65th Year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Jalal Statement

The adoption of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 66 years ago continues to be one of the most rewarding steps taken by world leaders to foster development, equality and peace among human beings across the globe. Through the years, its principles have defined the pillars of many national policy frameworks and sculpted the foundation of positive human relations within societies world-wide. We take pride in knowing that Afghanistan was one of the first 48 countries that signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris on 10 December 1948. We also honor the fact that a woman, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, was largely instrumental for the drafting of this landmark document and for lobbying to get it adopted by the UN General Assembly.

Today, we praise and recognize the efforts of our leaders and the international community to institutionalize the concept of human rights into the peace and reconstruction framework of Afghanistan. Our present Constitution sits in the bedrock of “All Human Rights for All”, the core essence of UDHR. The shackles of oppression and disadvantage of many sectors, especially women, have been loosened somehow, and under the reign of human rights and democracy, we could at least hope for a way forward in building the foundations of a promising life.

Jalal Foundation invites Afghans to celebrate the recent adoption of the United Nations (UN) resolutions on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age, the Rights of Indigenous People, the Rights of the Child, and most importantly, the resolution on the Protection of Women Human Rights Defenders. These resolutions are testimonies to the ever-growing commitment of many UN Member States to address remaining gaps in the protection, fulfillment and realization of rights for every human being.

The Resolution on the Protection of Women Human Rights Defenders is particularly important to Afghanistan where assassination of women activists have constantly been on the rise. With such an instrument in place, we call upon our government and the UN family to immediately take action to implement this resolution, particularly Section 14, which mandates the development of policies and programs that protect women human rights defenders, including by providing adequate resources that can be mobilized in a flexible and timely manner for the protection of the human rights defenders and their families. We also call for immediate implementation of Section 16 (a), directing governments to ensure the effective participation of human rights defenders in all initiatives, including transitional justice processes, to secure accountability for violations and abuses. We recommend that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) convene a multi-sector consultation within this month to draw up consensus on specific ways to ensure the effective implementation of this UN Resolution on the ground.

Today, let us also recognize that obstacles to the enjoyment of human rights in Afghanistan remain enormous and formidable. All the human rights commitments under the law have not been matched with commensurate political will, resources, and energies for effective implementation. Most importantly, the cultural, political, economic, and social contexts that reproduce inequality and oppression across the country continue to be widely unchallenged. Anti-government elements continue to commit human rights atrocities while our government itself remains lacking in political will and capacity to protect, fulfill and promote the rights of its people. Rights of women continue to be a major casualty, with UNAMA reporting a 30 percent increase in the casualties to women and children by armed fighting. Its latest report reveals that of 1,670 registered cases of violence against women (VAW), only 109 or seven percent went through a judicial process using the decree on the elimination of VAW.

The same report of UNAMA states that the increasing reportage of VAW incidents is a clear positive trend. However, if the handling of cases will continue to disfavor VAW survivors, this trend could easily be reversed anytime. The move of the Parliament to bar the questioning of relatives of the accused and to render the case closed upon withdrawal of victim’s complaint will certainly play a big role in thickening the shroud of complicity that keeps the crime of violence against women under wraps. Meanwhile, the number of moral crimes continues to increase as well as the number of women imprisoned for moral crime charges, even if no law about it exists in the country.

While we remain optimistic about the future of Afghanistan, we recognize that there is a stronger need today to be vigilant about human rights violations in this country. The AIHRC is an institution that is highly worthy of respect and commendation of citizens. Yet, its strength is being undermined by the growing influence of fundamentalists and human rights criminals in national decision making. Afghans should stand beside the AIHRC and mobilize international support to enable it to withstand the onslaughts of human rights adversaries. We all need to speak up and make a stand against any action by anybody that seeks to undermine the rights that we have already started to enjoy, even if only to a limited degree. Let us teach the youngsters to respect and defend human rights as a way of life. And most importantly, in the coming Presidential and Parliamentary elections, let us stand together to deliver a democratic-slaughter to all political candidates who have committed human rights abuses in the past. Human rights is a treasure that should be guarded at all times and we need to do it together, better, and stronger – now, more than ever.