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Human Rights Watch Chief “Appalled” by Afghan VP Choice

(PRAGUE, Czech Republic) The head of Human Rights Watch told a gathering of RFE/RL journalists today that he is “appalled” by Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s selection of a former warlord as his running mate in upcoming elections. Calling Mohammad Qasim Fahim Khan a “disastrous choice for Vice President,” Kenneth Roth said the move “sends a bad signal” about Karzai’s commitment to fighting corruption and upholding the rule of law.

Fahim, a former guerilla chief during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and commander of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, has a reputation for brutality and has been accused by Human Rights Watch of war crimes and other abuses such as providing protection to criminal cartels and drug traffickers.

One Human Rights Watch official told RFE/RL this week that Fahim “is one of the most notorious warlords in the country, with the blood of many Afghans on his hands from the civil war.” Roth said that “this deeply disappointing and utterly inappropriate pick for a running mate threatens the legitimacy of the Karzai government.”

Other topics Roth discussed with RFE/RL reporters included President Obama’s foreign policy, women’s rights, the financial crisis, and human rights in Russia, Iran and elsewhere.

“In Iran, it makes sense for Obama to be reaching out to the government,” he said. “But the U.S. can also focus on human rights at the same time as it deals with the nuclear issue. A smart strategy includes a significant dialogue with the Iranian people.”

Roth rejected the “false dichotomy” that the U.S. must use either carrots or sticks exclusively when dealing with countries like Iran, Russia, and Belarus. “Smart sanctions on a government can exist while engaging some of its leaders and the public,” he said.

Roth has been the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch since 1993. The group is one of the world’s leading international non-governmental organizations that conducts research and advocacy on behalf of human rights.