Monday, July 11, 2005

AFGHANISTAN: Mixed reactions to rights watchdog report

KABUL, 11 July (IRIN) - The United Nations and human rights activists in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Monday welcomed a recent report of Human Rights Watch (HRW), which called on the Afghan government to 'bring war criminals to justice.'

The New York based rights watchdog, in a 133-page report released on Friday, accused some high-ranking officials in the Afghan government of violating human rights and demanded their trial.

While some are dead or in hiding, many of those linked to the carnage that erupted between April 1992 and March 1993 following the collapse of the Soviet-backed Najibullah government, are now defense or interior ministry officials, or advisors to President Hamid Karzai, the report said.

"It is a report that has to be taken very seriously. It raises very important concerns and points a crucial and difficult question to any country emerging from conflict, that is, how to deal with major violations of human rights from the past?" Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the United Nations special envoy in Afghanistan, said.

Edwards maintained the government of Afghanistan was working on a transitional justice plan and the UN had been in contact as to how to develop that plan.

The report entitled "Blood-Stained Hands: Past Atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan's Legacy of Impunity" is based on two years of research, including interviews with witnesses, survivors, officials and combatants.

During the time covered by the report whole sections of Kabul were left in ruins, tens of thousands of civilians were killed and wounded and at least half a million people were displaced, the rights group said.

"This report isn't just a history lesson," said Brad Adams, executive director of HRW's Asia Division. "These atrocities were among some of the gravest in Afghanistan's history, yet today many of the perpetrators still wield power."

The HRW report follows a survey by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC's) on transitional justice entitled "A Call for Justice" released in February. AIHRC's report was based on interviews and focus groups with more than 6,000 Afghans in 32 of 34 provinces. According to the Afghan rights body, all those interviewed wanted those who had committed past criminal acts to be brought to justice.

But transitional justice is a very controversial issue in post-war Afghanistan where there is still much work to do on the issue of legal reform. Analysts in Kabul believe there has not been any criminal justice structure for years and there has been no rule of law in the country for decades, resulting in no prosecutions for war crimes in the past 30 years.

There is no official charge from any court against anyone accused of war crimes, which is another element, hampering the trial of any criminal.

"Every time before the elections such reports or concerns are raised but neither the government nor the UN and international organisations have so far taken any step to open the debate of past criminals prosecutions," said Mohammad Qasi Akhgar, a local political analyst.

Akhgar said the war crimes did not take place only during the 1990s, "but when we say past criminals all the regimes in the last three decades must be included, not just the civil war. The HRW report has only underlined and mentioned the war criminals of the civil war. It has completely ignored the atrocities of communists," Akhgar noted.

Various groups were fighting for control of the country in the power vacuum that followed the bloody Soviet occupation and the fall of President Najibullah.

Among those mentioned in the report are several former chiefs of the Northern Alliance, which later helped the US-led coalition topple the hardline Taliban regime at the end of 2001, following the 11 September attacks on the United States.

HRW cites the example of notorious warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who now holds a senior post in the ministry of defense and exercises political control of several provinces in the north of Afghanistan.

It also mentions Karim Khalili, a former militia commander and now one of Karzai's two vice-presidents and Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, a radical Islamist commander who currently advises President Karzai and exercises major political power over the Afghan judiciary.

But the Afghan government has termed the report as incomplete and imperfect.

"The report is based on a specific period of Afghan history while in the last three years a lot has been done to respect human rights in Afghanistan," presidential spokesman Mohammad Karim Rahimi said on Sunday.

Ruling out the possible trial of the accused Afghan dignitaries, the spokesman said the people named had significantly contributed to peace and stability in post-war Afghanistan.

In the last three years Karzai's government has avoided pursuing suspected war criminals in the interest of national stability. Indeed, many suspects were co-opted into his interim government. Others accused of war crimes remain powerful in the provinces, with their own private armies and links with the flourishing opium trade. It is the failure to take any action against such alleged perpetrators that has strengthened the culture of impunity in the country, observers say.

"If Afghanistan doesn't begin a process of addressing its history now, the past may repeat itself," the rights group warned, urging the government to accelerate efforts to reform the judicial system and set up special courts to try alleged rights abusers.

"In Afghanistan today, alleged war criminals - Taliban, Mujahideen, Communist - enjoy total impunity in the name of national reconciliation," Adams said. "This is an insult to victims and an affront to justice."

By UN 11 July 05


III. The Battle for Kabul: April 1992-March 1993

[Washington Post, May 3, 1992] Kabul today is anything but a city basking in triumph. . . . [R]ockets and shells continue to crash into residential neighborhoods, fired by the forces of fundamentalist guerrilla leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. . . . Hundreds of civilians lie in hospitals lacking electricity, water, and basic sterilization equipment. More arrive each day. . . . Heavily armed, ethnically divided guerrillas and militiamen prowl the city streets, defending patchwork blocks from their rivals, speaking in heated tones about their various enemies and sometimes looting homes and shops. . . .22

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