"HUMAN RIGHTS violations" is a phrase used so often and so casually that even the most compassionate among us can take it as routine. The quick meaning in most people's minds, we suspect, centers on police abuses, roughing and locking people up, perhaps killing some of them. Something like that is what you may expect to find in a new United Nations report entitled "Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan."
But it's different. The second report on Afghanistan by Austrian parliamentarian and academic Felix Ermacora and a companion report on Iran mark the first time the United Nations has debated human rights in those countries on the basis of official U.N. reports. By a vote of 75 to 23 with 33 abstentions -- India, lamentably, was the lone democracy holding Moscow's hand -- the General Assembly registered its "profound concern." Afghanistan was singled out not just because a Third World Moslem country is the victim of aggression but also because of the terrible and deepening intensity of its ordeal.
Soviet troops with their Afghan clients have driven 4 million people out of the country and perhaps another 2 million out of their homes. Massively and indiscriminately, they bomb civilians -- they bomb funerals. They destroy villages, crops and agricultural facilities. For the children, they drop cute, limb-shattering booby traps disguised as harmonicas and birds. Torture is "commonplace" and the operation of the judicial system "creates an atmosphere of insecurity and anguish." "There is apparently no health care for the majority of the population. As a consequence, the infant mortality rate has reached 300 and 400 per 1,000." Civilian deaths number "approximately 500,000."
When half the population is uprooted and a third driven into exile, when infant mortality reaches plague levels, when half a million civilians die and uncounted millions of others are maimed and malnourished, when, as Prof. Ermacora reports, the situation is getting worse, all this moves Soviet conduct well beyond what is ordinarily called "human rights violations." The word that comes to mind when one reads this report is genocide.
Soviets who talk about Afghanistan with foreigners sometimes solicit a certain sympathy for their policy dilemma and their costs. This is callous and arrogant. The people who deserve the sympathy are the Soviet Union's victims. Says a desperate Prof. Ermacora, "every hour lost is detrimental to the population" -- the Afghan population. Moscow is committing one of the great crimes.