Afghanistan Justice Project

justice projcet

The Afghanistan Justice Project today warned that the resolution by Afghanistan’s Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the National Assembly’s) to grant immunity from prosecution for former fighters accused of war crimes would jeopardize—and not promote—national reconciliation and security. Most importantly, issuing a blanket amnesty would cripple efforts to promote accountability in the present, a vital need if the country’s institutions are going to perform in a way that enhances security for all. Institutional reform, particularly in the security sector, has foundered in part because of the lack of accountability. Abuses are rife. The same institutions responsible for arbitrary arrest and torture in the past—primarily the police and intelligence services—continue to engage in such abuses with impunity. The lack of accountability in other government agencies has fueled corruption. After five years of reconstruction, many Afghans are disillusioned; fear the police and intelligence agencies; and still cite security as their major concern. Unless this changes, there is little hope for national reconciliation.

The group urged Afghanistan’s international donors to denounce the resolution, and press President Karzai to reject it. The group also urged donors to give political and financial support to promptly implementing the Action Plan on Peace, Reconciliation, and Justice formally launched by President Karzai in December, which outlines a long-term strategy to address the country’s legacy of war crimes.  The most important measures include appropriate mechanisms for vetting potential political appointees and candidates, new on-the-ground investigations of past abuses, documentation, and ultimately establishing truth-telling processes that will respect the rights of both alleged victims and perpetrators.

In a report released in 2005,  Casting Shadows: War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, 1978-2001,” the Afghanistan Justice Project published new documentation on war crimes and human rights violations committed by all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan’s 23-year war. The report represents the most comprehensive documentation of war crimes publicly available; the purpose of that report was to put that evidence into the public domain.  The Afghanistan Justice Project report charges some current leaders with responsibility for the actions of their troops during different periods of the war. Among these leaders were several members of the National Assembly who took the lead in advocating the amnesty resolution, including Muhammad Muhaqiq, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, and Burhanuddin Rabbani. (Dari version)(Pashto version)

Some political actors in Afghanistan dismissed any effort to account for past war crimes as a marginal concern, or worse:  a dangerous impediment to achieving stability. There is no question that former commanders who continue to control private militia remain a dangerous and volatile force. However, those who have been vocal in condemning any effort to account for the past include current leaders who have the most to hide, and who have benefited from the silence about the past to augment their power. Some have ties to criminal networks linked to the country’s burgeoning opium production and trade, and other smuggling activities. Many of these commanders also have long records of similar abuses in the past. Establishing security in the present—both for Afghans and for foreigners working with them—cannot be seen in isolation from this history.

Transitional justice must be part of the political process in Afghanistan.  The Afghanistan Justice Project does not foresee the possibility of bringing perpetrators to trial in Afghan courts any time shortly. However, the transitional justice strategy for Afghanistan embraces some actions that could go far in addressing the demands of the Afghan people for accountability and security.  By committing itself to this Plan, the Karzai government has vowed to uphold international law, reject blanket amnesties and commit itself to a process that respects the rights of all Afghans—not merely the entitlements of former mujahidin.

In its report, the Afghanistan Justice Project has documented some key incidents from the different phases of the war in Afghanistan that are important because of the magnitude of the crime or because of the involvement of people who continue to wield power. In these incidents, senior officers and commanders ordered actions amounting to war crimes by their forces, or allowed such actions to take place and did nothing to prevent or stop them.  The Afghanistan Justice Project’s intent in documenting these incidents is not to impugn the cause for which any of the armed groups fought, but rather to call for accountability where those actions amounted to war crimes. It is an issue of great concern to many Afghans: efforts by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission have indicated strong support among Afghans to address the legacy of the past. How that should take place remains a choice for the Afghans to make.

The Afghanistan Justice Project report includes documentation on some incidents that have never been investigated in detail before.

the project

From the post-1992 period

  • The Afshar massacre and mass rape in Kabul by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf’s Ittihad-i Islami and Jamiat/Shura-i Nazar forces under the command of Ahmad Shah Massoud in February 1993.  This massacre and mass rape of mainly Hazara civilians took place in Afshar, Kabul.  Some of those responsible for the killings and rapes that took place hold positions of power today.
  • Torture, hostage-taking and summary executions by Hizb-i Wahdat commanders in Kabul and Mazar-i Sharif 1992-1998.
  • The bombardment and rocketing of Kabul by all parties to the conflict, 1992-1995, with a particular focus on the organization of operations by Hizb-i Islami, along with a discussion of indiscriminate attacks carried out by all of the other parties.
  • The massacre of Taliban prisoners by Junbish forces under Gen. Abdul Malik Pahlawan in June 1997.  The analysis of this incident includes testimony from two survivors. At least 3,000 men, mostly conscripts, were systematically executed in what was perhaps the single largest massacre of the entire war. The incident was never fully investigated by the UN, and those responsible continue to reside in Afghanistan.
  • Sexual assaults, summary executions of prisoners and other abuses by Junbish commanders in Kabul and the north 1991-2001. The same pattern of abuse by Junbish forces (among others) was repeated after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

From the Taliban period:

  • Taliban massacres in Sar-i Pul and Gosfandi in 1999.  The Taliban’s culpability for war crimes against Afghans—as opposed to the involvement of their top leadership with al-Qaeda—never received much international attention, despite the fact that some Taliban leaders responsible for these crimes may be in U.S. custody, and others may be in Pakistan.
  • Summary executions by the Taliban in the districts of Bagram, Kalkan, Qarabagh, and Mir Bacha Kot in 1999.
  • Mass burnings and destruction of means of livelihood in Shamali by the Taliban in 1999.

From the pre-1992 period:

  • The Kerala Massacre by PDPA forces in 1979, in which nearly 1,000 men were killed apparently in reprisal for resistance activity in the area. It was the largest massacre of this period of the war.
  • The assassination of Sayd Bahauddin Majrooh by Hizb-i Islami in February 1988. The assassination of the prominent poet and editor was one of a series of attacks on Afghan intellectuals in Pakistan in the late 1980s. According to evidence gathered by the Afghanistan Justice Project, at least one of the persons believed to be responsible for Majrooh’s murder continues to reside in Pakistan.
  • Torture in mujahidin prisons, particularly the Lejdey facility operated by the Shura-i Nazar faction in northeastern Afghanistan.

These dossiers represent only part of the Afghanistan Justice Project’s work. In each case, the Afghanistan Justice Project has attempted to include not only direct witness testimony about the events that took place but an analysis of the command and control of troops responsible for the operations.