On 7 May 2009, the Afghan government presented its first report to the UN Human Rights Council. If I am rightly informed, the Afghan government received around one hundred recommendations that should be discussed, refused or adopted. If adopted, the Afghan government should by the time of the next review show if and how it has made progress on these issues.
In a different capacity, I had the opportunity to ‘do the rounds’ of permanent missions in Geneva prior to the Human Rights Council’s review of the Afghan government’s report. The meetings provided a very mixed picture of the usefulness of the Universal Periodic Review. On the one hand, the Human Rights Council has established an inter-governmental process, which may actually ensure some teeth to the UN human rights processes. On the other hand, the fact that the Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body can also result in the process being ‘hijacked’ by hidden and alternative agendas.
The drafting process of the Afghan government’s report had apparently been a surprisingly inclusive process: information was sought from relevant ministries, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and civil society. Having read the report, I wonder whether all relevant ministries read this final report, as it is actually rather radical on some issues (for example, rule of law reform and transitional justice). The actual Human Rights Council process did also draw much attention: apparently, Afghanistan is one of the countries that has received the most questions and recommendations so far (!). Human Rights Council members expressed concern over the legislative process (the Shia law was discussed), the government’s commitment to ensuring the continued independence of the AIHRC and widespread impunity for past and present crime. A process should now be instituted within the Afghan government to discuss the questions and recommendations and to decide if and how they can be addressed. The Afghan government has four years to the next review, which does leave time for improving the human rights situation.
Having followed the Human Rights Council process, I am (surprisingly) optimistic. Making progress in the area of human rights is difficult, and human rights are never an issue that governments give priority to in times of crisis. However, having governments ask questions of each other and forcing them to respond will at a minimum ensure some attention to human rights issues. That said, the Human Rights Council experience does leave me wondering: What next? There was a window of a few days when Afghanistan’s international partners and at least the Afghan government’s delegation were forced to think about key human rights issues, how can we (who are committed to working on these issues in Afghanistan) make use of this joint thinking? How can we ensure some follow-up?
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020