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The Afghan army and especially the police are still not ready to properly safeguard civilians, international humanitarian organization Oxfam warned today, as 20,000 police have yet to receive training and the force routinely does not investigate civilian deaths at its own hands. Oxfam urged Afghanistan’s international allies to tackle police abuses and prioritise the reform of the police force in handover plans for Afghanistan.
As western military intervention in Afghanistan approaches its tenth year, Oxfam said that despite some improvements in police training, which has increased from six to eight weeks and now has a human rights component, there are continued reports of members of Afghan police abusing civilians with impunity.
Oxfam said in the absence of training on the use of lethal force, police readily resort to firing into crowds with live ammunition. At least 25 civilians were killed and 159 were injured in the first six months of this year in crowd control incidents. Oxfam also said that there were continued reports of the sexual abuse and exploitation of young boys by the police and that abuse of prisoners in detention facilities had led to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to suspend transfer of detainees to Afghan custody.
The organization said allegations of misconduct by the police were inadequately investigated and there was a lack of understanding about what accountability to civilians actually means. None of the crowd control incidents, despite having resulted in substantial civilians casualties at the hands of the police, have been investigated. For example, some 10 civilians were killed in a crowd control incident in Kandahar in April, but the Afghan Ministry of Interior said that was not being investigated as no one had filed a complaint. Oxfam called on Afghanistan's international allies to ensure that all such incidents and allegations against the police were investigated thoroughly, transparently and without political interference.
Oxfam also called on the international community to ensure that the estimated 20,000 police who are yet to receive any training are urgently trained; and to consider longer term training for police officers. Currently there is no further training for police once they have completed the eight-week course, whereas new UK police recruits receive refresher training over a two-year period.
Asuntha Charles, Country Director of Oxfam in Afghanistan said: “Many Afghans regard the police as a force to be feared – not a force to trust. But trained security forces that are accountable to their own people are vital for establishing lasting security in Afghanistan. For most of this decade, the international community has focused on getting boots on the ground, rather than the quality of the recruits. Many Afghans believe – justifiably so – that Afghan soldiers and police are able to carry out abuse with impunity. The international community has to change this before it’s too late and make sure that Afghans have a police force that they can trust to protect them.”
Oxfam said given the endemic levels of violence against women in Afghanistan, the international community needed to encourage the Afghan government to make greater efforts to recruit women into the police force. Almost 90 per cent of Afghan women have experienced at least one form of physical, sexual or psychological violence at some point in their lives. But there are just 1,000 women in the security forces - less than half a per cent of the total. This is particularly problematic because many women will only report crimes to other women.
Oxfam expressed concern about the Afghan Local Police (ALP) initiative, which involves supporting local militia groups to fight the insurgency. It called for the US to immediately suspend any further funding or Afghan Local Police scheme stating that allegations of misconduct by ALP members, including robberies, assaults and even murder, continued to be reported. The shuras - or local councils of elders - are meant to keep the ALP in line and hear complaints, but it is not clear that they always have the power or legitimacy to do so.
Oxfam also found that the Afghan army is ill-equipped to properly respond to civilian casualties that occur when civilians get caught in the crossfire in combat operations. Afghan forces have little investigatory capacities, no civilian casualty data tracking system and no systems in place to pay compensation to make amends for harm they have inadvertently caused. At the moment, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is responsible for tracking and investigating civilian casualties and providing compensation, but this is not sustainable and needs to addressed urgently in handover plans as these systems take time to develop.
Note: Oxfam has produced an update briefing on the accountability of the Afghan police and army – four months after the No Time to Lose report on the accountability of the Afghan army and police. Click here to download the full briefing note.