Afghanistan: Victims’ voice must be heard

Press release

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is deeply concerned that serious human rights violations, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, might go unpunished in Afghanistan.

A Bill passed by the lower house of the Afghan Parliament on 31 January 2007 provides an amnesty to those accused of gross violations of human rights during the past 28 years. Paradoxically, the Bill comes one month and a half after President Hamid Karzai introduced an “Action Plan on Peace, Reconciliation and Justice”, whose objectives include a reform of judicial procedures in order to bring an end to impunity in the country.

“The argument that amnesties are necessary to foster reconciliation, peace and national unity is untenable. Accountability must be at the heart of the transition process in order to ensure a sustainable peace for the Afghan people”, said Sidiki Kaba, President of FIDH.

FIDH considers that this Bill ignores victims’ right to truth and justice and Afghanistan’s international obligations. The victims of the widespread human rights abuses committed by the Jehadi militia and the Taliban demand that the culture of impunity be brought to an end. Efforts to reestablish the rule of law in Afghanistan must not disregard this claim for justice.

FIDH stresses that international law prohibits any sort of amnesty for crimes under international law. The Principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity (Joinet / Orrentlicher Principles), as already incorporated in international law, state that, even when intended to establish conditions conducive to a peace agreement or to foster national reconciliation, amnesty may not benefit perpetrators of serious crimes under international law until States have undertaken prompt and independent investigations and prosecutions. Amnesties shall never prejudice the right of victims to truth and reparation [1].

The UN Secretary General in its report on the establishment of the Special Court for Sierra Leone of October 2000 reiterated that: “the UN has consistently maintained the position that amnesty cannot be granted in respect of international crimes, such as genocide, crimes against humanity or other serious violations of international humanitarian law” [2]. Moreover, the Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) claimed in the case Prosecutor v. Furundzija, on 10 December 1998, that amnesties for torture were prohibited under international law (paragraph 155). The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in its judgment Barrios Altos vs. Peru on 14 March 2001 also concluded that “all amnesty provisions, provisions on prescription and the establishment of measures designed to eliminate responsibility are inadmissible, because they are intended to prevent the investigation and punishment of those responsible for serious human rights violations” (paragraph 41).

If the resolution is approved by the upper house and signed by the President, a blanket amnesty will cover all those responsible for the international crimes committed during Afghanistan’s civil war, some of whom currently hold prominent positions in the Parliament and in the Government.

FIDH calls upon the upper house and President Hamid Karzai to categorically reject this Bill so as to ensure that those responsible for past abuses can be brought to justice. Victims’ voice must be heard.

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