New Afghan Rulers Better for Gays?
(glbt), December 21, 2001
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
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
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,
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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; www.state.gov
- Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan; email@example.com
- IGLHRC, 1360 Mission St., Suite 200, San Francisco, CA 94103; Phone:
415-225-8680; fax: 415-255-8662; www.iglhrc.org
- Amnesty International USA, 322 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10001; Phone:
212-807-8400; fax: 212-627-1451; http://www.amnesty.org/
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