KABUL, 1 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - Human rights activists and political analysts have called on government to identify and bring to trial war criminals ahead of parliamentary elections to be held in spring. The calls came after a new survey on criminal justice by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) was released on Saturday.
Sima Samar, the chairwoman of the AIHRC, and Louise Arbour, UN Human Rights Commissioner, presented the results of a national survey on war crimes and human rights abuses to President Hamid Karzai.
The commission concluded that more than 70 percent of Afghans had suffered loss of a loved one or injury over the past two decades of war and that the majority of those questioned urgently wanted to see war criminals brought to justice.
CALLS FOR ACTION
Observers called the document a blueprint for action. "The study is useless without immediate action to identify these criminals to the public," Abdul Hamid Mubarez, former deputy information and culture minister told IRIN.
Mubarez, said the government should assign an authorised commission to review the list of abuses and other available reports in order to begin the process of prosecuting past criminals. "Without justice and the trial of past crimes we cannot bring lasting stability and peace," he added.
The report urged the government to take action to address the abuses of the past, including supporting criminal investigations and prosecutions, arranging for reparations for the victims, as well as vetting public officials to keep perpetrators of abuse out of power.
"Of central importance is the need to address past and present human rights violations so as to ensure that those responsible for egregious abuses do not succeed in wielding power," the UN human rights commissioner said as she launched the study.
But the commissioner was clear that contemporary human rights abuses had to be addressed. "Most human rights issues [in Afghanistan] today are related to the absence of the rule of law, the lack of security and deficiencies in the judicial and legal law enforcement infrastructure. Also several women's issues need to be addressed" Arbour told IRIN following the release of the study.
LACK OF ACTION FUELS IMPUNITY
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 in powerful positions in the provinces, with their own private armies and links with the flourishing opium trade. But failure to act against such alleged perpetrators has strengthened the culture of impunity in the country, observers say.
Given its violent recent history, stories of serious abuse and mass murder are common in Afghanistan. "We have witnessed several mass killings, slaughter and systematic torture in recent years," Samandar Shah, a shopkeeper in the Jadamaiwand district of Kabul told IRIN.
BLOODY RECENT PAST
Shah said his brother disappeared during the communist era and his son and wife were killed during the subsequent civil war. "I know exactly who killed my family members, the human rights commission should expose these murderers and they should pay [for their crimes].
Under the communists, tens of thousands disappeared into prisons. In 10 years of Soviet occupation, which ended in 1989, more than 1.5 million died and 5 million - a third of the population - were forced to flee Afghanistan as villages across the country were indiscriminately bombed.
The period after the Soviet occupation saw endless faction fighting which is believed to have killed nearly a hundred thousand people in the capital alone. It also destroyed many towns and much of Kabul. The Taliban followed, instituting a repressive fundamentalist rule, waging war against its opponents for seven years.
The AIHRC's report, "A Call for Justice", is based on interviews and focus groups with more than 6,000 Afghans in 32 of 34 provinces, it is the first national public consultation conducted in Afghanistan on what action ordinary people want to see on war criminals. Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran were also consulted.
"Those consulted stressed the urgent need for a break with the past, for an end to ongoing abuses, and for measures designed to bring about justice and the rule of law in Afghanistan," Nader Nadery, an AIHRC commissioner, told IRIN.
The study recommends the establishment of a Special Prosecutors Office to investigate and prosecute mass atrocities and systematic violations of human rights, such as crimes against humanity and war crimes, Nadery added.
Throughout the report, the AIHRC urged the United Nations, the International Criminal Court (ICC) based in the Hague and governments to provide support, technical assistance, and political pressure to ensure the implementation of an appropriate transitional justice strategy in Afghanistan.
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