Finally, the new commissioners for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) have been announced. The announcement comes 19 months after President Hamed Karzai unilaterally removed three Commissioners in December 2011, with another killed in a Taleban attack and a fifth dismissed. The movement after such a long time on these long overdue appointments has probably been prompted by the upcoming senior officials’ meeting that is part of the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework. AAN’s Sari Kouvo and Martine van Bijlert take a look at the new appointments (with input from Ehsan Qaane and Kate Clark).
In December 2011, President Hamed Karzai publicly announced the removal of three of the nine commissioners of the AIHRC. The Commissioners that were removed were Nader Nadery, Fahim Hakim and Mowlawi Gholam Mohammad Gharib. The blunt announcement was made at a time when Sima Samar, the Head of the Commission, was out of the country.
A long period of limbo followed: the removal of the three was not formalised – they never received their formal dismissal letters – and although they continued to come to the office, it was without full authority. The result was that the AIHRC has been limping along rather than speeding ahead. It had already earlier lost Hamida Barmaki who was killed in a suicide attack on the Finest supermarket in Wazir Akbar Khan in Kabul in January 2011, an attack which also killed her husband and four children. And in October 2012, the AIHRC Board of Commissioners dismissed one of the remaining commissioners, Abdul Karim Azizi, reportedly because he was creating unnecessary hurdles in the day-to-day administration of the AIHRC and had falsely accused the chair of the Commission of corruption and discrimination (for AAN’s earlier reporting see here and here).
According to the AIHRC’s by-law, it is the President alone who appoints the AIHRC commissioners. He had, however, promised Dr Samar that he would consult her before making the new appointments. Dr Samar had been adamant that if she was to continue as head of the Commission, she wanted a team that was committed to human rights. Over the past year and a half, she had managed to avoid the appointment of some commissioners whom she felt were not sufficiently knowledgeable about or committed to human rights.
The list of commissioners that was announced by President Karzai on Saturday 15 June 2013 includes both existing commissioners, including Dr Samar re-appointed as chair of the commission, and some new names. None of the new names came as a great surprise, given that this was the list that the President had been contemplating for a considerable time already. The appointments have brought to an end a long period of uncertainty, but they have also complicated the work of the AIHRC. The old and new commissioners are not a natural fit and it seems unlikely the five new ones would all have been Dr Samar’s first choice for new colleagues. However, the alternative – leave the Commission and risk losing whatever gains it has made in the last decade – appears to have seemed an even bleaker option.
Besides Dr Samar herself, Farid Hamidi, Sayed Ahmad Langari and Soraya Sobhrang saw their commissioner posts renewed. The new commissioners are:
• Hawa Alam Nuristani, who is currently a member of the High Peace Council. She was a Pashto news presenter for the Afghan state-run television station, RTA, and the head of the Department of Communications and Publications at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. She was a member of Wolesi Jirga between 2005 and 2010, but failed to get re-elected;
• Qadria Yazdanparast is a lawyer and has a strong Jamiati background. During the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani in the mid-1990s, she headed the Institute for Women that preceded the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Yazdanparast was a member of the Wolesi Jirga between 2005 and 2010 where she chaired the human rights committee for a period;
• General Ayub Asil Mangal is from Paktia, he studied at the Police Academy in Kabul and also abroad. He has been a lecturer at the Faculty of Law at Kabul University, has worked at the Ministry of Interior and served from 2004 to late 2011 in the Independent Electoral Commission;
• Wahiduddin Arghun has been an AIHRC staff member for many years. He was initially in charge of the Transitional Justice section in Kunduz and, for the last six years, served as the head of office in Badakhshan. He graduated from the Law Faculty in Kabul University and was deputy head of the prestigious Isteqlal High School during the Rabbani government.
• As there has been a lot of confusion about the last new staff member, Mawlawi Abdul Rahman Hotak, his biography is longer than the others.(1) Mawlawi Hotak is from Zabul. According to his own account, he was too young to fight in the jihad of the 1980s and was a refugee in Pakistan, where he had a mixed education, attending primary school and a madrassa and graduating from the University of Karachi. He came back to Afghanistan in the early days of the Taleban. Independent sources put him as working in a secretarial role with Mullah Omar in the very earliest and rather chaotic days of the movement – he himself says he was head of the education department in Kandahar and founder of a newspaper Tolo-ye Afghan [note: this newspaper has been founded before World War II; it was published on and off under various regimes and the Taleban continued (or re-started) running it … so perhaps Hotak was its editor]. He came to Kabul shortly after it fell to the Taleban in 1996 and worked in the Ministry of Transport in Kabul as a department head. He left the Taleban government, he said, just over a year later due to political disagreements.
After the fall of the Taleban, he was a delegate at the Emergency Loya Jirga, a member of the Ulema Council and an advisor to the Ministry of Education. He was arrested from his home in Zabul in 2006/7 by US forces and taken to Bagram. He was released without facing any charge three years later and with a good command of English. On his release, he again became a member of the Ulema Council. He currently works in the Curriculum Department of the Ministry of Education.
Members of the organised civil society have been critical of the appointments, both in terms of what they represent, and in terms of the process. There has been a long-standing tussle in which some of the more vocal civil society groups have argued that the AIHRC commissioners have held their positions for long enough. After the three commissioners were removed various civil society networks lobbied the president to consult them in the appointments and tried to ensure they would get at least some of the AIHRC seats by providing him with a list of 35 potential candidates (see earlier reporting here and here). They are now complaining that none of them were selected.
However, there is also a more substantial and potentially damaging critique that says the new commissioners do not have the experience or qualifications in the human rights field to work effectively and the Commission as a whole lacks the necessary political independence. Abdul Satar Sa’adat, head of the Lawyers Association of Afghanistan and a long-time critic of the Commission, is quoted here saying that due to thetanzeem background of some of the new appointees the commission will be soft on transitional justice. (He specifically mentioned links to Jamiat-e Islami and Ittehad-e Islami, although it is not clear which of the five he believes has the Ittehad links).
The Commission now faces an even more hostile civil society than before and there are uncertain times ahead. An effective and independent Commission is needed but whether the new commissioners will turn out to be less able and active than the old – and become dead wood – whether there may be a more active sabotage of the Commissions’ work and principles from the inside, or whether the new and existing commissioners do manage to form an effective working team together – all of that remains to be seen.
(1) Many have conflated the new commissioner with two other men. Another Mawlawi Abdul Rahman Hotaki, the Taleban Deputy Minister for Information and Culture, has, since 2001, been running a madrassa in Pakistan. There is also another Abdul Rahman Hotak, who runs a human rights organisation and is a civil society activist.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020