Afghanistan’s human rights situation has regressed in key areas during 2013, increasing uncertainty about the country’s future, Human Rights Watch has said.
The 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of international armed forces and continued debate over the presence of US troops beyond 2014 have negatively affected the Afghan government's policies on human rights, HRW reported.
An extensive world report by HRW found that the Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai had made a series of decisions in 2013 that undermined human rights, particularly those of women and girls.
"There was continued instability and declining respect for human rights in the country over the past year. This was reflected in attacks on women’s rights," the report said.
"Impunity for abuses was the norm for government security forces and other armed groups."
Taliban fighters continued their campaign of targeted assassinations of government officials, including women, during the year and high ranking women in the security forces also became targets.
“Afghan women are all too aware that international donors are walking away from Afghanistan,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Unfortunately, those who want to curtail women’s rights realise this too.”
Political setbacks also came to the fore in 2013 as parliament reduced the number of seats set aside for women on the country's 34 provincial councils.
In addition, the Ministry of Justice added a provision to the criminal justice code banning testimony from family members, making it difficult to prosecute for domestic abuse and in cases of child marriage or other forms of forced marriage.
The report found that opponents of women’s rights took advantage of waning international interest in Afghanistan to begin rolling back the progress made since the end of Taliban rule in 2001.
It cited a May parliamentary debate on the groundbreaking Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW Law), passed by presidential decree in 2009.
The debate was halted after 15 minutes to block numerous calls for the law’s repeal, during which many people spoke out against legal protections for women and girls.
The law remains in place, but enforcement is weak.
A string of physical assaults in 2013 against high-profile women, including murders, highlighted the danger to activists and women in public life.
On August 7, upper house parliamentarian Rooh Gul was shot as she travelled by road through Ghazni province. While she survived her 8-year-old daughter was killed.
Later in the year, on September 16, Lieutenant Nigara, the highest ranking female police officer in Helmand province, was shot and killed on her way to work less than three months after the July 3 assassination of her predecessor, Islam Bibi.
“The severity of Afghanistan’s human rights crisis in 2013 demands urgent action by both the government and the country’s foreign donors,” Adams said.
“The failure to make human rights a priority during the year of a presidential election, and the backlash resulting from diminished international attention and support, threaten much of the progress that has been achieved.”