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'Climate of fear' rules Afghanistan
23 April 2003
Warlords terrorise the population with a 'climate of fear' and religious fundamentalism is rising in Afghanistan 18 months after U.S. forces toppled the ruling Taliban regime, a rights watchdog says.
Even the opening of schools and colleges for women - a widely hailed product of the collapse of the Taliban in late 2001 when U.S. troops entered the country - was also under threat, New York-based Human Rights Watch said.
"The international community has allowed warlords and local military commanders to take control of much of the country," its representative Loubna Freih told the UN Human Rights Commission, now ending its annual six-week session in Geneva.
She said that instead of providing security, the warlords were terrorising the local population in many parts of the country, with kidnappings, arbitrary arrests, armed robbery, extortion and beatings widespread.
Freih said the warlords had in some places maintained law and order "by creating a climate of fear, not unlike under the Taliban ..."
Political opponents, journalists and ordinary Afghans "are attacked and intimidated into silence," she added.
An Afghan regional commander said on Tuesday the Afghan government needed to take courageous action against unruly warlords if it was to extend its rule around the country. He said the government's authority did not extend much beyond the capital, Kabul.
Soldiers and police - who were to have been retrained by U.S. and other troops involved in an international security force also largely limited to the capital - "regularly abduct and rape women, girls and boys," Freih said.
Girl's education at risk
"Religious fundamentalism is on the rise, with new restrictions on freedom of expression and movement of women and girls. Gains in education are now at risk as many parents, afraid of attacks by troops and other gunmen, keep their daughters out of school," she said.
Under the hardline Islamic Taliban, women and girls were largely restricted to their homes and were only allowed out if fully veiled and in the company of a male relative.
Washington sent troops into Afghanistan to try to destroy the Taliban which was accused of harbouring Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network. The United States blames bin Laden and al Qaeda for the September 11 attacks.
The Bush administration hailed education for women as one of the successes of the operation.
There are some 11,000 U.S. and allied troops still in Afghanistan, many hunting Taliban leaders and members of al Qaeda. Bin Laden and Taliban chief Mullah Omar are still at large.
The UN Human Rights Commission is considering proposals to replace its current investigator who has a special mandate to look into the rights situation in Afghanistan with a "special expert" whose mandate would be much less clearly defined.
Sources close to the commission say the United States has been opposed to any resolution at all on Afghanistan this year as well as to creation by the UN body of an international commission of inquiry into past rights abuses in the country.
In her speech, Freih said creation of such a commission was "crucial in establishing the rule of law". Without it, efforts to break a "cycle of impunity and the stranglehold of gunmen are unlikely to succeed," she added.
© Reuters, Geneva