IWPR Insight

Fading Hopes of Transitional Justice in Afghanistan

No one has yet called alleged perpetrators of war crimes to account, and there is little chance of it happening once foreign troops leave in 2014.

Noorrahman Rahmani

The recent IWPR film “The Forgotten Victims”  highlights the issue of transitional justice in Afghanistan. IWPR Afghanistan country director  Noorrahman Rahmani discusses the traumas of past conflicts, and whether there is any hope of the victims securing some kind of justice.


What movement has there been on transitional justice in Afghanistan?

There has been some progress in coming to terms with the past. Ordinary people have become bolder and have begun to speak out about those accused of committing human rights violations, particularly those that occurred in the early 1990s after the collapse of the communist regime. Previously, if anyone said anything about the leaders of that period [post-1992 civil conflict], they would quickly have been accused of being “un-Islamic”.

There was a marked change this year on Mujahedin Victory Day, the anniversary of the mujahedin takeover on April 28, 1992. This year was the 20th anniversary, and the “victory” has been celebrated every year – apart from the period of Taleban rule – even though millions of people fled Kabul and thousands died during the civil war that followed.

After 2001 and the fall of the Taleban, the old warlords assumed power, with the support of the United States and the rest of international community. The anniversary began to be marked by big parades. The government stopped these mass events after some major attacks took place. This upset some of the former mujahedin leaders, but the anniversary remained an important date.

This year, however, some people publicly condemned the mujahedin victory as the beginning of a dark period of Afghan history. There were demonstrations, and there was even a television debate between representatives of the former communist regime and the mujahidin, where this was discussed openly.

People are now asking for those who committed crimes to be brought to justice whether they were communists, mujahedin or whatever. They are starting to say such things in public, and asking the government to serve justice on people who committed crimes during the civil war. Some of these crimes were described in the IWPR film.

A friend of mine who works in TV told me, “Next year, you will see even more people condemning that period in public.” In my opinion, this is a new beginning..


Which of the stories told in "The Forgotten Victims" particularly resonated with you?

The film was the first of its kind to talk about what happened during the civil war. People have long been afraid to discuss these things. It was important to talk to the victims of alleged war crimes. That will also encourage other Afghans to talk about their experiences of human rights violations.

The massacre of Taleban prisoners in the north in 2001, the Bamian massacres, the stoning of a girl accused of adultery in Herat – all these stories were important to me.

In addition to the Forgotten Victims film, we made around 20 radio documentaries about human rights abuses. One of those that particularly moved me was about a massacre perpetrated by the communist regime in the late 1970s, when village elders were invited to a shura in the Kerhala district of Kunar province in the east of the country, and killed in the space of one day. Our journalist interviewed a woman who lost several family members in that incident. It was very moving to hear this. (See Three Decades on From Kunar Massacre.)


What effect is the coalition withdrawal in 2014 likely to have on any transitional justice process?

IGiven that the international community and Afghan forces have been unable to take any action against the warlords up until now in terms of delivering transitional justice, then I am certain nothing will happen past 2014. The Kabul government and the coalition forces argue that they already have one enemy – the insurgents – so they don’t need to make others.

Many former warlords are just as powerful as they ever were. We can see that some very influential people in the Afghan government and in both houses of parliament are not going to allow transitional justice to happen place. For instance, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission was supposed to release a report this year detailing 10,000 cases of human rights abuses. But unfortunately, it never happened. The commission came under pressure not to publish it.


Can anything be done to support transitional justice?

As long as warlords control the regime and get richer and more powerful, the government can do nothing on transitional justice. Nor do I think anything can happen at a local, grassroots level – it needs to be a top-down process.

Public demonstrations and debates on television will encourage more Afghans to speak out. The media can still do much more, both within the country and in terms of drawing international attention to what happened here.

But I fear the issue of transitional justice will be forgotten because of all the other problems we face. Especially after 2014 [when foreign troops leave], it won’t be a top priority. The government will be scared of another civil war.

Noorrahman Rahmani is IWPR Country Director for Afghanistan.


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