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AFGHANISTAN

PUBLIC POLICY
POLICY
AFGHANISTAN
PUBLIC
RESEARCH
ORGANIZATION
RESEARCH
ORGANIZATION
www.appro.org.af

Policy Brief
October 2016

www.appro.org.af

Misperceptions of Human
Rights in Afghanistan

About APPRO:

Background

Afghanistan Public Policy Research


Organization (APPRO) is an independent social research organization with
a mandate to promote social and
policy learning to benefit development and reconstruction efforts in
Afghanistan and other less developed countries through conducting
applied research, monitoring and
evaluation, and training and mentoring. APPRO is registered with the
Ministry of Economy in Afghanistan
as a non-profit, non-government organization. APPRO is headquartered
in Kabul, Afghanistan, with offices in
Mazar-e Shrif (north), Herat (west),
Kandahar (south), Jalalabad (east),
and Bamyan (center). APPRO is also
the founding organization of APPROEurope, registered in Belgium.

Human rights are commonly understood as the inalienable rights to which


a person is inherently entitled simply
because she or he is a human being.1
Although human rights and fundamental rights are often used interchangeably, human rights are generally
viewed as having a moral and aspirational connotation, while fundamental
rights are incorporated concretely into
the legal framework and institutions of
a society.2

Contact us:
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Email: mail@appro.org.af
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Tel: +32 2 895 36 01
Fax: +32 2 895 36 02
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may be downloaded from:
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In Afghanistan, human rights have


been a key part of reconstruction and
development programming since 2001.
Impacts have been uneven, however,
and human rights as a notion remains
both poorly understood and controversial for many. Reasons for the mixed
embrace of human rights in Afghanistan
are grounded in the situational and
cultural contexts in which rights have
been understood and implemented. At
the same time, constitutional provisions, national laws, and international
treaty agreements guaranteeing human
rights are necessary
but insufficient to guaranteeing human
rights in Afghanistan where rule of law
1 Definitions and classifications, Icelandic Human
Rights Centre: http://www.humanrights.is/en/human-rights-education-project/human-rights-conceptsideas-and-fora/part-i-the-concept-of-human-rights/
definitions-and-classifications
2 Palombella, G. (2006) From Human Rights to
Fundamental Rights. Consequences of a Conceptual
Division, EUI Working Paper LAW No. 2006/34, 40 p.
available at: http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/6400/LAW-2006-34.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

is tenuous and where there are cultural


traditions and customary practices that
are antithetical to human rights. In
this context, contending knowledge
brokers or translators, who interpret human rights in either supportive
or antagonistic ways, appear to be
particularly influential in shaping public
opinions about human rights.3
Perceptions of human rights in
Afghanistan can be strongly positive
or strongly negative. The teachings
of Islam are used to rationalize both
positive and negative opinions about
human rights in Afghanistan. Awareness about human rights tends to be
strongest and mostly positive in provincial centers, where multiple sources
of information about human rights
are available and where many people
have seen positive outcomes from
the rights-based agenda. However, in
rural districts there is little awareness
or understanding of human rights,
leaving people particularly susceptible to the influence of a few local
knowledge brokers such as elders
or religious leaders, or various NGOs
with mandates to implement human
rights or womens rights projects
and programs, who may or may not
have positive or accurate views about
the full meaning and implications of
human rights.
Afghanistan is a highly patriarchal
society. Numerous interventions on
3 Merry, S.E. (2006). Transnational Human Rights
and Local Activism: Mapping the Middle. American
Anthropologist, 108(1): 38-51.

For many. there


is now a general
apprehension about
human rights, which
some see as synonymous with womens
rights. Further agravating these tensions,
most womens rights
advocacy in the country has engaged only
women while leaving
out men and boys.

womens rights over the last 15 years have


challenged the status quo and created
tensions between traditional conservatives
and those who subscribe to the notion of
human rights and equality in society. For
many, there is now a general apprehension
about human rights, which some see as
synonymous with womens rights. Further
aggravating these tensions, most womens
rights advocacy in the country has engaged
only women while leaving out men and boys.
As a result, there is a perception that human
rights is only targeted at women, is a foreign
concept and is not based on moral values
consistent with the traditions of Afghanistan,
including deeply-rooted patriarchy.

Constitutional provisions, national laws,


and international
treaty agreements
guaranteeing human
rights are necessary
but insufficient to
guaranteeing human
rights in Afghanistan
where rule of law is
tenuous and where
there are cultural
traditions and
customary practices
that are antithetical
to human rights.

Very few Afghans are familiar with the


fundamental rights guaranteed to all Afghan
citizens under the Afghan Constitution. The
least controversial rights are the rights to
vote and to run for political office. Womens
and family rights generate the most controversy. This is not surprising, considering
how deeply-rooted patriarchy and historical
pattern of resistance to top-down policy
reforms focused on women, marriage, and
the family as well as the degree to which
gender norms and family relations figure
into Afghan social life.4 At the same time,
however, despite resistance from different
sections of society, girls education is an area
of rights that is rapidly becoming less controversial.

Reasons for the


mixed embrace of
human rights in
Afghanistan are
grounded in the
situational and
cultural contexts in
which rights have
been understood and
implemented.

Over the years, attitudes toward human


rights in Afghanistan have become more
positive in some segments of the population, especially among youth and in urban
areas. The positive attitude among youth
about human rights is due in part to the fact
that young males and females feel enabled
when free to peacefully interact, protest,
access education, vote, and access justice.
In other words, actual proof that rights are
beneficial to individuals and families has
been important in creating more positive
attitudes towards human rights. Instances of
rights being useful also serve to counteract
negative experiences or hearsay about rights
having destructive or negative consequences,
such as instances where rights assertions by
women have led to strife or divorce.

Recommendations
Institutionalization of Human Rights is
a Long Term Goal: Interventions to institute human rights entails social change
and is likely to create tensions between
new and old/traditional value sets.
Efforts must be made to intensify and
coordinate awareness raising including
the use of media training, changes in
educational curriculum particularly at
lower grades, and creating leading roles
for women in economic, social, and
political arenas.
Utilize Teachings of Islam on Fundamental Rights of People: Much of the
opposition to human rights in Afghanistan emanates from assumptions that
human rights are contrary to Islam.
When cultural traditions and local
culture are invoked as reasons why
human rights are problematic it is likely
that what is actually being referred to in
some cases such as marriage decisionmaking, baad and badal.5
Learn from Past Experience: Many
human rights organizations are now
working in subtler and less radical ways
in comparison to the recent past. It is
crucial to take stock of lessons from
good and bad practices of implementing
human rights programs in Afghanistan
and to redesign future programming
accordingly.
Insist on Governments Ongoing
Commitment and Pursuit of Human
Rights: Institutionalized impunity and
corruption run directly counter to
attempts for institutionalizing human
rights in Afghanistan. Impunity protects
human rights violators, past and
present, while administrative corruption directly impacts peoples access to
fundamental rights, both creating an
atmosphere of distrust in government.
Public administration reforms and
professional development of government staff, including elected officials,
must incorporate rights training and
systems to monitor how human rights
training translates into practice by the
trained officials.
Media and Human Rights: Very few
people, including middle and lower
ranking government officials, have

4 See, for example, Dupree, N. (2005) and Johnson, C., and J.


Leslie (2007)

5 Ibid.

The teachings of
Islam are used to
rationalize both
positive and negative
opinions about
human rights in
Afghanistan.

Very few Afghans


are familiar with
the fundamental
rights guaranteed to
all Afghan citizens
under the Afghan
Constitution.

sufficient awareness of the fundamental


rights guaranteed to the citizens in the
Afghan Constitution and related legislation. Media campaigns should be
initiated to expand awareness of fundamental rights and promote the virtues
and benefits of society-wide fundamental rights, especially outside provincial centers.
Use of Youth, Local Authorities, and
Womens Groups as Champions: There
is evidence that youth are more open
and inclined to support human rights
than their selected younger officials of
local authorities elders. Training youth
and youth organizations, womens rights
organizations, and on fundamental
rights, consistent with the Constitution,
will be instrumental in institutionalizing
human rights in Afghanistan.

Education and Human Rights: Education, particularly in earlier stages, is key


in instilling awareness and appreciation
of fundamental rights in society. Introduction of fundamental rights of the
citizens in education curricula will be an
affective tool to generate mass awareness of human rights and the fundamental rights guaranteed under Afghan
Constitution.
Emphasis on Benefits of Human Rights:
Information about human rights should
be couched in terms that are clear
on how society-wide fundamental
rights benefit individuals, families and
communities. As much as possible,
rights-in-the-abstract must be translated
to rights-in-practice based on specific
economic, social, and political benefits
that they can bring to individuals and
society as a whole.