The hidden half of domestic violence
How to have eternal life
Afghan Men Report # 2
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Men's Health America Special Report
THE UN NEGLECT OF AFGHAN MEN'S HUMAN RIGHTS
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the international
document that affirms essential human rights. Among these rights are:
. "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person"
. "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment"
. "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile."
Finally, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights prohibits any form
of discrimination, including sex discrimination:
. "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this
Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex,
language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social
origin, property, birth or other status." (Article 2)
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration, which affirms the right to
life, can be considered the must fundamental of all human rights.
Referring to the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Mary Robinson, the UN
High Commissioner for Human Rights, put it this way: "The thousands of
civilians who died in this atrocity lost the most precious of rights,
the right to life."
In recent years, there has been growing concern about women's rights.
In Afghanistan, especially in areas controlled by the Taliban, women
have been deprived of the fundamental rights of education, employment,
and freedom of movement. In recent years, human rights organizations
have laudably worked to overcome the deprivation of women's rights in
But what about the rights of men?
Over the past 10 years, men in Afghanistan have been subjected to
public beatings, requirements for forced labor, involuntary
conscription, detention, torture, and widespread killings. These actions
are in clear violation of Articles 3, 5, and 9 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.
In addition, those men who have not actually endured these abuses have
lived in constant fear of victimization. These human rights violations
have been extensively documented (see Men's Health America, "The
Selective Brutalization of Men in Afghanistan,"
Given the egregious nature of these abuses, it is useful to examine
the response of the three key United Nations agencies to the situation:
the Security Council, the World Health Organization, and the UN High
Commissioner on Refugees:
1. Security Council
The UN Security Council is the most powerful body in the United
Nations system. At its April 7, 2000 meeting, the President of the
Security Council issued the following condemnation of the mistreatment
of women in Afghanistan:
"The Security Council condemns the continuing grave violations of the
human rights of women and girls, including all forms of discrimination
against them, in all areas of Afghanistan, particularly in areas under
the control of the Taliban. It remains deeply concerned about continued
restrictions on their access to health care, to education and to
employment outside the home, and about restrictions on their freedom of
movement and freedom from intimidation, harassment and violence. The
Council notes the recent reports of modest progress regarding the access
of women and girls to certain services, but considers that such
incremental improvements, while welcome, still fall far short of the
minimum expectations of the international community, and calls upon all
parties, particularly the Taliban, to take measures to end all
violations of human rights of women and girls"
But when it came time to speak to the violations of men's human
rights, the Security Council President only referred to the "separation
of men from their families". What the Security Council President
neglected to say was that most of these "separated" men were never
heard from again.
2. World Health Organization
The World Health Organization assists countries to improve access to
primary healthcare services in underserved areas. The WHO website
provides frequent updates on the health situation in Afghanistan.
Despite the fact that the great majority of civilian deaths in
Afghanistan are males, UN publications frequently refer to women as a
"vulnerable population." A WHO Information Briefing dated November 23,
2001, states, "WHO would like to draw your attention to the staggering
health crisis facing Afghan women...WHO will make sure that in the
reconstruction of the health system, women's health will be
prioritised...For more information on Afghan woman and health, please
find a special report issued today by the World Health Organization"
The Briefing says nothing about men's health.
3. High Commissioner on Refugees
United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees is the UN agency that
protects the welfare of refugees. The UNHCR's website features the
following statement displayed in large type: "The United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees...One million women and children...homeless,
hungry, helpless...Their only help is you" (http://unhcr.org/).
What is missing from the announcement, of course, is any mention of
men. Is this because all refugees are women and children? Not according
to a recent article by columnist Cathy Young, which reports that 30% of
Afghanistan's refugees are adult males (Boston Globe, "When Men are
Victims," November 13, 2001, http://reason.com/cy/cy-current.shtml).
Don't these refugee men need a home? Aren't they likely to be hungry?
Don't they also need our help?
Staffers Frustrated by Lack of UN Action
Based on reports of ongoing atrocities, UN staffers in Afghanistan
began to interview hundreds of persons who had witnessed or survived the
massacres, and visited mass graves of the victims. In July 2001, the UN
staffers issued a confidential 55-page report that lists the names of
many who had been executed and make recommendations for remediation of
The report compared the killings in Afghanistan to the war crimes that
had been committed in Bosnia. For example, the report detailed a January
6 massacre in the town of Nayak. On that date, Taliban fighters in eight
pick-up trucks entered the village. Over the next five hours, "the
Taliban search party rounded up all the males they could find." The
Taliban fighters then "shot them in firing squads."
The report was forwarded to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the UN
High Commissioner on Human Rights, Mary Robinson. Before her appointment
to her UN post, Robinson was president of Ireland and a well-known
advocate for women's rights.
Despite the urgent nature of the situation, no action was taken on the
report. Eventually, the UN staffers in Afghanistan came to believe that
top levels of the UN structure had done too little to designate the
atrocities against men as war crimes.
In frustration, the staffers finally released the report to the media
in early October, hoping an outraged public would pressure the UN to
finally take action (Chicago Tribune, "Taliban Massacres Outlined for
UN," October 12, 2001).
Men Deserve to Have Health and Life
It is true that Afghan women have been subject to deprivation of their
fundamental human rights. But no fair-minded individual would argue that
the plight of Afghan men should be glossed over or ignored.
Tens of thousands of Afghan men have endured a horrible fate, a fate
that has been reliably documented over the past decade. But high-level
UN officials have ignored the situation.
To euphemistically refer to the killings of men as a "separation" from
their families can only be seen as an attempt at obfuscation. Failing to
mention the existence male refugees on a UN website amounts to a form of
social disenfranchisement. To ignore the pleadings of UN staffers who
have first-hand knowledge of the massacres of men amounts to a
perversion of gender politics.
One can only conclude that certain United Nations agencies are
discriminating against men in Afghanistan.
Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights expressly
prohibits any form of sex discrimination. Ironically, the same agencies
that are charged with enforcing this Declaration are also engaging in
This discrimination ignores and condones the loss of the most
fundamental right of all, the right to life.
To express your concerns:
United Nations Security Council
405 East 42nd Street
New York, New York 10017
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Case Postale 2500
CH-1211 Genève 2 Dépôt
Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10
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