Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with a directly elected president, a bicameral legislative branch, and a judicial branch. Parliamentary elections for the lower house of parliament were constitutionally mandated for 2015, but for a number of reasons, were not held until October 2018. Elections were held on October 20 and 21 in all provinces except in Ghazni where they were delayed due to an earlier political dispute and in Kandahar where they were delayed following the October 18 assassination of provincial Chief of Police Abdul Raziq. Elections took place in Kandahar on October 27, but elections in Ghazni were not scheduled by year’s end. Although there was high voter turnout, the election was marred by violence, technical issues, and irregularities, including voter intimidation, vote rigging, and interference by electoral commission staff and police. In some cases, polling stations were forced to close due to pressure from local leaders.
Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces, although security forces occasionally acted independently.
Human rights issues included extrajudicial killings by security forces; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest; arbitrary detention; criminalization of defamation; government corruption; lack of accountability and investigation in cases of violence against women, including those accused of so-called moral crimes; sexual abuse of children by security force members; violence by security forces against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community; and violence against journalists.
Widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses were serious problems. The government did not consistently or effectively prosecute abuses by officials, including security forces.
There were major attacks on civilians by armed insurgent groups and targeted assassinations by armed insurgent groups of persons affiliated with the government. The Taliban and other insurgents continued to kill security force personnel and civilians using indiscriminate tactics such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide attacks, and rocket attacks, and to commit disappearances and torture. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) attributed 65 percent of civilian casualties during the first nine months of the year (1,743 deaths and 3,500 injured) to antigovernment actors. The Taliban and ISIS-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) used children as suicide bombers, soldiers, and weapons carriers. Other antigovernment elements threatened, robbed, kidnapped, and attacked government workers, foreigners, medical and nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers, and other civilians.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary continued to be underfunded, understaffed, inadequately trained, largely ineffective, and subject to threats, bias, political influence, and pervasive corruption.
Judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were often intimidated or corrupt. In May, UNAMA reported that the Anticorruption Justice Center, established in 2016 to combat corruption, has thus far indicted 142 cases, including charges of misuse of authority, embezzlement, bribery, forgery of documents, and money laundering. Bribery and pressure from public officials, tribal leaders, families of accused persons, and individuals associated with the insurgency impaired judicial impartiality. Most courts administered justice unevenly, employing a mixture of codified law, sharia, and local custom. Traditional justice mechanisms remained the main recourse for many, especially in rural areas. Corruption was common within the judiciary, and criminals often paid bribes to obtain their release or a sentence reduction (see section 4).
There was a widespread shortage of judges, primarily in insecure areas, leading to the adjudication of many cases through informal, traditional mediation. A shortage of women judges, particularly outside of Kabul, limited access to justice for women. Many women cannot and do not use the formal justice system because cultural norms preclude their engagement with male officials. Only 234 of 2162, or 12 percent, of judges are women. The formal justice system was stronger in urban centers, closer to the central government, and weaker in rural areas. Courts and police forces continued to operate at less than full strength nationwide. The judicial system continued to lack the capacity to absorb and implement the large volume of new and amended legislation. A lack of qualified judicial personnel hindered the courts. Some municipal and provincial authorities, including judges, had minimal training and often based their judgments on their personal understanding of sharia without appropriate reference to statutory law, tribal codes of honor, or local custom. The number of judges who graduated from law school continued to increase. Access to legal codes and statutes increased, but their limited availability continued to hinder some judges and prosecutors. UNAMA found during an April to July survey that judges did not have sufficient copies of the new Penal Code.
During the year an investigatory committee, formed by President Ghani in 2016, closed its inquiry into the Farkhunda case, which involved the 2015 death of a woman killed by a mob. The committee report described deficiencies in responses by the police, prosecutors, and the courts. The investigation was closed during the year without further action.
In major cities courts continued to decide criminal cases as mandated by law. Authorities frequently resolved civil cases using the informal system, the government mediation mechanism through the Ministry of Justice Huquq office, or, in some cases, through negotiations between the parties facilitated by judicial personnel or private lawyers. Because the formal legal system often was not present in rural areas, local elders and shuras (consultative gatherings, usually of men selected by the community) were the primary means of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes. They also imposed punishments without regard to the formal legal system. UNAMA and NGOs reported several cases where perpetrators of violence against women crimes that included domestic abuse reoffended after their claims were resolved by mediation. For example, UNAMA cited a case where a Taliban court’s mediation sent a victim of spousal abuse back to her home, only for her husband to cut off her nose afterwards.
In some areas the Taliban enforced a parallel judicial system based on a strict interpretation of sharia. Punishments included execution and mutilation. According to media reporting, in February a Taliban court in Obe District, Herat Province, cut off a man’s hand and leg as a sentence for robbery.
The constitution provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary rarely enforced this provision. The administration and implementation of justice varied in different areas of the country. The government formally uses an inquisitorial legal system. By law all citizens are entitled to a presumption of innocence, and those accused have the right to be present at trial and to appeal, although the judiciary did not always respect these rights. Some provinces held public trials, but this was not the norm. The law requires judges to provide five days’ notice prior to a hearing, but this requirement was not always followed.
Three-judge panels decide criminal trials, and there is no right to a jury trial under the constitution. Prosecutors rarely informed defendants promptly or in detail of the charges brought against them. Indigent defendants have the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense when resources allow. The judiciary applied this right inconsistently, in large part due to a severe shortage of defense lawyers. Citizens were often unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys are entitled to examine physical evidence and documents related to a case before trial, although observers noted court documents often were not available for review before cases went to trial, despite defense lawyers’ requests.
Criminal defense attorneys reported the judiciary’s increased respect and tolerance for the role of defense lawyers in criminal trials, but defendants’ attorneys continued to experience abuse and threats from prosecutors and other law enforcement officials.
The criminal procedure code establishes time limits for the completion of each stage of a criminal case, from investigation through final appeal, when the accused is in custody. The code also permits temporary release of the accused on bail, but this was rarely honored. An addendum to the code provides for extended custodial limits in cases involving crimes committed against the internal and external security of the country. Courts at the Justice Center in Parwan regularly elected to utilize the extended time periods. If the judiciary does not meet the deadlines, the law requires the accused be released from custody. Often courts did not meet these deadlines, but detainees nevertheless remained in custody.
In cases where no clearly defined legal statute applied, or where judges, prosecutors, or elders were unaware of the statutory law, judges and informal shuras enforced customary law. This practice often resulted in outcomes that discriminated against women.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports the government held political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Corruption and limited capacity restricted citizen access to justice for constitutional and human rights violations. Citizens submit complaints of human rights violations to the AIHRC, which reviews and submits credible complaints to the Attorney General’s Office for further investigation and prosecution.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the opportunity to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Citizens exercised this ability in the 2014 presidential and provincial elections and the 2010 and 2018 parliamentary elections. Violence from the Taliban and other antigovernment groups and widespread allegations of fraud and corruption interfered with, but did not derail, the 2014 presidential elections and 2018 parliamentary elections. The constitution mandates parliamentary elections every five years, but the government’s inability to agree on needed electoral reforms delayed the 2015 elections until 2018. Members of parliament remained in office past the June 2015 expiration of their five-year terms by virtue of a presidential decree.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: National parliamentary elections were held on October 20 and 21 in all but two provinces. Approximately four million out of 8.8 million registered voters cast ballots. Voting was postponed by one week in Kandahar due to an October 18 attack that killed provincial Chief of Police Abdul Raziq. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) had not set a date for parliamentary elections in Ghazni Province at year’s end due to an earlier political dispute and protests that prevented the voter registration process in that province. Although there was high voter turnout, the election was marred by irregularities, including fraudulent voter registration, voter intimidation, vote rigging, such as interference by IEC staff and police, and in some cases, polling stations forced to close due to pressure from local leaders. The Interior Ministry reported 44 people had been charged with “illegal interference in the election and fraud.”
The United Nations reported that groups, primarily the Taliban, used threats, intimidation, and harassment to quell voting. Fifty-six individuals were reportedly killed and 379 injured due to election-related violence, including one bombing in Kabul that killed 18. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that attacks killed at least 10 parliamentary candidates prior to the election, but the motivation for and perpetrators of those attacks was not clear.
A number of technical issues also hindered the voting process, including errors on voter lists, missing voter lists, missing election supplies, and a shortage of poll workers. The last-minute introduction of biometric voter verification devices in the election preparation process caused confusion and contributed to delayed polling and long lines. On December 6, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) invalidated the votes cast in Kabul Province due to complaints of fraud, mismanagement and other voting irregularities and called for a new vote; however, days later the ECC reversed its decision following a series of meetings with the government and the IEC and an agreement from the IEC to share more information from the recount of ballots from Kabul.
The IEC released preliminary parliamentary results for all provinces but Ghazni, Kabul, Nangargar, Baghlan, and Paktia at year’s end.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The Political Party Law of 2003 granted parties the right to exist as formal institutions for the first time in the country’s history. Under this law any citizen 25 years or older may establish a political party. The law requires parties to have at least 10,000 members from the country’s 34 provinces to register with the Ministry of Justice, conduct official party business, and introduce candidates in elections. Only citizens who are 18 years or older and have the right to vote can join a political party. Certain members of the government, judiciary, military, and government-affiliated commissions are prohibited from political party membership during their tenure in office.
There were large areas of the country where political parties could not operate due to insurgencies and instability. Political parties played a greater role in the 2014 presidential elections than in previous elections, and the organization, networks, and public support of the parties that supported Abdullah and Ghani contributed to their success as presidential candidates.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. The constitution specifies a minimum number of seats for women and minorities in the two houses of parliament. For the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the National Assembly), the constitution mandates that at least two women shall be elected from each province (for a total of 68). In the 2010 parliamentary elections, more women won seats than the minimum outlined in the constitution. The winners of the 2018 parliamentary election have not yet been announced. The constitution also mandates one-half of presidential appointees must be women. It also sets aside 10 seats in the Wolesi Jirga for members of the Kuchi minority (nomads). In the Meshrano Jirga (upper house of the National Assembly), the president’s appointees must include two Kuchis and two members with physical disabilities. In practice, one seat in the Meshrano Jirga is reserved for the appointment of a Sikh or Hindu representative, although this is not mandated by the constitution.
Traditional societal practices continue to limit women’s participation in politics and activities outside the home and community, including the need to have a male escort or permission to work. These factors, in addition to an education and experience gap, likely contributed to the central government’s male-dominated composition. The 2016 electoral law mandates that 25 percent of all provincial, district, and village council seats “shall be allocated to female candidates.” Neither district nor village councils had been established by year’s end.
Women active in government and politics continued to face threats and violence and were targets of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. No laws prevent minorities from participating in political life, although different ethnic groups complained of unequal access to local government jobs in provinces where they were in the minority. Individuals from the majority Pashtun ethnic group have more seats than any other ethnic group in both houses of parliament, but they do not have more than 50 percent of the seats. There was no evidence specific societal groups have been excluded. In past elections male family members could vote on behalf of the women in their families; however, the 2016 Electoral Law prohibited this practice, and the 2018 parliamentary election was the first where proxy voting for women was illegal.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Reports indicated corruption was endemic throughout society, and flows of money from the military, international donors, and the drug trade continued to exacerbate the problem.
The Construction Sector Transparency Initiative Afghanistan reported that during the last 15 years, many government infrastructure projects did not go through proper legal mechanisms but instead were based on favoritism. The organization estimated total embezzlement in the billions of dollars.
According to prisoners and local NGOs, corruption was widespread across the justice system, particularly in connection with the prosecution of criminal cases and in arranging release from prison. For example, there were multiple reports that judges would not release prisoners who had served their sentences without payment from family members. There were also reports that officials received unauthorized payments in exchange for reducing prison sentences, halting investigations, or dismissing charges outright.
National-level survey data offered a mixed picture of corruption in the justice sector. The World Justice Project’s 2017 Rule of Lawsurvey found moderate improvements in perceptions of government accountability. Nonetheless, experts polled for the report cited corrupt prosecutors as the biggest problem in criminal investigative services and corruption as the largest problem in criminal courts. Respondents to the poll increasingly believed that high-ranking government officials would be investigated for embezzlement, but they also named judges, magistrates, parliamentarians, and local government officials as most likely to be involved in corrupt practices. Respondents also reported widespread bribe taking by government officials and agencies, police, and hospitals.
During the year there were reports of “land grabbing” by both private and public actors. Most commonly, businesses illegally obtained property deeds from corrupt officials and sold the deeds to unsuspecting prospective homeowners who were later prosecuted. Other reports indicated government officials confiscated land without compensation with the intent to exchange it for contracts or political favors. There were reports provincial governments illegally confiscated land without due process or compensation in order to build public facilities.
Corruption: In September the president sent a legislative decree to Parliament to approve a new Anticorruption Law that established an independent Anticorruption Commission to oversee efforts to prevent and mitigate corruption. The new law codifies the June 2016 presidential decree establishing an independent Anticorruption Justice Center (ACJC) with responsibility for prosecuting high-level corruption cases. During the year case progress through the ACJC appeared to stall, despite dramatic increases in the number of prosecutors assigned to the ACJC. ACJC prosecutors receive salary top offs and housing. Nearly half of all ACJC prosecutors and MCTF officers in the anticorruption unit failed polygraph examinations for corruption. In addition, as of September 20, the MCTF had a backlog of more than 120 warrants and notices to appear at the ACJC.
According to various reports, many government positions, up to district or provincial governorships, could be suborned. Governors with reported involvement in corruption, the drug trade, or records of human rights violations reportedly continued to receive executive appointments and served with relative impunity. For example, President Ghani appointed Zia ul-Haq Amarkhel, who was disqualified by the Electoral Complaints Commission for corruption, as special presidential advisor for public and political affairs. Ghani also appointed governor of Herat Mohammad Yusuf Nuristani to the Senate, although he was the target of outstanding ACJC arrest warrants. ACJC prosecutors investigated Nuristani for unlawful land transfers and misuse of authority and obtained the arrest warrants after he failed to appear on summons and ignored subpoenas. Nuristani surrendered himself to authorities in November.
There were allegations of widespread corruption, and abuse of power by officers at the Ministry of Interior. Provincial police reportedly extorted civilians at checkpoints and received kickbacks from the drug trade. Police reportedly demanded bribes from civilians to gain release from prison or avoid arrest. Nearly half of MCTF officers in the anticorruption unit failed corruption polygraph examinations. Senior Ministry of Interior officials also refused to sign off on the execution of arrest warrants. More than 120 unexecuted ACJC arrest warrants were pending as of September. In one case Ministry of Interior officers served as the protective detail of ACJC warrant target Major General Zamari Paikan, and drove him in a Ministry of Interior armored vehicle. The Ministry of Defense also provided protection to Paikan. The ACJC convicted General Paikan in absentia for corruption in December 2017 and sentenced him to 8.5 years imprisonment, but the Ministry of Interior had not arrested him.
Financial Disclosure: The Law on Declaration and Registration of Assets of State Officials and Employees was issued by legislative decree of October 2017. The law established the Administration on Registration and Assets of Government Officials and Employees (Administration) under the Administrative Office of the President. All government officials, employees, and elected officials are required to declare their assets. The Administration was responsible for collecting, verifying, and publishing information from senior government officials. The High Office of Oversight was dissolved in March 2018. Under the law all government officials and employees must submit financial disclosures on all sources and levels of personal income for themselves and their immediate family, annually and when they assume or leave office. Individuals who do not submit forms or are late in submission are subject to suspension of employment, salary, and travel bans. Travel bans were implemented for individuals who did not submit their forms.
During the year the Administration successfully registered assets of nearly 15,000 government employees, a significant increase over past years. Verification of assets continued to be slow and problematic for the Administration due to lack of organized systems in some government offices. Public outreach by the Administration allowed civil society and private citizen the opportunity to comment on individual declarations. As of September only two members of parliament had declared their assets.