From 2001 to 2002, following the tragic events of September 11 and the ensuing US military invasion of Afghanistan, CESR worked in two areas:
- Public education in the United States to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the human rights implications of US military action, and
- Organizing a comprehensive fact-finding mission to Afghanistan to assess violations of human rights and humanitarian law and advocate for more just policies.
From September to December 2001, CESR launched a public education and advocacy campaign that included producing educational materials, organizing and attending events on Afghanistan and submitting letters to the editor and editorials to newspapers and magazines. CESR produced three widely disseminated fact sheets in English and Spanish on the basic indicators, history, and humanitarian vulnerabilities of Afghanistan. CESR co-sponsored and organized a number of community events, such as a panel discussion at The Riverside Church in Manhattan and a benefit event in Brooklyn to raise money for Afghan refugees. CESR had letters published in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and issued press releases on World Food Day and International Human Rights Day calling attention to the human rights violations related to the humanitarian crises in Afghanistan.
CESR also initiated a meeting for the UN Special Rapporteur on Food with several humanitarian relief organizations including Oxfam, CARE and Save the Children UK that contributed to the drafting of a letter on the right to food in Afghanistan which was signed by nine human rights and humanitarian organizations and sent to heads of UN agencies and George W. Bush.
As part of a human rights assessment mission to Afghanistan in January 2002, CESR conducted the first post-war survey of Afghan public opinion regarding international and local human rights priorities. To provide a snapshot of local human rights concerns, the CESR mission interviewed a cross-section of Afghans and international aid workers. Its overall purpose was to offer them a platform for defining their own human rights and reconstruction priorities. CESR produced a human rights report, commissioned by the United Nations human rights office in Afghanistan, and a series of facts sheets based on the research mission.
The report, Human Rights and Reconstruction in Afghanistan, presents the views of Afghans and international aid workers on key challenges that must be addressed if reconstruction efforts are to be successful. It found that US and international policy in Afghanistan is heading in the wrong direction, putting at risk the future stability and development of the country, and negatively impacting broader international interests throughout South-Central Asia and the Middle East. Respondents were particularly concerned with several issues:
- the indiscriminate nature of ongoing US military operations, coupled with US military and financial support for unaccountable warlords;
- US and international refusal to expand peacekeeping forces beyond Kabul;
- the UN's unwillingness to prioritize human rights in the political transition, thereby granting international legitimacy to the continued rule of warlords; and
- the failure to incorporate human rights obligations in reconstruction programs, especially regarding the right of Afghans to participate in their own development.
The report was adopted by the Afghan loya jirga and helped inform international relief and reconstruction programs.