This past week, the Conservative led Parliament in Canada voted to extend Canada’s military commitment in Afghanistan until the end of President Hamid Karzai’s term in office. In so doing, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the following:
Together, diplomats, workers and soldiers from 35 countries are working with the government of Afghanistan to rebuild that country. We are providing knowledge, financial assistance, security; security that allows the Afghan people to build a justice system, develop and grow their economy, construct schools, hospitals and irrigation systems, and yes, ensure that the rights of the Afghan people are protected.
I am thinking of the right of women to be treated like human beings, of the right to see, read and say whatever one wants, of the right to choose one’s leaders through the electoral process.
You can read the full text of the debate at Hansard.
In trying to make sense of Harper’s reasons for wanting to extend our commitment, the most compelling I could find were the above: that since the invasion of Afghanistan and in the ouster of the Taliban in 2002, human rights have improved.
While I have no doubt that this is the case, the Taliban being one of the worst regimes ever to grace the family of nations, the question of degree is a very important one. We are moving to become a major player in that country, backing Karzai’s government and otherwise participating in the establishment of democratic institutions. To me this is maybe the most compelling reason for being in Afghanistan, even as I stand firmly opposed to our combat military role.
But today I discovered that in fact this core purpose, the establishment of democratic institutions and guarantee of freedoms, the only thing that anyone claims to have been successful, has been a bit of a sham. According to a US Government Commission, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Afghanistan is on a watch list for exactly the kinds of reforms Harper was trumpeting as successes.
The USCIRF is a multi-faith committee that reviews religious freedom around the world using international standards. In their latest annual report, issued May 3, 2006 (download .pdf here; Afghanistan report starts on page 199) you can read about why Afghanistan is on their watch list. Among the reasons included are the following:
- The Afghanistan constitution, the one created by Karzai and the Americans and adopted in 2004 contains a clause known as the “repugnancy clause” which states that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.”
- There is no constitutional guarantee for freedom of religion, meaning no protection of individual rights or minority rights to practice freely.
- Journalists such as Ali Mohaqiq Hasab have been jailed and threatened with the death penalty for publishing opposition to punishments such as amputation and stoning, which are legitimate sentences in the Afghanistan legal system.
- In a public statement to the Commission by Afghanistan Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari he stated that he completely accepts the UN Declaration on Human Rights except for three clauses – the ones that protect freedom of speech, freedom of religion and equal rights for men and women. The Chief Justice himself protested the presence of women singers on the radio last year.
- TV and radio stations that have broadcast material considered arbitrarily contrary to Islam or Afghan culture have lost their licenses.
The report has been accepted by the US government.
To me, these reasons fly directly in the face of Harper’s most compelling argument. Canada may be fighting the remnants of the Taliban, whose views on these matters are more repugnant, but it seems that we are fighting at the behest of a President and government that, in law, has entrenched virulently anti-democratic principles that do nothing for the rights of women, journalists or religious minorities. The fact that we are actively participating in the creation of this justice system is appalling.
For formality’s sake, I am writing to Harper and my MP to see what the government’s plan is and will post any response I receive here.
[tags]Afghanistan, religous+freedom, Canada, Stephen+Harper[/tags]