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.”