Human Rights and Trafficking in Persons Reports: Majority of Civilian Casualties Due to Insurgent Attacks, Internal Trafficking Widespread

In the recently published Human Rights Report for 2018, the US Department of State has acknowledged that Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with a directly elected president, a bicameral legislative branch, and a judicial branch, with parliamentary elections for the lower house of parliament being in October 2018, after a delay.
Delayed Elections Involving Violence

The report noted that although there was high voter turnout, the election was “marred by violence, technical issues, and irregularities, including voter intimidation, vote rigging, and interference by electoral commission staff and police. In some cases, polling stations were forced to close due to pressure from local leaders.”

Human Rights Challenges

The chief human rights issues according to the report include extrajudicial killings by security forces; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest; arbitrary detention; criminalization of defamation; government corruption; lack of accountability and investigation in cases of violence against women, including those accused of so-called moral crimes; sexual abuse of children by security force members; violence by security forces against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community; and violence against journalists.

Official Impunity

It was also noted that widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses were serious problems.

“The government did not consistently or effectively prosecute abuses by officials, including security forces”, states the report.

Majority of Civilian Casualties Attributed to Insurgent & Terrorist Attacks

Major attacks on civilians by armed insurgent groups and targeted assassinations by armed insurgent groups of persons affiliated with the government were highlighted as well-Taliban and other insurgents that continue to kill security force personnel and civilians using tactics such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide attacks, and rocket attacks, and to commit disappearances and torture.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has found out that 65 percent of civilian casualties during the first nine months of the year to antigovernment actors- Taliban and ISIS-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) having used children as suicide bombers, soldiers, and weapons carriers.

An Assessment of the Status of Trafficking in Persons in Afghanistan

The Good

The “Trafficking in Persons” Report by US Department of State brought into attention that the government of Afghanistan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so. “The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Afghanistan remained on Tier 2”, the report states.

Afghan government was appreciated for enacting a revised penal code that raised the penalties for human trafficking crimes and criminalized additional activities relating to bacha bazi (a practice in which men exploit boys for social and sexual entertainment).
The government was also appreciated for enacting a policy for the Afghan National Army that prohibited child recruitment and established procedures for the demobilization and care of children involved in armed conflict and for opening an additional child protection unit to prevent the recruitment of children into the security forces.

The Bad

But the report pointed out that the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas-it did not report any newly initiated prosecutions or convictions of officials complicit in human trafficking, district and provincial-level officials continued to conflate trafficking and smuggling while many officials were unable to identify trafficking victims and resulted in the government’s wrongful arrest and prosecution of some trafficking victims as criminals.

“Victim protection efforts were overall insufficient”, declares the report.

Although the Afghan government increased its overall law enforcement efforts, it did not report any efforts to prosecute or convict allegedly complicit officials, and overall trafficking investigations, prosecutions, and convictions remained low for the scale of the problem, according to the report.

A key observation of the report was regarding the problem of terminology leading to enforcement and judicial officials  to have a limited understanding of trafficking-“Dari, the language spoken most widely in Afghanistan, historically used the same word for both human trafficking and migrant smuggling, compounding the confusion. Authorities attempted to address this issue by including separate terms and definitions for trafficking and smuggling in the 2017 law; however, training required to ensure officials understood the new terminology was limited, especially at the local and provincial levels.”

Official complicity in trafficking remained a serious and pervasive problem, as per the report’s verdict.

As reported over the past five years, Afghanistan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking, the study notes, with internal trafficking being more prevalent than transnational trafficking.

“Men, women, and children are exploited in bonded labor in Afghanistan, where an initial debt assumed by a worker as part of the terms of employment is exploited, ultimately entrapping other family members, sometimes for multiple generations. There are entire Afghan families trapped in debt bondage in the brick-making industry in eastern Afghanistan”, horrific observation made by the study states.

In terms of the particular sources from where Afghan trafficking victims belong to, they were found to be children exploited in carpet making and brick factories, domestic servitude, commercial sex, begging, poppy cultivation, salt mining, transnational drug smuggling, and assistant truck driving within Afghanistan. Worse, some “Afghan families knowingly sell their children into sex trafficking, including for bacha bazi, including some government officials and security forces”, many of the families being opium producing.

There are reports that some law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges accept bribes from or use their relationships with perpetrators of bacha bazi to allow them to escape punishment.

A key finding of the report is that members of the Shia Hazara minority group were victims of forced labor. Additionally Afghan returnees from Pakistan and Iran and internally displaced Afghans are found to be vulnerable to exploitation in sex trafficking and forced and bonded labor.

Some men, women, and children in Afghanistan who often pay intermediaries to assist them in finding employment, are forced into labor or prostitution. “Afghan women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking and domestic servitude primarily in Pakistan, Iran, and India, including through forced marriages in Iran and Pakistan. Afghan boys and men are subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture and construction, primarily in Iran, Pakistan, Greece, Turkey, and the Gulf states. Boys, especially those traveling unaccompanied, are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Some Afghan boys are subjected to sex trafficking in Greece after paying high fees to be smuggled into the country”.

The report goes on to state that the Iranian government and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) are reported to have coerced male Afghan migrants, including boys as young as 12, to fight in Syria in IRGC-organized and commanded militias, by threatening them with arrest and deportation to Afghanistan.

As regarding to armed non-state groups forcefully recruiting children, the Taliban and other non-state groups like the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), account for most child recruitment and use, wherein children are used as as suicide bombers.

“The Taliban indoctrinate children using religious and military education and teach children to use small arms and deploy improvised explosive devices. Some families receive cash payments or protection in exchange for sending their children to the Taliban-run schools. Children from impoverished and rural areas, particularly those under Taliban control, are especially vulnerable to recruitment”.

Even the Afghan Local and National Police and government-supported armed groups are reported to have been using children in combat and non-combat roles, including as personal servants, support staff, and body guards. “The Afghan National Army, NDS, and Afghan Border Police also recruit children, although to a lesser extent”, says the study.

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