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Afghanistan peace jirga's unlikely critics: victims of war crimes

Some 1,500 delegates at Afghanistan’s peace jirga are debating how to reconcile with insurgents. But war crimes victims say their concerns are being buried.

By Aunohita MojumdarCorrespondent / June 3, 2010

Delegates listen to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's opening address of the peace jirga in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, June 2, 2010. Peace jirga delegates are considering how to reconcile with insurgents, but war crimes victims say they are being overlooked.

AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq


Kabul, Afghanistan

As the Afghan government’s peace jirga meets for a second day to discuss how to reconcile with insurgents and end years of violence, an unlikely coalition is lobbying against the effort: victims of previous wars, who say their demands deserve to be heard alongside the belligerents’.

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After hours of discussion Thursday, Afghan tribal elders agreed that this peace meeting had to produce an overture to the Taliban insurgents because NATO and Afghan forces weren't able to bring security to the people.

Victims say that they too want lasting peace for Afghanistan, but argue that it requires accountability, not amnesty. The lack of justice only encourages further violence, they say.

But in a country that’s seen countless factions battle brutally and shift alliances for three decades, they acknowledge that any peace deal is more likely to bury the past than try to assign blame for the suffering and deaths of millions.

Victims’ jirga

Still, surviving family members, along with a coalition of 24 NGOs called the Transitional Justice Coordination Group gathered in Kabul last month ahead of the three-day government jirga, or council, to make their point with a “victim’s jirga.” More than 100 attendees from around the country met for two days, where they recounted personal tragedies and war crimes under various regimes, and visited a suspected mass grave at Pul-e-Charki, on the outskirts of town near the country’s largest prison.

“I am like a butterfly hovering over the grave of my sons… I have a broken heart… my children, my flowers, why did you go away from me?” lamented Taj-e-Nissa, reading a poem she had composed.

The middle-aged woman, who goes by one name, lost two sons, a daughter, father, and brother to rocket attacks during the 1990s civil war as mujahideen factions, having beaten back the Soviet Army, now battled one another for power. During the Taliban era that followed, her husband, accused of opposing the regime, was imprisoned and tortured.

Amnesty law

The war victims’ lobby had hope a few years ago that the government would heed their call – in 2005 it adopted a Transitional Justice Action Plan that called for the acknowledgment of suffering, removal of war crimes perpetrators from senior positions, and documentation of human rights abuses, among other requirements. But it was never implemented and instead expired last year.

In January it came to light that the government had adopted an amnesty law in 2007 and kept it under wraps. The law protects all belligerents, past and present, from prosecution. It passed without much comment from the international community.