Human Rights Watch demands action against new Afghan defense minister

Assadullah Khalid, Afghan defense minister, speaking to Brig. Gen. Guy Laroche of Canada in Kandahar in 2008. (AP)
Updated 12 January 2019

Human Rights Watch demands action against new Afghan defense minister

  • Campaigners call for prosecution of Assadullah Khalid for human rights abuses and war crimes

KABUL: Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Saturday for the prosecution of new Afghan defense minister Assadullah Khalid over what it termed grave rights abuses and war crimes.

In a statement, the group said Khalid’s appointment by President Ashraf Ghani last month “should have rung alarm bells not only in Kabul, but in the capitals of Afghanistan’s major donors.”

“Credible evidence of serious human rights abuses and war crimes linked to Khalid have followed him throughout his government career,” HRW said. “Reports first came to light during Khalid’s tenure as governor of Kandahar – a time when thousands of Canadian troops were based in the province.”

Khalid’s office made no immediate comment to the HRW statement. 

Officials with HRW had expressed concern immediately after Khalid’s appointment but Saturday’s statement detailed the alleged abuses.

Khalid, a former spy chief, has also served as governor for Ghazni province and was badly wounded by a Taliban suicide bomber in 2012. He is known to oppose the Taliban and is considered a virulently anti-Pakistan figure. 

He was picked by President Ghani as defense minister last month following a rise in deadly attacks by the Taliban against Afghan troops and after insurgents refused direct talks with the Kabul government to end the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan. 

“An official internal Canadian document described the allegations of human rights abuses attributable to Khalid as numerous and consistent,” the statement said. 

Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin had testified before a Canadian parliamentary commission in 2009 that Khalid perpetrated enforced disappearances and held people in private prisons. 

“The testimony included evidence of Khalid’s personal involvement in the torture of detainees. Chris Alexander, a senior Canadian official working with the United Nations in Afghanistan at the time, alleged that Khalid ordered the killing of five UN workers in a roadside bombing in Kandahar in April 2007.”

The statement further noted that there was also strong evidence directly implicating Khalid in acts of sexual violence against women and girls when he was governor of Ghazni and Kandahar. Khalid allegedly threatened his victims, saying “they would be killed and their families destroyed if they told anyone what had happened.” 

“Ghani’s opportunistic and callous move in appointing Khalid appears aimed to score short-term gains in the upcoming presidential election,” HRW said. 

Ghani’s office did not answer repeated calls seeking comment. 

HRW said the Afghan government had proved unwilling to criminally investigate Khalid, but Afghanistan’s donors could act.

“The US and Canada have authority under their respective Magnitsky laws to impose sanctions on any foreign official against whom there is credible evidence of responsibility for serious human rights abuses,” the statement said. 

“These sanctions include freezing their assets and banning them from entry. The European Union and other donors should impose similar sanctions to send a clear message that returning a known human rights abuser to a position of authority is simply unacceptable.”


Memorial service held for Floyd, officers in court

Updated 34 min 12 sec ago

Memorial service held for Floyd, officers in court

  • Al Sharpton: The width of the support and participation in the protests is something unlike we’ve ever seen before
  • Three of the four Minneapolis police officers who arrested Floyd on May 25 for allegedly passing a counterfeit bill made their first court appearance

MINNEAPOLIS: US civil rights activist Al Sharpton led a memorial service, in Minneapolis, for George Floyd, the African-American man whose harrowing videotaped death while being arrested has unleashed sweeping nationwide protests for racial justice.
“The width of the support and participation in the protests is something unlike we’ve ever seen before,” Sharpton said on MSNBC ahead of the 1:00 p.m. Central Time (1800 GMT) service. “This is the time that we can make real change.”
Three of the four Minneapolis police officers who arrested Floyd on May 25 for allegedly passing a counterfeit bill were to make their first court appearance, meanwhile, to face charges of aiding and abetting his murder.
The fourth policeman, white officer Derek Chauvin, who was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he said “I can’t breathe,” has been charged with second-degree murder and appeared before a judge last week.
Democratic Congressman John Lewis, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr to fight segregation, echoed Sharpton’s hope that Floyd’s death and the protests could pave the way for “greater change.”
“This feels and looks so different,” the 80-year-old civil rights icon told “CBS This Morning.” “It is so much more massive and all inclusive.”
Lewis, who was brutally beaten on several occasions during the 1960s civil rights protests, condemned President Donald Trump’s threat to use military force against demonstrators.
“I think it would be a serious mistake on the part of President Trump to use the military to stop orderly, peaceful, nonviolent protests,” Lewis said. “You cannot stop, cannot stop the call of history.”
While condemning Floyd’s death, Trump has adopted a tough stance toward the protesters, saying they include many “bad people” and calling on governors to “dominate the streets.”
Trump has raised the possibility of invoking the Insurrection Act to deploy active duty troops to quell the protests but his own defense secretary, Mark Esper, said Wednesday that should only be a “last resort.”
And Esper’s predecessor as Pentagon chief, former general James Mattis, broke his silence since resigning from the administration to deliver a biting assessment of the president.
Mattis called Trump “the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try.”
“Instead, he tries to divide us,” the decorated Marine Corps general said.
Trump snapped back on Twitter, calling Mattis “the world’s most overrated General.”

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Another Democratic congressman, Adam Schiff, the chief prosecutor at Trump’s impeachment by the House of Representatives earlier this year, drew a parallel between the US protests and Thursday’s 31st anniversary of the Chinese crackdown on students in Tiananmen Square.
“While we pause to remember the innocent lives lost and demand that the Chinese government reckon with its state-sanctioned violence, we must acknowledge that America’s moral authority to denounce these crimes relies upon our setting an example here at home,” Schiff said.
“But when our police attack peaceful protesters fighting for a more just society with tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash bang grenades, we not only violate American values, but we also we lose our credibility when advocating for human rights and democratic freedoms abroad,” he said.
New barriers were being erected outside the White House on Thursday as the protests for racial justice and police reform entered a 10th day.
Police used batons and chemical agents to clear protesters from Lafayette Park in front of the White House on Monday and have since expanded the perimeter around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Floyd’s death has reignited long-felt anger over police killings of African-Americans and unleashed a nationwide wave of civil unrest unlike any seen in the US since King’s 1968 assassination.
The arrest of all four officers involved in Floyd’s death has been a demand of the tens of thousands of protesters who have marched in the streets of dozens of US cities, often defying curfews.
Floyd’s family, in a statement thanking protesters, called the arrests and new charges a “bittersweet moment” — and a “significant step forward on the road to justice.”
They urged Americans to continue to “raise their voices for change in peaceful ways.”
Protesters staged large in cities from New York to Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Some of the protests were marred by rioting and looting in the early days but they have been mostly peaceful since then.
Los Angeles and Washington delayed the start of their curfews by several hours Wednesday after looting and violence had subsided the previous night, while Seattle scrapped its curfew with immediate effect.
Several arrests were made in New York after groups of protesters continued to march in Manhattan and Brooklyn after the city’s 8:00 p.m. curfew had passed.
A large group also protested at the US Capitol in Washington beyond curfew.
Thousands took to the streets in Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles, where Mayor Eric Garcetti vowed to redirect $250 million toward black community health and education from budgets including the police department.