Global Policy Forum

UN Official Urges Afghan War Crimes Justice


By Jon Hemming

January 30, 2005

The United Nations human rights chief has urged Afghanistan and the international community to do more to prosecute war criminals from more than two decades of devastating conflict that ravaged the country. Unlike South Africa, the Balkans, Rwanda and other former conflict zones, Afghanistan has done little to arrest and prosecute those responsible for crimes committed during the fight against the 1979-89 Soviet occupation and the ensuing civil wars.

"It is vital for Afghanistan to continue to make bold strikes in the area of human rights," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour told reporters on Saturday. "Of central importance is the need to address past and present human rights violations, for us to ensure those responsible for egregious abuses do not succeed in wielding power," she said. Arbour was in Kabul to lend her support to a report by an Afghan rights watchdog which found as many as 69 percent of Afghans said they had been victims of crimes against humanity. Of 2000 people in focus group discussions across the battle-scarred nation, 500 said they had had relatives killed and 400 said either they or their relatives had been tortured.

The Powerful And The Weak

None of those who held sway since the 1979 Soviet invasion - communists, mujahideen factions nor the Islamist Taliban - was free from guilt, Afghans told the rights watchdog. "Anyone who came to power carried out all sorts of injustices," the report quoted one man as saying. "Killings, lootings, confiscation of people's property, sexual violations, bombardment of civilian homes... have all taken place," he said.

Many of the powerful warlords that fought the Soviet Red Army, the Taliban and often each other still hold positions of power and their forces have so far only been partially disarmed. Hamid Karzai, elected in Afghanistan's first presidential polls in October, has had to act with great diplomatic skill to edge those warlords from power while retaining their loyalty to the Western-backed fledgling democracy.

But many of the 6000 people surveyed by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said abuses were still carried out, even under Karzai's government. "The same war criminals are ruling the people," said one man. "Even now, Karzai's government protects them," said a woman. Forty percent of those surveyed demanded the prosecution of war criminals and 90 percent wanted them out of public office.

Karzai pledged to improve the situation. "Legal and judicial reforms as well as the human rights conditions will improve... and Afghanistan will move towards a country reliant on social justice and human rights," he said after being officially presented with the AIHRC report.

The European Union welcomed the report and called on Karzai's government to do more to bring war criminals to justice. "The report constitutes a compelling appeal to the Afghan government which we feel deserves close consideration and study," the EU said in a statement on Saturday.

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