KABUL The Afghan government and coalition forces have failed to champion human rights and the rule of law in Afghanistan since the end of Taliban rule, leaving Afghans disillusioned and vulnerable to abuses, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday.
In a report released ahead of a key conference on the future of Afghanistan in Bonn on Monday, the rights group said that in the decade since the U.S.-backed ouster of the Taliban, measures to protect women and promote the rule of law have failed.
Afghanistan's justice system remains "weak and compromised," it added, and women often lack even basic protections.
"Human rights, and in particular women's rights, were cited as a key benefit of the defeat of Taliban rule in 2001," said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "But ten years later, many basic rights are still ignored or downplayed."
"While there have been improvements, the rights situation is still dominated by poor governance, lack of rule of law, impunity for militias and police, laws and policies that harm women, and conflict-related abuses."
The group said Afghan regional commanders have taken advantage of U.S. support to strengthen their grip on local populations, often at the expense of human rights.
The government and its allies have "repeatedly squandered opportunities to hold government or militia leaders responsible for abuses committed under their command," it said.
"Afghans have made it clear that they want abusive warlords and commanders removed from their posts and prosecuted," Adams said. "Yet the Afghan government and its backers, particularly the United States, have continuously protected them."
An action plan for Peace, Reconciliation and Justice passed in 2005, which pledged to identify and remove criminals and human rights violators from public office, has never been implemented, it added.
Human Rights Watch said many Afghans, especially women, fear the drawdown of foreign troops as part of a security handover to Afghan forces -- due to be completed by the end of 2014 -- could erode progress on human rights.
Women attending school or working are often faced with violence or harassment, the group said. Victims of abuse, or those who run away to escape it, can find themselves imprisoned for so-called "moral crimes."
The plight of these women was highlighted recently by the case of Gulnaz, a woman jailed for "adultery by force" after being raped by her cousin's husband. She gave birth in jail to a daughter conceived during the attack, and recently won release after seeking a presidential pardon.
Afghanistan's record on women's rights in particular has been harshly criticized. A Thomson Reuters survey earlier this year showed high levels of violence, poverty and poor healthcare made it the most dangerous country in the world for women.
Weakness in the central justice system means that many Afghans are subject to traditional dispute resolution forums, such as Taliban courts, Human Rights Watch said, within which human rights abuses are endemic.
In August last year, a couple were stoned to death by the Taliban in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, after being accused of adultery. The same month officials said Islamist militants publicly flogged and executed a woman in western Badghis province, who had been accused of adultery.
(Reporting by Jan Harvey; Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison and Yoko Nishikawa)