked only US$1 per day to cover the cost of keeping each child in a juvenile centre – including its food, education and health.

“Owing to the rise in food prices we have demanded that the per diem be increased from 50 Afghanis [US$1] to 70 Afghanis [$1.40],” Adalatkhowa said.

Dozens of children who are not accused of any wrongdoing also live in precarious conditions in Pul-e Charkhi jail, in Kabul, with their imprisoned mothers [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=74491].

Afghanistan has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and in 2005 enacted a national juvenile code, which is deemed to be compliant with international conventions.

However, the country needs more resources, improved capacity and technical assistance to implement its legal commitments, experts say.

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June 25, 2008 at 7:59 pm

Posted in Human Rights

Afghan teachers face poverty

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Chris Sands
The National (UAE)

June 23, 2008

KABUL // Low salaries are forcing many of Afghanistan’s teachers to take on
second jobs so they can feed their families.

Despite promises that their wages would be increased, schoolteachers in Kabul
said there have been few improvements since the US-led invasion in 2001.

“When the Taliban regime was destroyed, we were optimistic that the new
government would help us, but they have done nothing,” said Aziza Khalil, a
chemistry teacher.

Against the backdrop of growing insecurity, education is commonly regarded as
being one of Afghanistan’s most tangible success stories.

Girls were barred from going to school under the Taliban, a fact often used
as a marker for progress the country has since made.

During a visit to Afghanistan this month, Laura Bush, the wife of the US
president, was quick to highlight the issue.

“There’s a huge increase in the number of kids in school,” she told
reporters. “There are almost six million kids in school now compared to 2001
when there were maybe a million, but no girls.”

However, the reality is that progress has been slower than many expected and
some Afghans fear the education system is in danger of regressing.

Ms Khalil started teaching during the communist era, a period she remembers
as perhaps the best time for her and her colleagues.

When the Taliban seized power, she continued to receive her salary for two
years, even though she was not allowed to work at Zarghona High School. Although
she has been welcomed back, she has had to take on another job, tutoring
students after school, to make ends meet.

“We have five people in our family and that’s small for Afghanistan. But on
the salary I get I cannot even afford to buy them tea and bread,” Ms Khalil
said.

Most teachers at state schools earn between US$50 to $100 (Dh183 to Dh367) a
month. Those interviewed said their income had barely changed since the Taliban
regime was overthrown and, with basic living expenses increasing, they were
struggling to survive.

“The problem is with the people in high positions. They steal the money given
to the ministry of education and build themselves a house, a beautiful castle,”
Ms Khalil said.

Last month, teachers around the country went on strike to demand a pay rise.
The protest lasted just two days at Zarghona, but elsewhere the demonstrations
were longer and the police responded by arresting some school principals.

Nazifa Ghiasi, a colleague of Ms Khalil’s, also has a second job, earning
more as a tailor than she does from helping girls learn Pashto. In total, she
works an average of 14 to 15 hours a day. “I have five children and the money
from teaching is not enough for me,” she said.

The government has pledged to increase salaries as part of an overall scheme
to raise wages in the public sector, but the plan is not due to be implemented
for at least another three years.

Mohammed Suleman Kakar, a senior adviser at the ministry of education,
acknowledged Afghanistan’s schools were in a “crisis situation”, but warned it
could take another five years to move beyond that.

“When you have such a large number of students enrolled in schools, you have
to provide the supplies, including qualified teachers, textbooks, buildings,
good administration and management,” he said. “Resources have always been
limited and strategic planning for the organisation of all this was lacking.”

Mr Kakar said the ministry of education receives just 30 per cent of the
money it needs annually.

Teachers across the city said classroom supplies rely on donations from
wealthy parents, and that in one school regular electricity was only possible
because a former pupil is the nephew of an influential warlord.

Zarghona also has to share its facilities with another school, a situation
found throughout Kabul.

At Rukhshana High School, some lessons are held in the corridors as all the
classrooms are full.

“This is all because of [Hamid] Karzai,” one female teacher at the school
said, blaming the Afghan president.

Her colleague, however, disagreed. “This is all because of the Americans.
They do not want to improve education in Afghanistan.”

Mr Kakar said poor governance following the US-led invasion caused many of
the problems that exist today.

He said only 35 per cent of schools have buildings and 80 per cent of
teachers have not completed high school education.

Security is also a big problem in seven provinces, including Kandahar,
Helmand, Zabul and Badghis.

“Schools are attacked, schools are blown up, schools are burnt, teachers are
killed, students are killed, students and teachers are threatened,” he said.

He said in the short-term, teachers who register with the government, pass a
competency test and open a bank account will receive relatively substantial pay
rises.

But the ministry hopes that a scheme due to be implemented in stages over the
next three to four years will eventually leave all of its teachers with a
minimum wage of about $120 a month. The maximum will be about $500 or $600.

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June 25, 2008 at 4:21 am

Posted in Education

Taleban’s ‘$100m opium takings’

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By Kate Clark
BBC News, Afghanistan
Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The Taleban made an estimated $100m (£50m) in 2007 from Afghan farmers
growing poppy for the opium trade, the United Nations says.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said
the money was raised by a 10% tax on farmers in Taleban-controlled areas.

The UN estimates last year’s poppy harvest was worth $1bn (£500m).

Mr Costa said the Taleban made even more money from other activities related
to the opium trade.

“One is protection to laboratories and the other is that the insurgents offer
protection to cargo, moving opium across the border,” Mr Costa told the BBC’s
File on 4 programme.

The final figures for this year’s harvest have yet to be released but yield
and proceeds are likely to be down due to drought, infestation and a poppy ban
enforced in the north and east of Afghanistan.

This would lower revenue, “but not enormously”, Mr Costa said.

Stockpiles

The past few years have seen abundant yields from poppy farming, with Afghan
farmers cultivating more than the global demand.

“Last year Afghanistan produced about 8,000 tonnes of opium,” Mr Costa said.

“The world in the past few years has consumed about 4,000 tonnes in opium,
this leaves a surplus.

“It is stored somewhere and not with the farmers,” he added.

The stockpiles represent hundreds of millions of dollars and it is not known
whether they are possessed by traffickers, corrupt Afghan officials and
politicians or the Taleban.

British officials say that drugs money funds the Taleban’s military
operations.

“The closer we look at it, the closer we see the insurgents [are] to the
drugs trade,” said David Belgrove, head of counter narcotics at the British
embassy in Kabul.

“We can say that a lot of their arms and ammunition are being funded directly
by the drugs trade.”

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June 25, 2008 at 4:21 am

Posted in Drugs, Economy

Justice for children in detention in Afghanistan

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KABUL, 24 June 2008 – A new study on the situation of children in conflict with law by the Afghan Independent Human Right Commission (AIHRC) in collaboration with UNICEF will be released tomorrow, 25 June in Kabul.

The study urges full implementation of the Juvenile Code. The Government of Afghanistan adopted the Juvenile Code – Procedural Law for Dealing with Children in Conflict with the Law in March 2005 incorporating the basic principles of juvenile justice as expressed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Following the enactment of this legislation, UNICEF supported awareness-raising, training and capacity-building programmes with law enforcement and judicial bodies and key stakeholders.

The report shows that children in detention continue to face rights violations including maltreatment, lack of access to education and health services. A punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice seems to be still predominant in Afghanistan.

The new study offers an opportunity to evaluate the existing services for children in conflict with the law,”says UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan, Catherine Mbengue, “UNICEF strongly advocates measures to prevent and reduce detention or imprisonment of children and prevention programmes involving communities and children at risk- we need to invest more to prevent children coming into conflict with the law while we continue to assist children already in detention.”

The study, is the result of over a one year period of information gathering from 22 provinces, taking an analytical look at the structures of juvenile courts and juvenile rehabilitation centres in the country. The following provinces were covered by the study: Kabul, Kapisa, Parwan, Logar, Ghazni, Nangarhar, Laghman, Kunar, Takhar, Baghlan, Kunduz, Samangan, Balkh, Herat, Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul, Urozgan, Bamyan, Sari Pool, Panjshir, and Daikundi.

Following the launch of the report, AIHRC and UNICEF will be holding a workshop for judicial representatives in order to initiate a dialogue on the recommendations in order improve the situation of detained children within the justice system in Afghanistan.

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June 24, 2008 at 3:58 pm

Posted in Human Rights

Teaching in Kandahar requires bravery

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Afghan-born teacher, Canadians teaming up to open schools that give Afghan
girls a future

Rosie DiManno
The Toronto Star (Canada)

June 23, 2008

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan–An Internet café for Afghan women only: What a concept.

Ehsanullah Ehsan, with the help of some benevolent Canadians, took the idea
from concept to reality. Just as he fashioned a vocational training academy out
of little more than personal initiative, with seed money from an Ottawa couple
looking for a charitable project that had “special meaning.”

Today, there are 700 students, mostly female, attending school at the
Afghan-Canadian Community Center in Kandahar city, and the Internet café inside
its learning compound is constantly bustling with online activity.

“Tell Canada that your money is being spent in the right place, at the right
time,” says Ehsan, an Afghan-born educator who has opened private
not-for-profit schools in Kandahar, Zabul, Helmand, Uruzgan and Pakistan.

But it is this facility, behind protective gates in Kandahar city –
incubating locale of the education-loathing Taliban – that has been his most
ambitious endeavour.

The school opened in January 2007, originally with 200 female students. Since
then, it has expanded more than three-fold, opened its courses to male students
– whose modest fees help pay for the free education available to girls – and
will soon move to larger space.

That relocation has been made possible by the announcement last month that
Canada, through the Canadian International Development Agency, was donating
$60,000 to the facility. It is a visible and vibrant CIDA “capacity-building”
project, and the widely criticized funding agency can point to few of those.

“The security situation in Kandahar is not good and girls have difficulty
getting an education,” says Khatera Kaker, 17, a student at the academy for the
past year. “Here, I feel safe. And the school is giving us all an opportunity to
become something. I want to be a doctor because Afghanistan needs doctors,
especially female doctors who can examine female patients.”

There are about a dozen women in the Internet café this afternoon, peering at
the screens of donated computers, many provided by Canada’s Provincial
Reconstruction Team, participating in online courses offered by
distance-learning institutions, including the Southern Alberta Institute of
Technology. Twelve students have enrolled in their online business management
program.

“Nobody bothers us at this school,” adds Amina Haidary, 19, who also wants
to be a doctor. “In other areas of the province, the Taliban burn down schools,
threaten the students and the teachers. Families are afraid to send their
daughters to school even if they want them to get an education.”

The grim facts: Instability and an expanding insurgency in the south is
keeping 40,000 children out of school in Kandahar province. Out of 360 existing
schools, most built since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001, only 232 were
open as of last month; the rest were either put to the flame by anti-education,
anti-government militants, shut down because parents fear exposing their
children to violence, or closed due to the absence of teachers, themselves
routinely threatened with death, often enough slain to make the bloody point.

The situation is particularly wretched for girls: only 35 per cent of
enrolled students in Afghanistan are female. Currently, one-third of schools
operated by the Ministry of Education are boys-only. Further, many parents don’t
want their daughters being educated by male teachers, yet only 28 per cent of
teachers are women.

With fighting now a daily occurrence in the five southern provinces –
bombings and improvised explosive devices on the roads and gun battles – it is
simply not safe to attend school, though many districts struggle on, holding
class for hundreds of students at a time under outdoor tents.

“It has been very hard, but we are trying to give ourselves a future,” says
Sadia Rochi, who has been teaching English at the centre for the last 18 months.
“You have to be very brave to be a teacher in Kandahar these days.”

Ehsan, centre director, adds that it’s not just the Taliban who thwart
educational objectives in Afghanistan. “The warlords, including some in the
government, don’t like the idea of enlightenment either. For them, it’s better
to keep Afghans in the dark.”

It was a story about a Kandahar school two years ago by Star foreign
correspondent Mitch Potter that prompted Ryan Aldred and Andrea Caverly to do
some good – directly.

“I’m just a private citizen who wanted to get involved,” Aldred explained in
an email this week.

“I’m also a reservist, so doing a charitable project for Afghanistan has
special meaning to me. I used to donate to larger organizations but became sick
of not knowing where my donations actually went.

“I admit, a project of this size wasn’t on my radar when I first spoke to
Ehsan. I was just going to help him purchase computers or pay some additional
salaries, but once I became aware of what the need was over there, I just wanted
to do more.”

What Aldred and Caverly did was set up the Afghan School Project, partnered
with Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, to raise funds that initially
allowed the school to operate for six months. Aldred is program director for the
project; Caverly is its chief operations officer.

Although the project is still awaiting charitable institute status, donors
have continued to contribute, stabilizing the centre’s existence until finally
CIDA came aboard with funding through the Kandahar Local Initiatives Program.
But even before CIDA’s involvement, the lively centre was one of the most
successful development projects in Kandahar.

The school offers post-secondary courses in health care – training for
student nurses – information and computer technology, business management and
English language studies. With these skills, graduates have secured good-paying
jobs with international development organizations and prominent Afghan companies
such as Roshan, the cellphone provider.

“Already, more than 90 of our students have obtained jobs where they are
earning up to $1,000 U.S. a month,” says Ehsan proudly.

Soon, he hopes to offer a new course: “Journalism. It appears to be very
popular.”

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Written by afghandevnews

June 24, 2008 at 1:48 pm

Posted in Education