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Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR), February 20, 2007

Afghans in No Mood to Forgive Killers

A parliamentary resolution on immunity for war crimes has the country in an uproar.

By Hafizullah Gardesh and Wahidullah Amani

Forgive and forget may be a noble aspiration, but it is not playing well in Afghanistan today. A wide spectrum of public opinion, both at home and abroad, has weighed in against a parliamentary resolution passed on January 31, which would grant blanket immunity for war crimes.

Victims of war
The only two survivors of a family killed in the crossfire of fundamentalist in-fighting in Kabul. (August 24, 1992)

The resolution, passed by parliament's lower house, the Wolesi Jirga, states that all those "who fought each other for various reasons during the past two and a half decades should be [included in] the national reconciliation process and should forgive each other. They should not be dealt with through legal and judicial channels".

The resolution, which still has to be passed by the upper house and approved by the president before becoming law, would make it impossible to prosecute those responsible for numerous crimes against humanity during the past 25 years of Afghanistan's long and bloody history. Given the deep and lasting scars from the successive conflicts - jihad, civil war, the fight against the Taliban - there are multiple layers of enmity to unravel, and dozens, if not hundreds, of war crimes suspects.

Many of those who stand accused of war crimes by human rights organisations are now in positions of power within the government. There are several behind the resolution itself.

Supporters say that it will promote national healing. With Afghanistan's troubled history, they argue, it is in no one's interests to start picking at old wounds.

"Those who have been named as criminals are actually those who defended the country," said Maulawi Din Mohammad, a parliamentarian who backed the bill. "We need peace and security, and we cannot progress by more violence."

But one man's hero is another man's warlord.

"Parliament has changed to a safe haven for war criminals and human rights violators," said Malalai Joya, the young firebrand parliamentarian whose harsh criticism of the warlords has made her a target of death threats and even, on one occasion, of physical violence in the house of parliament itself. "These people are vipers in our bosom."

Afghan human rights activists also voiced their anger at the proposed law.

"The resolution can do nothing for the peace and stability of Afghanistan," said Ahmad Nadir Naderi, spokesperson for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, AIHRC. "Instead, it will guarantee that the crimes will be repeated."

According to Naderi, the resolution was a self-serving measure by parliamentarians who had been singled out as criminals by both national and international human rights organisations.

"The people who passed this resolution were afraid of transitional justice and execution," said Nadiri. "But it will promote personal revenge and a mafia culture."

Human Rights Watch, in reports issued in 2005 and 2006, named several prominent figures as culpable in the decades of violence. Among them are parliamentarians Abdul al-Rassul Sayaf and Younus Qanuni, the latter the speaker of the Wolesi Jirga.

Others singled out include Vice President Karim Khalili, and the chief of staff of the armed forces Abdur Rashid Dostum.

Some member of parliament were so opposed to the resolution they walked out of the hall during the vote.

Analysts believe the hanging of Saddam Hussein may have spurred powerful Afghan politicians into acting against similar trials at home. "Afghans will see this as a sign that their parliament is more concerned with protecting its own members than the people," said Sam Zarifi of Human Rights Watch.
But many of those facing the most serious accusations, such as Abdul Rasul Sayaaf, are influential members of parliament.
The Guardian, Feb.1, 2007

One of them was Abdul Kabir Ranjbar, a lawyer."It grants immunity for crimes committed over the past two decades, and this is against the national interest and the wishes of the people of Afghanistan," he fumed. "If this resolution is endorsed by the president, it will widen the distance between the people, the parliament and the government."

Lawmaker Mullah Abdul Salam Raketi, who earned his nickname for his skill with a rocket launcher during Soviet jihad, also condemned the resolution. Raketi’s resume also includes a stint as a Taliban commander.

Parliament had intended to pass a bill that would pave the way for reconciliation between the Taliban and the government, according to Raketi. It was never meant to be a free pass for war criminals, he said.

"Some people got together and made this resolution in secret," he said. "I am against it. Criminals must be punished."

The resolution has a long way to go before it becomes law. It was issued by the lower house of parliament. It must now be approved by the upper house, the Mashrano Jirga, and then forwarded to President Hamed Karzai for his signature.

"I hope the president will refuse to sign, and not embarrass us before the whole world," said Ranjbar.

Presidential approval is unlikely, according to Karzai's spokesman, Karim Rahimi.

"No one, including the president, has the right to exonerate criminals," he said. "That right belongs to the victims."

The president, added Rahimi, would take no action in violation of the law of the land. "This resolution is just a draft," he added.

His views were echoed by Sultan Ahmad Bahin, a foreign ministry spokesman.

"Only victims can forgive," he said. "Afghanistan belongs to the United Nations, and respects international laws."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, expressed concern at the resolution, stating that it "will undermine the process towards securing long term peace through re-establishing the rule of law in Afghanistan".

In a statement released just two days after the bill was passed by the lower house of parliament, Arbour called on the president and the government to bring those responsible for serious human rights violations to justice.

Arbour emphasised that the president had launched an Action Plan on Peace, Reconciliation and Justice in early December, one of the goals of which was ensuring that there would be no amnesty for war crimes.

"The voices of the victims must be heard and they have spoken out clearly for the culture of impunity in Afghanistan to end," she said.

Political analyst Fazul Rahman Orya said,"During the London Conference, one of the demands of the international community was that war criminals be brought to justice. If Karzai does not honour this, not only will donors decrease their assistance, they will stop backing the Karzai government."

The London Conference was held on January 31-February 1, 2006, in the British capital, and introduced the Afghan Compact, which, among other things, called for increased respect for human rights.

Common people also express outrage at the resolution.

"I lost two brothers, two uncles, how can I forgive?" said Mohammad Rafi, 24, who sells phone cards on the streets of Kabul. "Karzai is chosen by the people. Karzai represents people not these criminals. I hope Karzai doesn't stand by these killers and instead stands by the nation."

"Parliament is a shelter for criminals," said Mohammad Akram, 45, a shopkeeper in Kabul. "They are granting forgiveness for themselves."

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