KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Human Rights Watch urged the Afghan government on Thursday to force police stations to build restrooms for female officers to protect them from sexual harassment.
The group said only a handful of provincial police stations have separate, safe and lockable toilets or changing rooms for women officers, leaving them at risk in a nation where some have reportedly been raped by male colleagues.
Females make up only 1.4 percent of Afghanistan's 157,000 police officers, yet the report said the provinces have repeatedly ignored previous orders to provide women officers with such facilities.
"The Afghan government's failure to provide female police officers with safe, secure facilities makes them more vulnerable to abuse," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "This is not just about toilets. It's about the government's recognition that women have a crucial role to play in law enforcement in Afghanistan."
Sidiq Sidiqi, the spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which oversees the Afghan police, responded to the report by saying that while women do have their own facilities at major police stations, they often are lacking in the provinces. He said the government was working to correct the problem, and recently created a consultative council, including police, elders and clerics, to foster a better working environment for the 2,200 Afghan women police officers.
But he also said the government should be given credit for overseeing the difficult transition of bucking cultural traditions to recruit women to police forces in Afghanistan.
"That's been quite an achievement," said Sidiqi.
He said the Interior Ministry hopes to increase the number of women officers to 5,000 by the end of 2014, when the Afghan military and police will have responsibility for security across the country and most foreign combat troops will have finished their withdrawal. However, the rights group said that the ministry has previously acknowledged that it is unlikely to meet that goal.
Also on Thursday, an Afghan legislator assured Turkey that his government is doing all it can to win the release of eight Turks, an Afghan translator and two pilots — one from Russia and the other from Kyrgyzstan — who were kidnapped by the Taliban after their helicopter made an emergency landing in bad weather on Sunday in Afghanistan's eastern province of Logar.
"We are deeply saddened that Turks who had gone to Afghanistan to provide a service were kidnapped," Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, the speaker of the Afghan parliament, told reporters in Turkey.
"We don't know when they will be released, but our police and military are working so that they are released soon," Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency quoted him as saying.
Ibrahimi was in Turkey to visit a relative being treated for wounds sustained during a suicide attack that killed seven people in Kunduz on March 13, the news agency said.
Separately, the Afghan government raised the death toll from flash floods and an earthquake that hit northern Afghanistan earlier this week. President Hamid Karzai's office said in a statement that 20 people died in the flooding in Balkh province on Tuesday, and that 18 people were killed by the earthquake that struck Nangarhar and Kunar provinces on Wednesday.
In the east, an insurgent on Thursday shot and killed an Afghan police officer who was guarding a girls' primary school in Ghazni city, and other officers responded by shooting and killing the assailants, said Mohammed Hussain, the deputy provincial police chief. He said a second insurgent escaped.
Banning girls from school was one of the most notorious symbols of the Taliban's rule before they were ousted from power by U.S.-led forces in November 2001.
In another attack in Ghazni province, a roadside bomb hit a convoy of Afghan police cars and trucks carrying supplies south toward Kandahar on Wednesday, killing two policemen, Hussain said.
AP writer Amir Shah in Kabul and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed.
Follow Thomas Wagner on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/tjpwagner.