Despite some human rights improvements in Afghanistan such as the release of hundreds of prisoners, matters of concern still persist, including domestic violence against women, a deficient justice system, the deleterious impact of drugs and the dire conditions of prisons, according to a United Nations rights expert.
The UN Independent Expert on Human Rights in Afghanistan, Cherif Bassiouni, has also voiced "grave concern" over "a very unusual practice" in which foreign coalition forces have taken upon themselves the right, without legal process, to arrest people, detain them, mistreat them and possibly even torture them.
Foreign troops in Afghanistan include the United States-led coalition forces and the multi-national NATO-led International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan (ISAF). Mr. Bassiouni named no specific country but at a weekend news conference in Kabul, the capital, he stressed that there was no legal basis for coalition forces to hold people as prisoners. If they are held as prisoners of war, the forces have to observe the Geneva Conventions.
He said that as a result of his previous visit and other efforts Afghan President Hamid Karzai had released more than 750 prisoners, including people who had been detained for over 30 months without any form of legal process.
"But we are concerned that maybe traditional habits that have existed in this country for quite some time have not changed enough to allow for any visible indications of the reduction of violence against women in the domestic context and also with respect to women's access to justice," he added.
"Quite obviously the failure to develop mechanisms for allowing women, minority groups, disenfranchised groups and the poor to have access to justice is quite a serious problem," he said.
With Afghan opium poppies accounting for 87 per cent of the world's heroin output, Mr. Bassiouni voiced concern over the development of an entire drug-driven economy, as well as the creation of substantial wealth among the drug lords and their ability to corrupt government agencies, and the rise of organized crime with serious consequences not only on human rights but in the political, social and economic fields.
On prisons, he noted that the jail in Logar consists of a metal container, "buried in the ground and the basement of a rented house, whose ceilings are about to fall."
Both there and in Kabul "conditions are below human standards by any means and they are in total violation of the UN Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners," he added, with small metal containers in which 10 human beings are kept, some of them shackled hand and foot with a metal bar for 24 hours a day for 6 weeks.
He noted that unpaid guards frequently shackled people so that those who can afford it pay to be unshackled and he underscored the lack of any medical facilities.
He also stressed "the very inhuman situation" in which women prisoners have to keep their children with them with the result that there are more children there than women. "So, in effect, the crimes of the mothers are carried out onto the children who are paying the price," he added.