KABUL - A surge in civilian casualties and attacks on women in Afghanistan spotlights waning government support for human rights, the United Nations' top rights officer said on Tuesday.
The statement will be a blow to Western nations and the government of President Hamid Karzai, who want to paint a positive human rights picture ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign forces scheduled by the end of next year.
"My concern that the momentum of improvement in human rights may have not only peaked, but is in reality waning, has not been allayed," United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said during her first official visit to Afghanistan.
Pillay met Karzai, his defence and interior ministers and the chief of the Afghan intelligence agency, among others, on a two-day visit to Kabul, the capital.
Evidence of such backsliding came from what she called an ominous rise in civilian casualties in the first half of 2013, endemic violence against women, and the appointment of conservatives to the country's independent human rights office.
"I urge an extra effort by the president and his government to ensure that the human rights gains of the past 12 years are not sacrificed to political expediency during these last few months before the election," Pillay told a news conference.
Karzai has said he remains committed to progress in human rights.
A presidential election is due on April 5 and is expected to see a transfer of power from long-term leader Karzai, who is required under the constitution to step down.