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Afghanistan
10 June 2008

Democracy in Danger

On the eve of the International Afghanistan Support Conference that will take place in Paris on the 12th of June, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) expresses its concern regarding the regression of democracy in the country one year before the next presidential elections and calls for the unconditional release of Latif Pedram, under house arrest since the 2nd of February 2008.

"A year away from the next elections, the international community must severely condemn the undemocratic trends, whilst notably ensuring Latif Pedram’s release and reinstatement to a full political and democratic life in his country" demanded Souhayr Belhassen, President of the FIDH, " it must also insist upon the Afghan authorities to guarantee a maximum amount of space to democratic forces, excluding former war criminals from the next presidential and parliamentary elections."

Context:

Latif Pedram is a renowned intellectual, co-founder of the National Congress of Afghanistan, a multi-ethnic party for democratic change in Afghanistan, the only opposition party that is not linked to an armed group.

Since the 2nd of February 2008, Mr Pedram has been de facto placed under house arrest in Kabul, in a house surrounded by the police and security forces of the Ministry of Interior, without official justification whatsoever.

The Attorney General has forbidden him to leave Afghan territory for having allegedly been witness to an altercation between two Afghan political personalities. These accusations are unfounded and more than likely aimed at curtailing his political activities and hindering his candidacy for next year’s presidential elections.

Latif Pedram’s house arrest occurs in a context wherein a number of pacifist and democratic personalities from civil society are deliberately being targeted (the parliamentarian Malalay Joya was forbidden to exercise her function), threatened with death (the President of the National Human Rights Commission Mrs Sima Samar), when they aren’t assassinated (the body of the BBC correspondent, Abdelsamad Ruhani, found dead on the 8th of June 2008.)

The next presidential elections will take place in 2009 and the parliamentary elections in 2010. The FIDH calls for the revision of the eligibility criteria in order to stop old war criminals or any person responsible for crimes against humanity from being candidates, and to promote democratic forces. This commitment had been made, under the previous parliamentary elections, to guarantee that no former war criminal or person responsible for crimes against humanity be eligible for parliamentary elections. Nonetheless, this commitment didn’t have much effect and thus many former war criminals found themselves on the benches of the Afghan parliament, where they blocked numerous opportunities for democratic and institutional reforms.

The last two elections have been marred by serious irregularities. The international community must ensure that the Afghan authorities organise the fairest elections possible by organising a pre-electoral population census in order to redraw the electoral map, until now based on estimations. This census was supposed to start in July. On the 8th of June, the Afghan Central Bureau of Statistics announced its postponement for two years, claiming a "politicisation" of the exercise, a somewhat strange response as it concerns the preparation of an exercise in political expression.

For further information, please see FIDH’s situation paper on page 2

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Note on the Human Rights situation in Afghanistan

- 10th of June 2008

On the eve of the International Afghanistan Support Conference that will take place in Paris on the 12th of June, the FIDH addresses the following recommendations to the various conference participants:

1.Situation of Latif Pedram

Latif Pedram is an author, a renowned politician in Afghanistan and a staunch pacifist. He sought refuge in France during the Taliban period between 1993 and 2004 as a fervent opponent to their policies; he mobilized international public opinion in favour of democracy and Human rights in his country.
He returned to Afghanistan in 2004 after having founded the National Congress of Afghanistan, a democratic and multi-ethnic political party for democratic change in Afghanistan, notably affiliated to the International Socialists and the European Socialist Party.

Last February 2nd, Latif Pedram was placed de facto under house arrest, in a house surrounded by the police and security forces from the Ministry of Interior, by order of the Attorney General. The latter notably forbade him to leave the territory for having allegedly witnessed an altercation between two Afghani political personalities. Latif Pedram had merely been asked to facilitate the dialogue between these two politicians.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) considers that these accusations are unfounded and politically motivated in order to curtail his political activities and hinder his candidacy for next year’s presidential elections.

The man responsible for his house arrest, Attorney General Sabit, a former member of the Islamist Party (Hezb-e-Islami), has indeed shown, on a number of occasions, his hostility towards progressive ideas and personalities.

Latif Pedram’s house arrest created an unprecedented popular movement and thousands of people rushed to visit him. The house arrest occurs in a context wherein a number of pacifist and democratic personalities from civil society are deliberately being targeted (as in the case of the parliamentarian Malalay Joya), threatened with death (the President of the National Human Rights Commission Mrs Sima Samar), when they aren’t assassinated (lately, the BBC correspondent Abdelsamad Ruhani.)

The FIDH would like the international community to mobilise itself and secure, on the occasion of the International Afghanistan Support Conference organised in Paris on the 12th of June:
Latif Pedram’s release
that the charges against him be dropped
that his safety be guaranteed
that he will be able to return fully into the political and democratic life of the country

2.Elections

2009 will see the next presidential elections in Afghanistan and 2010, the parliamentary elections, at dates still to be determined.

If the last elections were marred by serious irregularities, they nonetheless consecrated the rejection of the Taliban regime by the Afghan population. However, six years later, the frustration is great amidst the Afghani population who are faced with a government that has failed to engage the necessary democratic reforms. This frustration could translate itself into a shunning of the ballot box by a majority of the population, despite the Taliban menace over the elections that remains clear and present.

In this context, the international community must ensure that the Afghan authorities organise elections within maximum democratic conditions, so as to safeguard from all accusations of ballot rigging and to reinforce the space for democracy.

Three sets of recommendations need to be implemented:

Ensure legal and representative elections:

In order to do this, it is important to initiate a pre-electoral population census, so as to redefine the electoral map that is based on estimates rather than a proper demographic census. This exercise would also enable to clarify the situation of the populations living at the Pakistani border and avoid – as had been the case during the previous elections –Pakistani nationals voting in the Afghan elections.
The Afghan authorities have so far refused to initiate this census, claiming the ‘politicisation’ of the exercise, a somewhat strange response as it concerns the preparation of an exercise in political expression.

Support the expression and representation of political parties:

Ruled out from the parliamentary election system (which is based on individuals and not on party lists), the political parties represent the necessary basis for the democratic debate that is lacking in Afghanistan. Nearly 80 political parties are officially registered in Afghanistan, some 15 of which are particularly active. The parties need to see their role enhanced and their public expression guaranteed in the independent media. Finally, they need to be represented in the Electoral Commissions that will be set in place for both elections.

Reinforce the criteria for eligibility:

During the previous elections, the transition government pledged that no war criminal or author of crimes against humanity would be eligible for the parliamentary elections. A sub-commission had been set-up within the Electoral Commission in order to receive, instruct and judge individual complaints against any candidate. Nonetheless, the majority of complaints received have not been enforced and thus many old war criminals found themselves on the benches of the Afghan parliament, where they blocked all opportunities for democratic and institutional reforms.
For the next elections, it is essential to return to these criteria of eligibility and to guarantee their concrete implementation by the next Electoral Commission, with the support of the Independent Commission for Human Rights in Afghanistan.

3.Transitional Justice

After Hamed Karzaï’s accession to power, there was a strong hope that the Afghan authorities would resolutely engage in the implementation of a mechanism for transitional justice, a tool for reconciliation and national peace and stability. This hope was further nourished by the signing of the Rome treaty on the International Criminal Court (ICC), the implementation of an independent National Commission for Human Rights and the adoption of an Action-plan for peace, justice and reconciliation.

Nonetheless, at the end of his mandate, the process for transitional justice is at a halt, as is shown by the adoption of the Amnesty law of March 2007 on the one hand, and the disappearance of demands relative to transitional justice from the conclusions of the international community addressed to Afghanistan (notably the Council of the EU conclusions of May 2008) on the other hand.

In a context where the rare voices in favour of credible mechanisms for truth and reconciliation are directly targeted or silenced (see the above-mentioned cases of Sima Samar, Latif Pedram and Malalay Joya), where the dialogue with the Taliban is taken up again without preconditions relative to the clarification of past crimes, it is essential to highlight the fundamental aspect of the fight against impunity, and to demand that the Afghan authorities follow their initial declarations with concrete and tangible actions.

Contacts

Delegation of the FIDH to the European Union
M. Antoine Madelin
Director for Inter-Governmental Organisations (IGOs)
Permanent representative to the EU
amadelin@fidh.org

Last Update 10 June 2008
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