Committee Reports

Letter to President George W. Bush Regarding Human Rights and Security of Women and Girls in Afghanistan

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The Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Re: Human Rights and Security of Women and Girls in Afghanistan

Dear President Bush:

I am writing on behalf of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. The Association is an independent non-governmental organization with more than 22,000 members in over 40 countries. Founded in 1870, the Association has a long history of dedication to human rights, notably through its Committee on International Human Rights, which investigates and reports on human rights conditions around the world. The Association, as an organization of lawyers, is particularly, interested in the current situation in Afghanistan.

When the United States undertook its mission in Afghanistan, we raised great hopes among all of its citizens – including women and girls – that we would assist them in regaining basic human rights. Indeed, you have spoken out many times in support of the new freedom of Afghanistan’s women and girls, and even stressed the importance of this freedom in your recent State of the Union address. We are writing today to express our deep concern about the safety and rights of these women and girls, who are eager to participate as equals in the reconstruction and governance of their country. The dire threat to the security of women and girls in Afghanistan has been made abundantly clear by many recent, independent and reliable sources, including the August 2002 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, the November and December 2002 reports by Human Rights Watch, and the analysis of the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research, dated January 2003. We urge you to take immediate, strategic and robust action to ensure women’s safety and human rights are fully protected.

There is no doubt that the situation for most women and girls in Afghanistan has improved since the fall of the Taliban. However, there are disturbing signs that Taliban-era restrictions are again being promulgated and enforced in several parts of the country – most prominently in districts near Kabul and Kandahar, and in the western province of Herat. In addition, reports indicate that a gravely insufficient number of human rights monitors have been deployed in the countryside, and that women rarely have access to urgently needed services and assistance.

There are credible reports that in Herat, the local governor, Ismail Khan, has censored women’s groups, intimidated outspoken women leaders, and sidelined women from his administration. Further, restrictions have been placed on their right to work, so that many women are not able to use their hard-won education. Perhaps most distressing are the physical restrictions on women and girls. Government-enforced limitations on their freedom of movement – including a prohibition on driving and on their being in the presence of unrelated men – mean that women and girls are confined arbitrarily. There are reports of abuses by police in Herat, who have detained women and girls accused of being accompanied by unrelated mean and forced them to undergo medical examinations to determine if they have recently engaged in sexual intercourse.

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