On Tuesday, 10/27, Habib Rahiab joined us as the first outside guest in YAF’s fall speaker series. Mr. Rahiab is a human rights activist who was forced to flee Afghanistan because of his work documenting human rights abuses and advocating that Afghan warlords implicated in past war crimes be brought to justice. He led Human Rights Watch projects to interview victims and prepare reports drawing attention to these issues (his report “Killing You Is a Very Easy Thing For Us To Do” is here), and he now works with the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center in New Haven.
Mr, Rahiab spoke about his personal struggles growing up in Afghanistan, witnessing the atrocities committed by the Communist regime, the mujahideen and the Taliban, and how these experiences influenced him to become a human rights activist.
After the fall of the Taliban, some of his early work involved gathering testimony from Afghan and Pakistani ex-detainees from Guantanamo, Bagram and black-site prisons. He described the terrible psychological state of these men, and his disbelief upon first hearing stories of sexual abuse.
Peace Before Justice?
Mr. Rahiab described how the international coalition’s choice to have a “light footprint” in Afghanistan influenced the developments of the last eight years. The overall presence was small, compared to post-conflict situations such as Bosnia and East Timor, and responsibilities were divided among many nations. The decision was made to focus on peace rather than justice, overlooking past atrocities in the interests of security and a quick withdrawal.
Along with the failure to build state institutions came the failure to create economic development. Mr Rahiab recounted how, when expectations were high, Iranians joked that they would have to migrate to Afghanistan for jobs, instead of the other way around. However, people now find it easier to make a living by joining the Taliban. The insurgency can promise money in this life, and heaven in the next, while the government can promise neither.
On Security Forces:
Asked whether he was concerned about abuses in the Afghan security forces, he said that, while corruption and incapacity are widespread, there is respect for the official forces, and that they do not pose the human rights issues that private militias do.
The use of private security by international groups is also a serious problem. It undermines structures of accountability and creates inequality in protection. It is fundamentally unjust when private contractors turn a blind eye to robberies taking place around them because only foreigners can pay to guard their property.
On the Current Decisions to Be Made:
Mr. Rabiab supports holding the run-off election. The election is important not for Karzai’s legitimacy, but the legitimacy of the democratic project. Something must be done to restore faith in elections as a system after the fraudulent first round of voting.
His suggestion for today is to focus the most money on the provinces that are stable enough for it to do some good. If Kabul were a model of order and prosperity, it would demonstrate an incentive to stop fighting the government. As it is, people in the north and center of the country feel like they should set off bombs in order to get attention and development.
On the Shia Family Law
The question period ended with a discussion of the Shia family law, which came under fire last year for legalizing marital rape. According to Mr. Rabiab, the law must be seen in the context of the political maneuvering surrounding the election. It was drafted by the most conservative clerics, and is not representative of the actual lived rights of Shia women. However, it enjoys broad support because for the first time the law establishes Shia as an official religion. Hazara generally defend the government because they have the most to gain from the new system.