On March 17 and 18, 2018, APPRO held a workshop on State-Civil Society Relations in Addressing Fundamental Rights in Afghanistan in Colombo, Sri Lanka. 

The workshop gathered representatives of Afghan public institutions, Civil society, the Independent Human Rights Commission and international experts to discuss gains made on access to basic rights in Afghanistan since 2001, challenges in protecting these gains, and pathways forward in strengthening and expanding these rights. 

The workshop was organized as means to provide a basis for constructive dialogue and cooperation between State and Civil Society in Afghanistan to work toward achieving rights-related commitments of the Afghan Government. 

This workshop consisted of the following segments: 

Discussion on the use of evidence to inform policy dialogue and action on fundamental rights: This segment built on findings from monitoring and researching the conditions for fundamental rights in Afghanistan through the Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) project, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and focused on three key rights areas. These were: Access to Health, Access to Education, and the rights of the internally displaced and returnee migrants. 

Insights on State-Civil Society relations in other contexts: Two international experts discussed frameworks and mechanisms for state-civil society interactions on fundamental rights based on evidence from research in other contexts. Professor Pearl Eliadis, Human Rights Lawyer and Adjunct Professor at McGill University (Canada) gave a presentation on findings from a five-year research project on state-civil society relations through the Voices-Voix Canada project and discussed the implications of the findings for State-Civil Society relations in Afghanistan, focusing on the need for an enabling environment for civil society. Dr. Sarah Pugh, Research Fellow with the Centre for International and Comparative Politics at Stellenbosch University (South Africa) and Managing Editor for Reproductive Health Matters, presented findings from a case study on State-Civil Society engagement toward the protection of fundamental rights in South Africa and its implications for Afghanistan. These provided the basis for an engaged discussion on the interfaces and mechanisms for interaction between government and civil society in the context of Afghanistan. 

Action Plans for better engagement between State and Civil Society on health, education, and migrant rights based on identifying Actors, Factors and Mechanisms: The participants formed three groups to develop and present action plans incorporating evidence and experience to address three key rights issues in Afghanistan. These were: the reintegration of returnees, improved access to preventive health, and improved access to education in remote areas. 

With the aim to further strengthen State-Civil Society relations in Afghanistan, follow-up actions to the March 17-18 workshop will include:

– A workshop in Kabul to finalize the Action Plans toward improved State-Civil Society relations in health, education, and migrant rights

– Joint development of recommendations and a monitoring mechanism to follow up on Action Plans 

– A roadmap for engagement between civil society and relevant state institutions on each of the three themes. 

– A joint CSO/State press conference on outcomes of the workshop and follow-up actions.