Human rights in Afghanistan is a topic of some controversy and conflict. While the Taliban were well known for numerous human rights abuses, several human rights violations continue to take place in the post-Taliban government era. Afghanistan has an interesting strong human rights framework within its constitution.

A bill of rights is enshrined in chapter two of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan's constitution. The right to life and liberty are constitutionally protected as are the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence for all persons. This gives the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan a strong human rights framework that is guaranteed to all citizens.



Under the monarchy of Zahir Shah, human rights were respected and citizens were mostly free,[1] except in some cases where the King closed down media from dissidents that were considered threatening. The communist Khalq republic that governed Afghanistan after the Saur Revolution in 1978 was brutal, vigorously suppressing opposition. The government abducted and executed thousands of prisoners, rural civilian dissidents, and committed crimes against civilians such as the infamous Kerala massacre.[2]

New leader Babrak Karmal promised to end the Khalq's brutality, which it partly did, but human rights abuses still continued. The government along with the Soviets (during the Soviet-Afghan War) intentionally targeted civilian settlements in rural areas. Under President Mohammad Najibullah's reforms, freedom of expression was further improved but human rights overall remained restricted.[3]

In the 1990s, many atrocities were committed by various militias against civilians. Indiscriminate rocket attacks during the Battle of Kabul, especially those by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's militia, killed thousands of civilians. The Taliban, in power from 1996, imposed strong restrictions on women, performed public executions, and prevented international aid from entering the country for starving civilians.[4]


The Bonn Agreement of 2001 established the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) as a national human rights institution to protect and promote human rights and to investigate human rights abuses and war crimes. The Afghanistan Constitution of 2004 entrenched the existence of the AIHRC. While the ongoing turmoil, violence and reconstruction efforts often make it difficult to get an accurate sense of what is going on, various reports from NGOs have accused various branches of the Afghan government of engaging in human rights violations.[5]

There have also been various human rights abuses by American soldiers on Afghan civilians, most notably in the Baghram prisons where innocent civilians endured torture, humiliating conditions, and inhumane treatment. The United States was heavily criticized for lenient sentencing for the soldiers responsible.[6] Former Afghan warlords and political strongmen supported by the US during the ousting of the Taliban were responsible for numerous human rights violations in 2003 including kidnapping, rape, robbery, and extortion.[7] Several thousands of people in Afghanistan have been victims of enforced disappearance over the past four decades,

Torture Agreement

In March 2002, ABC News claimed top officials at the CIA authorized controversial, harsh interrogation techniques.[8] The possible interrogation techniques included shaking and slapping, shackling prisoners in a standing position, keeping the prisoner in a cold cell and dousing them with water, and water boarding.[8] A United Nations study in 2011 reported on interviews with 379 detainees. It found those held by police or intelligence services were subjected to beatings, removal of toenails and electric shocks.[9]

Elections during combat

Several elections have been held in Afghanistan since 2001. The most recent election was held 18 September 2010, for the National Assembly with a reported 2,499 candidates competing for 250 seats. During the elections[10] the Taliban attacked many of those involved, killing 11 civilians and 3 Afghan National Policemen in over 300 attacks on the polls.[11] The low death toll at the hands of the Taliban can be attributed to stepped up operations specifically targeting the leaders of insurgents planning attacks in the days leading up to the elections.[12][13] which captured hundreds of insurgents and explosives. Turnout at election was 40%.

Justice System

Afghanistan has two dominant justice systems: the formal state system and the informal traditional system.[14] Despite existence of ordinary judicial system e.g. Supreme Court, National Security Court (dealing with terrorism related cases), first and second instance courts, "jirga" and "shura"-traditional institutions are operating.

Law and order

The National Security Directorate, Afghanistan's national security agency, has been accused of running its own prisons, torturing suspects, and harassing journalists. The security forces of local militias, which also have their own prisons, have been accused of torture and arbitrary killings. Warlords in the north have used property destruction, rape, and murder to discourage displaced Pashtuns from reclaiming their homes. Child labor and human trafficking remain common outside Kabul. Civilians frequently have been killed in battles between warlord forces. Poor conditions in the overcrowded prisons have contributed to illness and death amongst prisoners; a prison rehabilitation program began in 2003.

In the absence of an effective national judicial system, the right to judicial protection has been compromised as uneven local standards have prevailed in criminal trials. Fair trial principles are enshrined in the Afghan constitution and the criminal procedure but frequently violated for various reasons, including the lack of well-educated, professional staff (especially defence lawyers), lack of material resources, corruption and unlawful interference by warlords and politicians.[15] Several thousands of people in Afghanistan have been victims of enforced disappearance over the past four decades.[16]

Freedom of speech and the media

Article 34 of Afghanistan's constitution allows freedom of speech and press, though there are restrictions on media that may invoke Islamic law or be offensive to other sects. However, there have been and harassment and threats targeting journalists and legal experts, especially outside Kabul. Freedom of the press was guaranteed by interim President Hamid Karzai in February 2002.[17] The 2004 Media Law was signed by Karzai in 2005.[18] In 2008, documentary filmmaker Nasir Fayaz was arrested for criticising politicians from the President's cabinet on his weekly show on Ariana TV. The arrest caused an outcry from journalists and it violated Article 34 which reads "Freedom of expression shall be inviolable".[19][20] Afghanistan ranks 120th in the 2017 Press Freedom Index, better than all its neighbors.[21]

Religious freedom

No registration of religious groups is required; minority religious groups are able to practice freely but not to proselytize. Islam is the official religion; all law must be compatible with Islamic morality, and the President and Vice President must be Muslims.

Apostasy remains officially punishable by death, per the Constitution of Afghanistan. In 2006, Abdul Rahman, an Afghan Muslim who had been arrested for converting to Christianity, was granted presidential permission to leave the country, and moved to Italy, where he received asylum.[22] In 2014, an Afghan Muslim who had renounced Islam and become an atheist was granted asylum in the United Kingdom, on the grounds that he could face death if he returned to his country of origin.[23]

Women's rights

Women constitutionally have equal rights to men, which were severely restricted in the Taliban regime

The Constitution promises equal rights for men and women, and women are permitted to work outside the home, to engage in political activity, and the Constitution requires each political party to nominate a certain number of female candidates.

During the time of Taliban rule, women had virtually all their rights taken away. Matters ranging from wearing nail polish to job opportunities were severely restricted. By keeping women indoors, the Taliban claimed to be keeping them safe from harm.

In late March 2009, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed into law an internationally condemned "Shia Family Law" which condones apparent spousal rape (in Article 132), child marriage and imposes purdah on married Afghan women. Although the offending legislation is said to have been dormant for a year, President Karzai was trying to gain the support of Afghan northern Shia legislators and the neighbouring Islamic Republic of Iran, which is Shia-dominated. According to Britain's Independent newspaper, the 'family code' was not read in the Upper House/Senate, and also enshrines gender discrimination in inheritance law and divorce against women [1]

Sexual orientation

Homosexuality and cross-dressing were capital crimes under the Taliban, but seem to have been reduced to crimes punished by long prison sentences.

See also


  1. ^ https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/23/AR2007072300138.html
  2. ^ Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: Elections in an Unstable Political Landscape by Noah Coburn, Anna Larson.
  3. ^ https://www.hrw.org/reports/1992/WR92/ASW-01.htm
  4. ^ https://www.hrw.org/report/2005/07/06/blood-stained-hands/past-atrocities-kabul-and-afghanistans-legacy-impunity
  5. ^ "Afghan abuse sentence 'lenient'". BBC News. 25 August 2005. 
  6. ^ "Afghan abuse sentence 'lenient'". BBC News. 25 August 2005. 
  7. ^ Afghanistan: Warlords Implicated in New Abuses 29 July 2003
  8. ^ a b "ABC News: CIA's Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described". 
  9. ^ Kelly, Jeremy (10 October 2011). "Afghanistan officials 'systematically tortured' detainees, says UN report". The Guardian. Kabul. Retrieved 10 October 2011. Interviews with 379 people held by police or intelligence services describe beatings, removing toenails and electric shocks 
  10. ^ Afghan Journal: Heroes & Demons September 2010
  11. ^ Afghanistan: Taliban Elect Explosives 18 September 2010
  12. ^ "War In Afghanistan News". Waronterrornews.typepad.com. 18 September 2010. Retrieved 3 August 2011. 
  13. ^ "War In Afghanistan News 17 September 2010". Waronterrornews.typepad.com. 17 September 2010. Retrieved 3 August 2011. 
  14. ^ "Afghanistan's Justice System - The Asia Foundation". The Asia Foundation. 2009-02-04. Retrieved 2018-02-17. 
  15. ^ See Tilmann J. Röder, ‘Human Rights Standards in Afghan Courtrooms: The Theory and Reality of the Right to a Fair Trial’, in: ‘Islam and Human Rights’, ed. by H. Elliesie, Peter Lang Verlag (Frankfurt am Main) 2010.
  16. ^ Agony of Afghanistan’s Enforced Disappearances
  17. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/1810983.stm
  18. ^ https://www.rferl.org/a/1074472.html
  19. ^ https://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/07/30/afghan.arrest/index.html
  20. ^ https://www.kabulpress.tv/article2034.html
  21. ^ https://rsf.org/en/ranking
  22. ^ "Afghan convert arrives in Italy for asylum", CNN, 29 March 2006
  23. ^ "Atheist Afghan granted religious asylum in UK", BBC, 14 January 2014
  • Life Under the Taliban, by Stewart, Gail B.

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