Human rights in Afghanistan: facing the legacy of abuse

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Afghan women

In September of 2013, a single list was released containing the names of 5,000 people killed during the communist rule in Afghanistan. It demonstrated the extent of war crimes that has taken place throughout the three decades of conflict in Afghanistan.

Despite much progress in the past 12 years, Afghans have still not seen any substantial efforts by the state or international community to recognise and address the issue of past crimes. With elections coming up, there are grave concerns over the absence of any debate on transitional justice, and backgrounds and past records of some of the candidates.

Since 2001, there have been nascent attempts to pursue a process of transitional justice. But these efforts have remained weak on the part of the Afghan government and inconsistent on the part of its international partners.

In launching the Bonn agreement, which paved the way for democratisation in Afghanistan, the international community incorporated various local elites in addition to alleged war criminals as signatories. This laid a precarious foundation for the future of transitional justice in the country. The years that followed there were some progress, but this came to an abrupt end in 2007 when the government passed the national reconciliation, general amnesty and national stability law (known as the amnesty law). This granted “general amnesty” to those involved in hostilities before the establishment of the Afghan interim administration in 2001. By 2009, Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, started showing even greater reluctance in addressing transitional justice and at one point referred to it as a nonissue in the country claiming, “we should not repeat old issues (pdf).”

The only provision of the bill that makes reference to judicial prosecution of war crimes is the recognition of the individual rights of victims to issue formal complaints against those alleged to have committed war crimes. While in principle, this could be effective, in practice though, few will be able to take advantage of this provision as many alleged war criminals currently hold positions of authority in the government. Many believe that Karzai initiated the amnesty law as a means to pave the way for the reintegration and reconciliation efforts with the insurgency launched in 2010.

Unlike earlier failed efforts at reconciliation such as the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme for the Afghan militia in 2003, and ‘the programme Takhim-e-Sohl’ in 2005, the current Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration programme (APRP) has been supplemented by the amnesty law. It provides blanket amnesty for all members of the insurgency while failing to incorporate mechanisms for victims wishing to seek justice. Its implementation has caused great anxiety, particularly with respect to the reconciliation of top-level Talibanleaders and commanders; combatants reintegrated or reconciled in APRP are not vetted for human rights abuses.

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