January 27, 2016 / 1:06 PM / in 2 years

Afghanistan fails to improve human rights: watchdog

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan has failed to remedy a series of chronic human rights abuses ranging from the torture of prisoners by security forces to brutal mistreatment of women, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Wednesday.

Afghan women's rights activists carry the coffin of Farkhunda, an Afghan woman who was beaten to death and set alight on fire on Thursday, during her burial ceremony in Kabul March 22, 2015. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

The rights watchdog’s 2016 annual report said reform efforts by President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government had been undermined by failure to contain internal differences and keep local strongmen and power brokers in check.

“Afghanistan’s national unity government squandered important opportunities to tackle serious human rights problems,” Patricia Gossman, senior Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“As reforms have slipped, so have essential human rights protections for detainees, women, and the media.”

HRW said international donors, whose support is essential to the government of one of the world’s poorest economies, had to work more closely with Afghan authorities to ensure that human rights gains made since 2001 were not lost.

The section on Afghanistan, part of a 659-page report reviewing human rights practices in more than 90 countries, painted a bleak picture more than 14 years after U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power.

The brutal murder of 27 year-old Farkhunda Malikzada after she was falsely accused of burning a copy of the Koran and the flawed trial which followed threw into stark relief the failure to advance women’s rights, despite repeated government pledges, the report said.

Hundreds of civilians were also killed in suicide and roadside bomb attacks last year. Islamist insurgents targeted judges, prosecutors and other government officials as well as journalists and Afghan and foreign aid workers.

In addition, Taliban groups and others including Islamic State carried out kidnappings and “indiscriminate” attacks against civilians, the report said.

Despite an action plan to eliminate torture by government forces and militias, documented cases of torture increased in 2015 but there were no reported investigations or prosecutions, it said.

“Atrocities by the Taliban and other insurgents are no excuse for the government to deploy abusive militias or fail to hold the security forces accountable for violations,” Gossman said.

The report also pointed to the incident in the northern city of Kunduz in which a U.S. warplane attacked a hospital run by aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, killing at least 42 people.

An investigation found “human, procedural and technical” errors were to blame but many questions about the incident remained unanswered, Human Rights Watch said.

Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Nick Macfie

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