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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.

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“Accountability, not amnesia for past and present crimes is a prerequisite for genuine reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan,” the TJCG said in a statement criticizing the amnesty.

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The law prevents virtually all investigation or prosecution of war crimes, crimes against humanity, rape, and torture, they pointed out. It has no cutoff date, thus allowing armed groups to continue to act with impunity. Though it allows victims to seek prosecution for war crimes, critics point out that individuals cannot realistically take on a warlord.

Two other independent groups – the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) – have also criticized the law. They point to Afghanistan’s international treaty obligations, which calls for the prosecution of certain serious crimes.

“It is questionable whether measures that ignore the rights of victims, promote impunity and undermine accountability contribute to stability and reconciliation in the long run,” they said in a joint statement in February.

Some survivors, though, recognizing how improbable their call for justice is, say they would settle for simply an acknowledgment of their suffering. Says Arab Shahi, whose brother was tortured to death by government forces under the Soviet regime even though he worked as an official in the Ministry of Education, “We don’t want revenge. We do not want an eye for an eye…. [But] the perpetrators should at least apologize.”

‘Not our reconciliation’

Others, like Engineer Niamat, wish they could find out exactly what happened to their missing relatives.

After his brother disappeared in 1978, Mr. Niamat, a teacher at the police academy, tried desperately to find him. Years later his family learned the brother had been killed, but his body was never found.

Niamat, who lost five other brothers in conflict, gathered last month with dozens of others at the site of the suspected mass grave. For him, that visit held more hope for him than the government’s peace jirga.

Asked about the official gathering, he is dismissive.

“This is the reconciliation of the government,” he says. “This is not our reconciliation.”

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