The New Special Secretariat to Probe Sexual Harassment Against Women: Functions and Efficiency

The Afghan government has formed a special secretariat to probe reports of sexual harassment against women in public institutions. The office will operate within the framework of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Recently, the issue of sexual harassment in ARG, presidential palace and other government institutions have become a topic of regular discussion in Afghanistan and beyond. The issue surfaced after Gen Habibullah Ahmadzai, a former advisor to the president made allegations about sexual harassment against women and accused officials of ARG of sexual abuse against women.

General Habibullah Ahmadzai, in an interview with a media outlet, accused some officials at the presidential palace of sexual harassment and abuse against women. He said that some top officials and presidential advisors in ARG, have a hand behind sexual abuse in the presidential office.

After Mr. Ahmadzai’s claims of sexual harassment at the presidential palace, some women also began to speak up about sexual harassment in government offices. In a report which was recently published, a former government employee whose identity remained anonymous claimed that a senior minister in the government repeatedly harassed her. After the minister asked her for a sexual favor, she had to quit her job but didn’t file a complaint since she no longer had any trust in the government.

The Afghan government later formed a special secretariat intending to investigate recent allegations related to sexual abuse of women in government and non-government institutions in a transparent way.

General Habibullah Ahmadzai, Former Advior to the President

The Objectives of Special Secretariat

In a decree, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani issued a directive for the establishment of a special secretariat to investigate sexual harassment against women in public institutions. This office will operate within the framework of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

“For fair and transparent probe into recent allegations related to sexual abuse of women in institutions, the special secretariat is established within the framework of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission,” the decree was issued on Saturday 27, July by president Ghani.

The objective of the special secretariat is to investigate allegations related to sexual abuse of women in government institutions, providing the platform to hear the complaints of victims, documentation of those claims and complaints received by the commission, as well as ensuring the investigation of recent allegations, monitoring from judicial institutions and advocacy in this area, the decree stated.

Albeit this special secretariat being established, some of the citizens are still concerned saying that the investigation of such complaints/cases may not probably be handled in the government institutions.

However, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission assured that “once the plaintiff’s case reaches judicial institutions, the commission will monitor those legal bodies and will also advocate and follow up the case until they are solved.”

Shabnam Salehi, a commissioner at Human Rights Commission, said: “As an independent human rights institution, we believe that all individuals who are complainants refer to the Human Rights Commission. Because we are a non-governmental structure and the commission has always acted independently. ”

“Special secretariat created to probe the allegations of sexual harassment against women has been established in AIHRC, and individuals possessing evidence that can prove the sexual harassment can come forward or send the complaints to Human Rights Commission”, Shukullah Mashkoor, a spokesperson of Independent Human Rights Commission said.

The responsibility of the secretariat is to receive, file, advocate and investigate sexual harassment cases in government institutions. The secretariat is established within the framework of AIHRC and the commission will review the cases before dispatching them to the Attorney General’s Office.

Shukrullah Mashkoor, Spokesperson at AIHRC

According to reports, government institutions are required to cooperate with the secretariat in this issue and the chairperson of AIHRC is has to present the reports of the secretariat to the presidential palace.

The Initiative of Human Rights Commission

Before the establishment of the Special Secretariat, the commission had asked the women to file complaints of sexual harassment in AIHRC. Afghanistan Attorney General Office had also announced that a department to fight sexual harassment against women will be created which will have jurisdiction over government bodies.

Now the Human Rights Commission assures the victims of sexual harassment that their identities will remain confidential in case they file complaints of sexual harassment.

The names of the individuals who file a complaint on sexual harassment will remain anonymous, and for advocacy and referring the cases to prosecutor’s office, the Commission is determined with the commencement of secretariat work. One of the commissioners of women rights affairs of AIHRC will head the secretariat, Mr. Mashkor said.

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