Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Rights and Freedoms

A Wikileaks Leak and Human Rights Matters

Thomas Ruttig 4 min

A series of emails sent to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange by human rights groups from or based in Afghanistan has been leaked to the media. The groups ‘called on the whistleblower website to expunge the names of Afghans mentioned in the war logs because of fears that they could be targeted by insurgents’. AAN’s co-director Thomas Ruttig shakes his head in despair.

There is no official reaction by WikiLeaks to the leaked email correspondence, but on its twitter page the authors of the message of concern are accused of being ‘funded by the occupying forces of Afghanistan’ (CNN, 10 August 2010). In the British Independent(11 August 2010). The WikiLeaks founder is quoted as saying: ‘Don’t be fooled on the “human rights groups”. No formal statement. US led.’ (Maybe, this is not verbatim but a summary of what he said.) On a more reconciliatory tone, Mr. Assange is quoted as asking those groups for support in examining the documents. Better late than never.

To call the well-respected Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission’s (AIHRC) something equivalent to paid stooges of the West and indirectly accusing them of playing the game of the ‘occupiers’ is outrageous. The WikiLeaks people apparently have no clue who and what they are talking about.

Yes, the AIHRC budget is largely paid by Western governments. Thanks God – because this has made it one of the few professional and halfway sustainable independent bodies existing in the country. (I explain why I say ‘halfway’ in a moment.) It is just a shame that the AIHRC is left to be a beacon (to use another word abused by strategic communications–speak in Afghanistan) in a sea that is otherwise pretty dark. However, does this mean that the AIHRC is an instrument of the Western ‘occupying forces’? Clearly not.

Everyone in Afghanistan knows that the Commission more than once has been a nuisance to those involved in the conflict and who have something to hide. The NATO/ISAF forces reacted with denial when the Commission published its research about civilian casualties in the report ‘From Hope to Fear: An Afghan Perspective on Operations of Pro-Government Forces in Afghanistan’. The warlords that are largely running the Afghan show from their positions in parliament, business, the armed forces, the ministries and Karzai’s kitchen cabinet reacted with outrage when the Commission published its 2005 report ‘A Call for Justice’. This report was based on possibly the broadest ever survey of Afghans’ voices and it showed that Afghans do not want a ‘let’s forget about it’ approach to dealing with their decades of war; they want truth, justice and prosecutions. Subsequently, these voices have been silenced by the West’s association with the warlords – what then US Kabul viceroy Zalmay Khalilzad called the ‘all in one tent’ approach, and what has now been rephrased into ‘working with local leaders’.

The AIHRC also carries the bulk of the responsibility and work in independent Afghan election monitoring, as core of FEFA. This is a pretty dangerous job and has earned prominent and less well-known FEFA staff not only the ire of the unholy Karzai/warlord alliance in power but also direct threats for live, limb and family. Furthermore, its future is still delicately in the balance for there are plans to ‘moderate’ its stand perceived as ‘too radical’ in ‘the Palace’ by the induction of some ulema or such. Nothing against ulema – but if they will represent the same warlords that amnestied themselves from their war crimes in parliament, then the goal is clear: paralysing the AIHRC from inside and putting another brick into the wall of impunity.

The cautioning appeal to protect the Afghans whose names are disclosed in the Wikileaks documents by the AIHRC and the other organisations is similar to issues raised by governments. This, however, does not make their concerns void. It would behelpful if Mr. Assange sticks to his core business working on transparency where there is none. Meanwhile, he should listen to what Afghans say – as should others amongst the ‘occupying forces’ who also do not have a particular record on this as well.

This having been said, this author does not wish to be associated with current actions to smear WikiLeaks – i.e. to declare the leaker of the documents a traitor, threatening him with decades in prison and working on persuading governments to bring criminal charges against WikiLeaks personnel (including in Sweden where the group’s servers are located) etc. This is merely meant to distract from the real issue – the crisis of the international involvement in Afghanistan.

It is not the ‘illegal disclosures’ that ‘are helping the Taliban to undermine Gen. David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy before it has a chance to work’ as an op-ed writer stated in the Washington Post (Marc A. Thiessen, ‘WikiLeaks’ blow to the surge’, 9 August 2010). It is the COIN strategy itself that is wrong. It comes years too late, is based on wrong assumptions (that the Afghans want US forces protection) and does not consider what Afghans are saying. Remember the much touted ‘shura’ of tribal elders in Kandahar where President Karzai asked the elders’ consent for up-coming operations in Kandahar – and they rejected. A few days ago, Admiral Mullen visited Kandahar again and met tribal elders that told him: ‘We didn’t want operations, but operations have started.’ (Rajiv Chandrasekaran, ‘Kandahar mayor’s claim to shopkeeper-occupied land dividing residents’, Washington Post, 12 August 2010). When will they start to listen?


Wikileaks Human Rights