Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with a population of approximately 32 million. Citizens elected Hamid Karzai president in 2004 in the country's first presidential election under its 2004 constitution. Four and a half years later, executive, legislative, and judicial institutions are still nascent. The political system faces a number of challenges, including: combating an ongoing insurgency; corruption; lack of ministerial capacity to provide key services to the population; organizing presidential, parliamentary, and provincial elections in 2009 and 2010; and overcoming ethnic divisions. Although the government strengthened its authority in provincial centers, the Taliban and other anti-Afghan forces operate relatively freely in a number of districts throughout the country. These insurgents resorted to terror tactics and intimidation, targeting frequently Afghan police units. The government took the positive step of enacting antitrafficking legislation in July 2008.

The country's human rights record remains poor. Problems include extrajudicial killings; torture; poor prison conditions; official impunity; prolonged pretrial detention; restrictions on freedoms of the press, religion, movement, and association; violence and societal discrimination against women, religious converts, and minorities; trafficking in persons; abuse of workers' rights; and child labor.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

U.S. policy in the country is guided by the principle that a functioning, responsive, and sustainable democratic system that provides basic services, applies justice fairly, and respects the human rights of its citizens is essential for the government to maintain the support of the people and to offer a clear alternative to extremist ideology and practice. U.S. priorities include good governance; capacity development at all levels of government; free and fair elections; strengthened rule of law (including increased anticorruption measures); religious freedom; media freedom; and the protection of the rights of all persons, including women and children. The United States maintains a continuing dialogue with local civil society and tribal and religious groups to help ensure that initiatives will resonate with citizens.

U.S. officials, including the ambassador, use meetings with government counterparts and public events around the country to underscore the importance of democratic values, good governance, and respect for human rights. In February and April 2009, the U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan visited the country and delivered messages on good governance, elections, and human rights to citizens from across the social and political spectrums. Other visiting senior U.S. officials also highlight support for elections, good governance, and protection of basic freedoms, including the importance of religious freedom and free press.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

The United States assists the government to strengthen democratic institutions, improve accountability, and increase capacity throughout the country (including capacity to hold upcoming elections) by sponsoring training, mentoring, and capacity-building programs for government ministries, the Civil Service Commission, parliament, and the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG). Parliamentary programs include support for emerging political groups that speak for traditionally underrepresented segments of the population, including women; training and technical support for parliamentary administration, committees, and budget review; and development of a parliamentary training institute. The United States works closely with the IDLG to improve quality of representation, delivery of services, and accountability at provincial, district, and municipal levels. Provincial Reconstruction Teams play a critical role in the local governance effort as the direct interlocutors with subnational officials. A 2008 International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) for provincial governors focused on governance and rural development; other IVLPs have focused on community approaches to social issues, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), civic activism, and human rights awareness.

In addition, the United States works with international donors to assist the government to prepare for upcoming presidential and provincial council elections. The U.S. Government funds capacity building for the Independent Election Commission, which in August 2009 will facilitate the first Afghan-administered elections since 1969, and also provides assistance to media and civil society organizations engaging in civic education, election monitoring, and political party development efforts. U.S. assistance to security forces includes specialized training on election security. 

The U.S. Government is a primary supporter of several national rule of law programs designed to strengthen the legal system and help it meet international human rights standards. Assistance involves training and equipping judges, attorneys, administrators, and corrections personnel to build the sector's limited capacity and enhance performance. In 2008 the U.S. Government established the country's first law library and helped educate the public about the legal system by widely distributing pocket constitutions as well as comic books and pamphlets on basic legal rights. The United States trains police in community-based policing and protecting human rights, especially women's and children's rights. Following Afghanistan’s 2007 ratification of the UN Convention Against Corruption, the U.S. Government provided key assistance in 2008 to establish the High Office of Oversight and is currently helping the Attorney General's Office form an internal anticorruption prosecution task force. The U.S. Government is helping to build a major crimes task force within the Interior Ministry, allowing the ministry to gather evidence and act against corruption throughout the government. On the judicial side, U.S. legal mentors assist the Supreme Court to develop anticorruption tribunals. The U.S. Government also funds the activities of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, charged with investigating claims of human rights violations and judicial corruption and monitoring prisons and detention facilities. Finally, the U.S. Government is working with the government to identify and release prisoners who have been detained past the expiration of their sentences.

The United States promotes an independent press and electronic media by investing in personnel training and business plan development for media companies and by facilitating the development of community-based radio stations, of which 35 were broadcasting in 2009. The U.S. Government supports the production of an original radio series that promotes principles of respect, human rights, and democracy as they relate to rights under Islamic law. The U.S. ambassador and other officials engage with lawmakers publicly and privately to underscore the importance of media freedom in a democratic society and raise specific cases of concern with their government counterparts. In addition, U.S. officials network with media to identify journalists who might benefit from professional training or exchange programs. In November 2008 the U.S. Government funded travel for a senior journalist and news manager to cover the U.S. presidential election.

U.S. officials work with the government and civil society organizations to promote women's rights, religious freedom, antitrafficking efforts, and refugee services. The United States integrates women's issues into most of its programs with the goal of increasing women's political participation, education, economic opportunities, and role in civil society. The U.S. Government continues to provide support to the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the provincial departments of women's affairs to facilitate their role as effective advocates for women. One NGO mobilized private sector resources to empower women, including providing mentoring and financial assistance to businesswomen. Another U.S.-supported NGO provided human rights training to 149 religious leaders in seven provinces.

The United States expresses consistently concern about human trafficking issues and assisted the government in developing an antitrafficking law, enacted in July 2008. Through implementing partners, the United States provided antitrafficking training to approximately 1,000 Afghan law enforcement officials. The U.S. Government provides grants to NGOs to facilitate the provision of shelter, services, education, health care, and livelihood opportunities to more than 278,000 refugees who returned to the country in 2008 from Pakistan, Iran, and other countries. The United States continued to provide assistance to a small grants program that provides direct support to NGOs.