| ||Amnesty or Impunity|
By Sefat Rahimi
Following the ouster of Taliban by US-led allied forces in 2001, Afghanistan has made great progresses chief among them are: transition to electoral democracy, adoption of a modern constitution and rehabilitation of basic governance institutions. Moreover, the government of Afghanistan with significant assistance from the international community in particular the United States, has made significant strides in improving women's rights, expanding educational institutions, and rebuilding the national army and police forces. Afghans enjoy more political and social rights than anytime in their history. Despite the above mentioned achievements, Afghanistan is still confronted by daunting challenges: The persistence of the insurgency threatens the legitimacy of the central government across the country and hinders much needed reconstruction in parts of Afghanistan. In addition to the insurgency, rampant corruption, illicit drug production and limits to the rule of law continue to debilitate the ability of the government to perform basic governance tasks.
Afghanistan's parliament has passed legislation granting amnesty to those who are accused of war crimes and violation of human right in the last two and half decades of conflict in Afghanistan. The amnesty reprieves both Mojahiddin leaders and former communist regime officials. Whether or not, such amnesty brings about unity in Afghanistan is still up for debate; however, it clearly indicates that the culture of impunity still persists in the country. Another important implication of this amnesty is that it sends a clear signal that the government has deliberately ignored the legitimate rights of the victims to justice that could provide some sense of closure for the victims of war crimes. Human rights groups as well as civil society leaders have already protested that the law is unconstitutional and against international law. Meanwhile; the National Council of Afghanistan's clerics has denounced the amnesty. The council has said that according to Sharia law only victims can forgive the tormentors. The confusing aspect of this bill remains its amnesty provisions. The revised bill, now a law, offers general amnesty from prosecution to all former combatants who agree to abide by the constitution and laws of Afghanistan. In the meantime, a crucial clause restricts this reprieve, stating that the amnesty will not affect individuals' claims against persons with respect to individual crimes. Moreover; the absolute majority of parliament is comprised of individuals who were in one or another way involved in civil war as well as in the political arena of Afghanistan during the communist regime. If the objective of the government is to guarantee that no longer the rights of oppressed Afghans would be trampled down, transitional justice, which has been launched by Afghanistan's independent human right commission, has to be put into practice in a fair manner. Some have suggested that reconciliation and justice has been deeply politicized by the current parliament through this piece of legislation. However; the amendments added by the President preserve the rights of individuals to seek justice. Nevertheless this law is an impediment to justice as well as a blow to Afghanistan's fledging democracy.
Article 3 of the bill states: "All factions and hostile parties who had been in conflict before the formation of the interim administration, for reunion among different stratums of society, strengthening peace and stability and commencement of a new life in Afghanistan's contemporary political history, are included in the national reconciliation and amnesty, hold their legitimate rights and will not be pursued legally or judicially." The law-makers, who supported the approval of the bill, claim it will strengthen unity and promote reconciliation in the country. However the above article clearly states that none of the factions, who committed crimes against humanity, will be legally prosecuted by any judicial authority unless clear evidence is presented. According to surveys conducted by some human rights advocating agencies, more than 50% of Afghans want the violators of the human rights to be prosecuted. Meanwhile; human rights groups have demanded war crime trials as the only way to bring peace and reconciliation. Moreover the continued disregard of human right abuses in the country will undermine the basis for reconstruction and set a precedent for future crises. Analysts have stated that the continuing prominence of accused war criminals who currently hold power in the present parliament, have passed the bill to reprieve themselves from facing accusations or trials. Failure to bring the violators of human rights to justice will further entrench violations and create mistrust towards the government and international community at large.
The gross human rights violations in Afghanistan took place during the ruling of three different governments. The miseries of Afghans started when Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979. This occupation took the lives of roughly more than two million innocent Afghans. A substantial number of Afghans were also either killed or tortured for their opposition to communists' ideologies by communist intelligence officers throughout Afghanistan. This era sowed the seed for the future turmoil in Afghanistan; the resistance movements against the communists were manipulated by outsiders which effectively divided Afghanistan into ethnic factions. The same factions later on participated in the destructive civil war that followed the fall of the communist regime in late 1991.
The second stage of these horrific human right violations happened when Mojahiddeen forces defeated the communist regime of Dr. Najibullah. The collapse of the regime plunged the country into a bloody civil war. Although the civil war was ignited by enemies of stability in Afghanistan particularly neighboring countries in order to achieve their political interests, but leaders of the warring factions have been considered to be the main perpetrators. The five years of civil war killed or maimed thousands of innocents Afghans, and virtually demolished all physical and institutional infrastructures of the country.
The third phase of crimes against humanity occurred with the emergence of the Taliban movement backed by elements within Pakistani government and civil society. The Taliban first appeared on the political scene in Afghanistan in September, 1994 in Kandahar, and rapidly expanded their domination to almost 95% of Afghanistan. Misusing the name of Islam, the Taliban committed vicious oppression against the innocent people. The rogue movement of Taliban, murdered thousands of civilians in various parts of Afghanistan, destroyed vineyards and orchards in the northern regions of Kabul. Moreover; they destroyed and blew up the ancient Buddha statues of Bamyan, banned women from acquiring education or working, put under house arrest and beat them up in public, and finally deactivated most important institutions of the country. In the meantime; the Taliban exploited Afghanistan's special place not to build ties of fraternity, progress and construction, and not to consolidate the noble meanings represented by Islam, but to turn its territory into a centre for training of international terrorists which distorted the reputation of Muslims and Afghans throughout the world.
Having cited the above gross violations committed against Afghans, it becomes difficult to decipher the notion that the ones responsible for such vicious crimes should go unpunished. Nonetheless, any measures towards reconciliation in Afghanistan have to be considered carefully, yet the dilemma that most Afghans face is how to mediate between justice and progressive development which most claim could only be done with reconciliation. Does the current amnesty even qualify as a means for true reconciliation?
It is noteworthy that as far as the Jihad (Holy war) of the Afghan nation against the invaders is concerned, the struggle was legitimate and above all it was an obligation and has been written in the history with eloquent lines. As mentioned the Jihad and struggle of Afghan nation for the sake of librating the country from foreign invaders has its value and place and will be remembered and praised forever. However; violating human rights and committing crimes against the people of Afghanistan is appalling and the perpetrators must be brought to justice no matter when the crimes were committed.
In order to bring justice, security and rule of law in Afghanistan, not only the Afghans but also the international community need to focus on root causes of dilemma. An unstable and lawless Afghanistan is not in benefit of world so the international community must continue its contribution to make Afghanistan responsible member of the world nations. If the international community forgets Afghanistan once again, it will indisputably become a safe heaven for international terrorists.
The achievements in Afghanistan are remarkable while challenges are difficult but not impossible. There are challenges ahead such as insecurity, corruption, narcotics, foreign interventions and the deteriorating rule of law. They can easily overshadow the progresses unless the international community and the Government of Afghanistan step up efforts and adopt effective counter strategies and implementation plans.
Making laws by the parliament enjoys paramount importance for the future of Afghanistan. Legislation, which constitutes the basis of a civil society, must be enacted in order to bring reforms rather than promoting impunity and undermining the implementation of justice. Global experiences have shown that impunity to war criminals and human rights violators only entrenches injustice. So the present controversial law is not only a self-serving attempt by the law-makers but also step forward in creating a hindrance in the process of expanding rule of law.
Sefat Rahimi is currently a student at the Northeastern University, the People?s Republic of China and can be reached at