Violations by Afghan forces could escalate as they take frontline role

Media Releases article written on the 10 May 2011

Coalition forces are not doing enough to prevent abuses by Afghan forces and have been too slow to address the issue as they prepare to hand over responsibility for security to the Afghan government, Oxfam and other agencies said today.

A new report No Time to Lose released today details a number of abuses that Afghan forces are alleged to have carried out with impunity including torture, killings, recruitment and sexual abuse of children.

In July, the international military forces – of which Australia is a part – will begin to hand over responsibility for security in Afghanistan. By 2014, the national state forces are expected to assume full responsibility.

Oxfam report author Rebecca Barber said although some checks and balances have been put in place they are not functioning effectively and this needs to be tackled before hand over is completed when Afghan forces will play an increasingly frontline role.

“The Afghan people have high hopes for their security forces. They need to know these forces will protect them and be brought to justice if they commit abuses otherwise public trust and confidence in the government could be seriously undermined,” Ms Barber said.

“Billions have been spent in Afghanistan and thousands of lives have been lost. The sacrifices on all sides should not be in vain. A trained army and police forces that are accountable to their own people is key to the legacy the international community will leave behind and crucial for establishing lasting security in Afghanistan. There is no time to lose.”

Around 1,550 Australia troops are deployed in Afghanistan, the vast majority in Uruzgan province. Australia’s military, civilian and development assistance in Afghanistan includes a focus on training and mentoring the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade in Uruzgan province, and building the capacity of the Afghan National Police.

The agencies behind No Time to Lose also say that Afghan forces are ill-equipped to properly respond to civilian casualties. Afghan forces have little capacity to investigate, no system to track civilian casualty data and no compensation capabilities to make amends for harm they have inadvertently caused.

The report says that there are no effective systems for civilians to lodge a complaint against the national security forces. In principle, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission receives and investigate complaints from the public, but many people are too scared of reprisals to complain, and the institution is hampered by a serious lack of resources. It is yet to receive any funding from the government and for several months in 2010 was unable to pay any of its staff.

The military justice system functions reasonably well when dealing with lower ranking officers but mainly deals with traffic offences. In practice, it often does not apply to senior officers or those with political connections. One International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) official described it as a “system that the strong men at the top can turn on and off”.

The report says that there are an estimated 40,000 police who have had no training at all and criticises NATO countries for prioritising quantity over quality. The international effort to build up the professionalism of the security forces only got underway in 2009 and has continued to focus on rapid scale-up of numbers. Many people with dubious human rights records have entered the Afghan security forces, and what training there is for police has shrunk from eight to six weeks, and is focused on firearms training, rather than civilian policing and law.

The agencies express particular concerns about the Afghan Local Police initiative, which involves supporting local militia groups to fight the insurgency. There are reports that Afghan Local Police members have been involved in kidnapping, beatings and other criminal acts.

The report calls on the international community to support the Afghan government to improve the training, vetting and monitoring of the security forces by:

• Better and longer training of police with greater emphasis on civilian policing and rule of law.
• Ensuring that bodies that already exist to investigate complaints have sufficient resources and capacity to do the job properly and that those who abuse their authority are prosecuted.
• Ensuring that incidents resulting in inadvertent civilian harm during combat operations are monitored, investigated and amends are made to civilian victims.
• A suspension of any further expansion of the Afghan Local Police scheme.

In addition, the agencies are calling for more women to be recruited into the security forces. There are just 1,000 women in the security forces – less than half a per cent of the total – but many women will only report crimes to other women, and custom dictates that women should only be searched by other women.

The report is authored by Oxfam but jointly released by Oxfam, Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, Peace Training and Research Organisation and Human Rights, Research and Advocacy Consortium.

For a copy of the report, click here. For interviews or more information contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Sunita Bose on 0407 555 960.