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
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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.”


Germany: Violent Paris riots were ‘terrifying’

French President Emmanuel Macron holds a meeting in Paris on Monday. (AP)
Updated 5 min 2 sec ago
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Germany: Violent Paris riots were ‘terrifying’

  • Minister promises a review of instructions given to police officers
  • Macron has vowed “strong” measures to quell the violence

PARIS: A German government spokesman said on Monday that the street violence that rocked central Paris during weekend “yellow vest” protests was “terrifying.”

“The outbreak of violence and destructive rage in Paris this past weekend was terrifying,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert.

“It has nothing to do with peaceful, democratic protests and the German government supports the French government in its efforts to guarantee public order.”

The famous Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris was hit by an arson and looting rampage by black-clad anarchists during a “yellow vest” protest on Saturday.

Police appeared overwhelmed as demonstrators ran amok on the avenue, with retailers there saying some 80 shops and businesses were vandalized.

Police used tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon to repel protesters who gathered at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe war memorial, which had already been sacked on Dec. 1.

It was the 18th consecutive weekend of demonstrations which began in mid-November.

Business owners on the iconic Champs-Elysees avenue were fuming on Monday as President Emmanuel Macron met with Interior Minister Christophe Castaner and Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet to weigh their response to an 18th consecutive Saturday of “yellow vest” demonstrations.

The government’s failure to keep the protests from spiralling out of control has put a harsh spotlight on its law enforcement strategy.

“You have to take responsibility and engage, with the possibility that people will get hurt,” said Frederic Lagache of the Alliance police union.

For decades French authorities have usually preferred the opposite, putting down mass protests with tear gas and rubber bullets but avoiding physical clashes against large groups.

“They would rather see a building damaged, with insurance companies footing the bill, than risk direct contact between police and demonstrators that might cause serious injuries or death,” said Olivier Cahn at France’s CESDIP law enforcement research institute.

Macron has vowed “strong” measures to quell the violence, and has already pledged an anti-hooligan law that would let authorities pre-emptively detain protesters with a known history of violence.

“The idea seems to be, if the violence persists, you have to be more repressive,” Cahn said. “That doesn’t do anything except make the protesters even more determined,” he said.

Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez admitted on RTL radio that police “were less aggressive, less reactive than usual” over the weekend, promising a review of the instructions given to officers and their deployment.

But critics say that after more than three months of weekly protests, the government needs more than pledges of determined action, and should drastically rethink its approach for stamping out the rioting.

“There are techniques and strategies for separating violent demonstrators from the others,” Cahn said.

“Germany has strategies for de-escalating the tensions and separating protesters that are quite effective,” he said.

However French authorities have already been accused of a heavy-handed response to the yellow vest movement.

Rights groups have tried to have the controversial “defensive ball launchers” (LBD) banned, noting that France is one of only a handful of Western countries to use them.

But the government says they allow police to avoid potentially more risky contact with protesters hurling paving stones and wielding hammers and other makeshift weapons.

Yet pressure is increasing to find a way of quelling the violence, especially when authorities are well aware that a hard core of protesters are determined to cause havoc again next Saturday.

“Every Sunday large cities across France wake up to the same old story: Smoldering barricades and a strident declaration from Christophe Castaner,” leftwing daily Liberation wrote on Monday.