Afghanistan: Challenge to UK ministers' complacency

The letter expresses concern that ministers from both the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office have played down the seriousness of allegations of the human rights violations committed by leaders within the Northern Alliance.

On BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme on Tuesday 13 November, Foreign Office Minister Ben Bradshaw responded to reports of rape and other crimes committed by Northern Alliance forces after the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif with a call to 'get this in proportion'.

Two days before, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, asked on BBC Radio 4's 'The World This Weekend' about allegations made against the Northern Alliance, replied that he had 'checked out' these allegations and had found that they were 'not nearly as bad as people have been suggesting'.

Amnesty International UK Director of Communications Richard Bunting said:

'By failing to appreciate the gravity of the human rights concerns in relation to Northern Alliance leaders, UK ministers at best perpetuate a culture of impunity for past crimes, at worst they risk being complicit in human rights abuse.

'We have asked the Government to state clearly that it will help to initiate and support efforts to bring to justice all those responsible for human rights abuses in Afghanistan, irrespective of past or present allegiance.'

In light of recent reports of serious human rights abuses in Northern Alliance-controlled areas of Afghanistan, Amnesty International has also this week written to UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw urging the UK – and all EU member states – to immediately halt any intended transfer of arms and related equipment to the Northern Alliance which may contribute to human rights abuses.

Earlier this month the EU's embargo on the export of arms, munitions and military equipment to Afghanistan was partially lifted to allow EU countries to transfer arms to territory not under the control of the Taleban.

Amnesty International has also particularly urged the US and Russia to take seriously their responsibility, as countries having recently supplied arms or military support to the Northern Alliance, to actively seek to prevent this weaponry and assistance leading to the carrying out of further human rights violations.

Amnesty International advocates the early deployment of impartial military observers as soon as possible to assist in human rights protection.

Yesterday Amnesty International expressed its concern at the rapid advance of the Northern Alliance into Kabul without any international arrangements to safeguard civilians. In the past Northern Alliance forces have reportedly killed, imprisoned and abused civilians on the basis of their ethnic identity or affiliation with the Taleban.

On 1 November 2001, Amnesty International issued a report on Afghanistan: Afghanistan, Making human rights the agenda (www.web.amnesty.org/ai.nsf/index/asa110232001),containing a summary of human rights concerns relating to the Northern Alliance, the Taleban and other groups in Afghanistan.

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