The Irish Times

Afghan peace hinges
on human rights


People involved in human rights abuses should have no place in a new government for Afghanistan, argues Sean Love

Amazing images of both fear and hope have been coming out of Afghanistan since the taking of Kabul by the Northern Alliance. The beaten and bloody executed bodies of Pakistanis and Arabs, a female newsreader happy to be back at work, and - perhaps the most poignant - a nine-year-old Hazara child soldier intent on defeating the Taliban.

It is in this new context of fear and hope that everyone is talking about the future of Afghanistan.

After a failed peace process 10 years ago, the world turned its back on Afghanistan. This time, the country must not be left in the dust again. The international efforts to strike a peace deal indicate that states realise it is in their long-term interest to ensure political stability in Afghanistan. But we must not leave the negotiation only at the level of power-sharing.

The focus of this discussion must be on the human rights of the people of Afghanistan. Human rights protection is not romantic idealism but hard-nosed pragmatism - it is the key to the future. If human rights are not central to political negotiations, the cycle of violence is likely to continue.

First and foremost there needs to be immediate protection on the ground. The UN must be given the mandate to monitor human rights violations, and Ireland must use its place on the Security Council to ensure this happens.

Human rights monitoring would go some way to verifying the reports of breaches of international humanitarian law. Impartial reporting would also build the people's confidence in the process towards peace and send a message to all parties that they are being watched.

Arms transfers from foreign governments need to be restricted urgently. For years, foreign governments have fuelled human rights abuses through prolific arms transfers.

Those governments have a responsibility to ensure that any transfer of arms and military assistance is not being used to commit human rights abuses. Disarmament and de-mining should be included in the political settlement and should be adequately resourced by the international community.

The second issue is who will form the transitional government. It must not involve human rights abusers. Such short-sightedness will lead to problems further down the track.

Those responsible for past abuses need to be held accountable. Individuals known to have ordered massacres and torture cannot be trusted to lead a country.

Ignoring a past history of human rights violations for reasons of political expediency has a poor track record. From Cambodia to Sierra Leone, Angola to Chile, the legacy of grave human rights violations has hampered the peace process, and affected whole communities - even decades after the violations occurred.

The need for national reconciliation in societies which have experienced war and repression is paramount, but condoning impunity as part of a political settlement today will not lead to stability in the long run.

Thirdly, those who are negotiating for a political settlement should insist on human rights guarantees from the Afghan parties.

These guarantees should not be paper guarantees. They should be backed in the immediate term by monitoring, and in the longer term by effective institutions of criminal justice, based on human rights and the rule of law.

Finally, there is talk of a "broad-based, multi-ethnic government". This talk must become the reality, and it must include women.

Throughout the 23 years of conflict, women have suffered immeasurably. In the 1970s, women played an important role in Afghan society, particularly in medicine and education. This history provides a valuable foundation for the meaningful participation of women in the rebuilding of the country today.

Peace building is a long-haul exercise that requires the commitment of the international community and most of all, the Afghan people. Human rights should not just be on the agenda, human rights must become the agenda.

Sean Love is director of the Irish section of Amnesty International