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Human rights: A key to security in Afghanistan

By By Lt. j.g. Charity Edgar, Resolute Support Headquarters

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JALALABAD, Afghanistan (August 17, 2015)  U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mitchell Chitwood knows that a major, but often overlooked, key to success in the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan is adherence to human rights.

During a Train, Advise, Assist Command-East shura at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad, the director of Resolute Support Essential Function Three stressed the importance of observing human rights on the battlefield.

“By training your soldiers and police to respect rule of law, you are training them to respect rights that are inherent to every single person,” said Chitwood to a group of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces human rights officers and activists from throughout Nangarhar province.

Eastern Afghanistan, particularly Nangarhar province, is one of the most violent areas of Afghanistan, and as a result, is more susceptible to human rights violations than other parts of the country.

U.S. Army Capt. Michael Levin, Essential Function Three Police Advisory Team lead, organized the shura in Jalalabad because he wanted to stress how seriously the United States and Resolute Support take the elimination of gross violations of human rights.

“It is crucial that the police operating in Train, Advise, Assist Command-East understand the importance of adhering to the rule of law,” said Levin, a Scarsdale, New York native deployed out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. “The human rights officers from the various police pillars, along with the human rights activists who attended the shura, can share this important message with their people who operate on the front lines every day."

U.S. funding in Afghanistan is contingent upon compliance with American laws and regulations regarding any gross violations of human rights. Essential Function Three, which also falls under Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, is responsible for advising Afghan government officials on prevention of gross violations of human rights. Additionally, they investigate and hold accountable Afghan National Defense and Security Forces who may commit offenses despite all prevention efforts.

“If your police and soldiers are not disciplined and do not observe human rights, the international community will notice, and they will want to see what Afghanistan did to investigate these crimes,” said Chitwood. “They’ll ask what sort of training was held, and if people were held accountable.”

Addressing several Afghan leaders of the police and prosecution office, Chitwood said, “As strategic leaders, it is our job to identify risks to our mission and to mitigate those risks. By doing—and training—to do the right thing, you are eliminating this risk, and increasing the support that the international community provides.”

Holding Afghanistan accountable for observing human rights is vital in a country that is currently ranked the second-worst nation for rule of law by the U.S.-based World Justice Project. That title does not discourage Chitwood, a Judge Advocate General who has served in the military for 30 years.

Chitwood, who calls Columbia, Maryland home, recognizes rule of law can be difficult in a war-torn country but has faith in Afghanistan’s future.

“I have not heard of an instance where a group of Afghan senior leaders came together with advisers to discuss human rights in one place before,” said Chitwood. “This is exactly the kind of relationship that must be fostered to ensure human rights are observed.”

The shura was the first of its kind, and the participants expressed a commitment to continue improving human rights in not only the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, but throughout the entire country.

Levin agreed the shura was a success.

“The best part of the event was watching the Afghans take charge and discuss their ideas. This is their country, and their effort will ultimately determine their fate,” he said. “Seeing the Afghans take responsibility for their future was a major step for the rule of law and for the people of Afghanistan.”

Lt. Col. Mohammad Muskin, an Afghan National Civil Order Police human rights officer, understands first-hand the implications of torture. He was subjected to it by the Taliban and has committed himself and those who serve under him to abide by the rule of law. He says it is the right thing to do.

“Human rights are important for all of us because we have to respect the dignity of every person in accordance to our religion of Islam,” said Muskin.

Muskin described a recent arrest by his unit, where police processed the perpetrator, read him his rights and sent him to the prosecutor—ensuring his rights were upheld throughout the entire process. This deliberate observance of human rights is an important accomplishment in a country that has struggled with, but continues to improve, rule of law. Due process is one of the vital steps that the Essential Function Three staff emphasizes through its train, advise and assist efforts within the Ministries of Interior and Defense.

“We should not discriminate according to someone’s race or religion. We should not pray for one person, but then not another,” stressed Muskin. “We should respect everyone’s rights according to our religion and to our law.”