Both sides to blame for civilian casualties: Afghan official

May 8th, 2009 - 3:15 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban Geneva, May 8 (DPA) A senior Afghan official said Thursday that suicide bombings by militants and attacks by international coalition forces during operations were the greatest threats to life in his country.
Muhammad Qasim Hashimzai, the deputy minister of justice, was addressing the UN Human Rights Council which was holding its Universal Period Review of Afghanistan.

Deaths from suicide bombings and “civilian casualties during international forces operations remain the main challenge in this area”, Hashimzai told the UN forum.

Countries speaking during the session generally recognised Afghanistan was in what they called a “transition” period, as it was only beginning to emerge from decades of heavy conflict to form new institutions while violence continued to plague the nation.

Many countries criticised Afghanistan for its lack of protection for women and journalists.

“The intimidation of journalists by armed anti-government forces is also a major challenge for freedom of expression,” Hashimzai admitted.

Some delegations praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s decision to refrain from signing a law passed by Parliament which was widely criticized as a law that would permit rape within marriage. The legislation would have only affected the Shia minority.

Hashimzai said part of the problem was a low awareness among Afghans of both sexes of women’s rights and “a culture of immunity from punishment.”

Women were slowly moving into positions as civil servants and in government, the deputy minister said, citing statistics showing 28 percent of the legislators were women and a growing number were taking part in the justice system.

The representative of the US commented that Afghanistan should improve the right to organised labour.

Since the end of the Taliban regime there have been “major human rights achievements in our country”, said Hashimzai, but the Afghan government “insists that we have a long way to go”.

He said the country was still facing an uphill battle when it came to basic services, including shelter and water, and that the population was struggling with malnutrition as well.

The Human Rights Council, which came into being in 2007, holds period reviews of countries several times a year. By the end of the current session, set to conclude next week, the council will have reviewed 80 states, just under half of all UN member states.

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