Last edited: September 06, 2004

New Afghan Rulers Better for Gays?

Washington Blade (glbt), December 21, 2001
Washington, DC

By Lou Chibbaro Jr.

WASHINGTON—The interim government scheduled to take office in Afghanistan on Dec. 22 will discontinue executions of people charged with sodomy and will likely adopt a more tolerant policy on human rights for gays, according to a spokesperson for the Northern Alliance, the Afghan military faction that fought against the Taliban.

Haron Amin, who appears frequently on U.S. television news programs on behalf of the Northern Alliance, said Dec. 18 that leaders of Afghanistan ‘s newly installed interim government are outraged over human rights abuses by the Taliban regime and will embrace the principles of human rights.

"This issue [of anti-gay persecution] would have to be brought up in a court," he said. "The Taliban killed people for all kinds of reasons, not just sexual orientation."

The international human rights group Amnesty International has documented cases where Taliban authorities executed men charged with sodomy by using military tanks to topple cement walls on top of them, crushing them to death.

Amin said he could not predict how the new interim government would address specific human rights issues, such as anti-gay persecution, but said he was certain the government-sponsored abuses of women and minorities under the Taliban government would be discontinued.

"The new administration will be much more tolerant," he said.

Amin’s comments came as the Northern Alliance—in coordination with the U.S. bombing campaign—ousted the Taliban from power. The bombing was part of the U.S.-led war against terrorism that began after the Sept. 11 att acks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Several leading Afghan political factions, including Northern Alliance members, reached an agreement to form a post-Taliban, interim government following a series of meetings last month in Bonn, Germany.

The factions selected Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun tribal leader with strong ties to the West, as the interim government’s prime minister. Karzai is scheduled to take office Saturday, Dec. 22.

New leader more moderate?

Daniel Brumberg, a professor of government at Georgetown University’s school of international relations, said Karzai is known as a moderate who holds "secularist" views on the subject of religion and government.

Brumberg said that while Afghanistan’s conservative, Islamic traditions would make it unlikely that Karzai would openly embrace gay rights, he said the changing conditions brought about by the ouster of the Taliban will enable Karzai to at least put an end to draconian practices such as summary executions of gays.

"This will be a power-sharing government, so there may be a lessening of Islamic fundamentalism," Brumberg said. "But it won’t be a secularist state any time soon."

Since the United States began its war against terrorism in late September, gay rights advocates have expressed concern that many of the Arab and Islamic countries that signed on as coalition partners in the war routinely treat gays as criminals.

For example, some coalition partners, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, have laws that call for the death penalty for sodomy, similar to the laws adopted by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Gay rights organizations, including the International Lesbian & Gay Human Rights Commission, said they recognize the need for the United States to align itself with Islamic and Arab nations in the war against terrorism. But they said the United States and other Western allies should use their relationship with Arab and Islamic countries to persuade those governments to improve conditions for gays.

Bonn accord will help

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International note that the so-called Bonn agreement, which established the framework for the interim government in Afghanistan, includes language calling for the establishment of an independent commission to monitor human rights and to investigate human rights violations. The agreement calls for the United Nations to assist the commission.

"Amnesty International believes there is some good human rights language in the Bonn text that can be built upon in the future," said Alistair Hodgett, the group’s spokesperson. "References to human rights, social justice, international law, and the rule of law are particularly welcome."

Hodgett said that while the Bonn agreement is silent on the question of anti-gay persecution, he is hopeful that the agreement’s call for the establishment of an independent judiciary and the creation of a pluralistic democracy would lay the groundwork for curtailing persecution of minorities, including gays.

The U.S. government also plans to cite the Bonn agreement as a means of encouraging the new Afghan government to respect the human rights of all groups, said Richard Boucher, a spokesperson for the State Department.

In a press briefing on Dec. 14, Boucher said human rights "has been very much a part" of the U.S. effort to bring about change in Afghanistan.

"After the horrible excesses of the Taliban and some of the others who have been in Afghanistan, I think Afghans themselves understand this to be a critical issue," Boucher said. The human rights commission established under the Bonn agreement, Boucher said, calls on the new government to develop institutions to protect human rights.

"And this remains an important goal of the United States," he said.

Gay Muslims hopeful

Faisal Alam, founder of the gay Islamic group Al Fatiha, said his group is monitoring the latest developments in Afghanistan and is cautiously optimistic that the climate for gays there will improve, at least somewhat.

"We know the new government is likely to continue Islamic traditions," Alam said. "My feeling and my hope is the new government won’t kill gay people. But we are not likely to see gays supported."

Alam said that while groups have formed over the years representing gays in a number of Islamic countries, he is unaware of the existence of any gay Afghan group. The lack of such an organization, and the lack of any visible presence of a gay community in Afghanistan, means that those who favor improvements in the treatment of gays in Afghanistan must direct their attention "to our own governments," Alam said.

"We should put pressure on the United States to take a stand on human rights for lesbians and gays in all countries, including Afghanistan," he said.

The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, which formed in the 1970s in opposition to the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan, has called for a secularist government with a complete separation of church and state.

Alam and Michael Heflin, director of Out Front, an Amnesty International project that monitors anti-gay persecution, said RAWA’s strong human rights positions and its outspoken efforts to end discrimination against women in Afghanistan make the group a potential ally for Afghan gays.

The group’s extensive writings on the Internet make no direct mention of gay rights. The group did not respond to an e-mail message seeking comment on gay issues. A Baltimore-based representative of RAWA, who is affiliated with the University of Maryland, did not return a call by press time.

Mixed record for Alliance

On its Web site, RAWA warns that the Northern Alliance and other Afghan military and political factions that have fought against the Taliban have themselves engaged in human rights violations against women and other minorities.

"All of them have a [rifle] in one hand and the [Koran] in the other to kill, intimidate, detain and mutilate our people arbitrarily," an essay on the RAWA Web site says. The essay was especially critical of the Northern Alliance, saying its leadership was responsible, in part, for repressive policies against women prior to the Taliban takeover.

Amin, the Northern Alliance spokesperson, said one or two of the seven factions that made up the Northern Alliance in the early 1990s engaged in human rights violations. He said the other factions condemned these abuses.

"Our policy has been to condemn, not condone, human rights violations," Amin said. "We support bringing to justice those who perpetrated human rights violations."

Brumberg, the Georgetown University professor, said one of the Northern Alliance’s leaders, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was the recognized leader of Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover in 1997, is an Islamic fundamentalist who is believed to be responsible for some human rights abuses.

Brumberg noted that, with Rabbani’s allies playing a significant role in the new interim government, the issue of whether anti-gay persecution will end remains in question.

"Most of the players come from factions and groups that don’t have a good record on human rights," Brumberg said. "So the best you can expect is that the new players will just ignore gay issues and will not continue with the excesses of the Taliban."

With Rabbani passed over for the post of prime minister in favor of Karzai, Brumberg said reports have surfaced that the interim government is considering appointing Rabbani as the head of a newly created Afghan Supreme Court. Such a court would be responsible, among other things, for hearing cases involving human rights abuses.

To call for trials or investigations of past human rights violations, including the persecution of gays, "will open a can of worms for these new people coming to power," Brumberg said, because many of them have been involved in such violations.

"I can’t imagine in all of this there will be too much emphasis on gay rights," he said. "I can’t imagine there will be any emphasis on gay rights. But it’s possible that the new regime would at least curtail some of the abuses of gays and women that occurred in the past. That may be about all you could expect."


  • U.S. Department of State, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520; Phone: 202-647-4000;
  • Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan;
  • IGLHRC, 1360 Mission St., Suite 200, San Francisco, CA 94103; Phone: 415-225-8680; fax: 415-255-8662;
  • Amnesty International USA, 322 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10001; Phone: 212-807-8400; fax: 212-627-1451;

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