Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Truth and Consequences in Afghanistan

In a comment to Julian’s post on “The Interpreter,” Yuval Rubinstein provided a link to this article on Prof. Cherif Bassiouni of De Paul University Law School being pushed out of his job as the UN’s chief human rights investigator in Afghanistan by the U.S. government. (Thanks also to Greg Fox for separately e-mailing this article as well as the Newsday article quoted below.)

What did Bassiouni do? For one, he asked repeatedly to speak to detainees in Afghanistan, since he is, after all, supposed to assess (among other things) how they are being treated. He “lambasted” coalition nations for not allowing independent human rights monitors to come to their bases.

According to another report in Newsday, “Washington moved to scrap Bassiouni’s post partly because the human rights situation in Afghanistan is no longer troubling enough to require it, said a U.S. official who asked not to be named.”

Human rights are so good in Afghanistan that we don’t need to monitor them? You’d think that such a turn of events is something the Administration would want to trumpet. The reality, of course, is a bit different. Consider that even the Afghan government, the government that we’re supposedly trying to help with its human rights compliance, is being left in the dark. As Newsday reports:

“[T]he Afghan [government’s human rights] commission has cited U.S. forces as the frequent obstacle to its work. Afghan officials say they have trouble even getting appointments with U.S. officers to discuss human rights cases. Also, U.S. forces bar the Afghan commission from visiting their prisons. They admit only the International Committee of the Red Cross, which doesn’t publish its findings.

Human rights advocates say the U.S. policies seem to come primarily from the military rather than the State Department. The Pentagon has withheld the results of its own investigation into human rights violations at its bases in Afghanistan, despite an initial promise to reveal them."

Once again: if the Washington official is correct that we wanted Bassiouni out because he’s not needed, then why are we keeping secret even our own reports we promised to release? The Newsday article continues:

"In countries with human rights problems as deep as Afghanistan’s, 'the commission normally passes a resolution to condemn the abuses and names a ‘special rapporteur’ to keep investigating them,' said Brad Adams, Asia director of the monitoring group Human Rights Watch. 'But in Afghanistan, the U.S. has not wanted these mechanisms to come into play.'
Last year, Washington pressed the UN body to downgrade the post of rapporteur on Afghanistan to the lesser status of 'independent expert.'"

The real issue, of course, is not human rights in Afghanistan, broadly speaking. The Independent article linked to above states that the US's main gripe was not with human rights monitoring in Afghanistan in general, but rather the monitoring of US forces in regards to human rights. (Supposedly the US could support further UN monitoring as long as it didn't apply to the US.)

So the Administration wants to give itself a pass until the situation is stabilized. This leaves a couple of questions: when was Afghanistan last stable and when do we think it will be? Assuming your answers are “a long time ago” and “not soon” then just what kind of message is the US sending with regards to the duties of occupying forces? Recall William Taft's warning about going down this road.

And, more generally, the Administration needs to think seriously about its hostility towards the very institutions that can help stabilize Afghanistan, in this case the UN and the Afghan government’s own monitoring organs.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, with the caveat that it does seem possible that some kinds of Human Rights monitoring might not be conducive to stability. Particularly if they are UN based, as that organisation's Human Rights arm is hopelessly biased against the US and western countries in general. Whilst I confess to ignorance as to the particular case, it is possible that a UN appointée would expend much more time and energy on monitoring US army activites, creating a disproportionate impression in the community of said activities, to the detriment of Afghani stability.
Although sunlight is generally the best medecine, there are complicated cases.

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