Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghanistan: Feb/Mar '11

IWPR preparing series of radio and television features on past abuses aimed at promoting transitional justice.
By IWPR

Journalists across Afghanistan are participating in a justice reporting project that will produce three video and more than 20 radio documentaries exposing past human rights violations.

The documentaries will examine human rights abuses that occurred during the occupation of Afghanistan by the forces of the former Soviet Union from 1979 to 1989, the Afghan civil war from 1990 to 1995, and under the Taleban rule from 1996 to 2001.

More than 50 journalists are being trained in radio and video documentary production by two visiting international trainers. The programme was formally launched at the end of September 2010 and will conclude October 31.

The project is funded by the United States State Department.

Leading the radio documentaries is Firuz Rahimi, an Afghan journalist and experienced BBC correspondent and producer who has taken a leave from his position with the Uzbek Service of the BBC’s World Service to work with IWPR.

Rahimi is from the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif and grew up during the Communist era. He lived through some of the most intense fighting of the Taleban era, and after attending medical school in Mazar-e-Sharif, became a journalist following the collapse of the Taleban regime in 2001.

Rahimi is working closely on the project with IWPR – Afghanistan staff radio producer Zabihullah Ziar, an experienced radio reporter and production specialist.

Approximately ten proposed documentaries have been commissioned so far focusing on past human rights violations including mass killings and torture in various provinces in northern and western Afghanistan. Additional radio documentaries will be commissioned in central, eastern and southern Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

The documentaries will take from six to eight weeks to produce and will be approximately 15 minutes in length. They will be broadcast on local radio stations as well as national radio networks. The radio documentaries will be aired in talk show formats and will solicit listener comment and discussion.

“Most journalists are consumed by day-to day stories. This project will give them an opportunity to work with IWPR and to extend their skills and produce stories over a period of time,” Rahimi said. “It gives them an opportunity to investigate and go in-depth on these subjects.

“They will be refocusing on transitional justice issues from which Afghanistan still suffers, and this will hopefully raise awareness among the public. They will produce this material in a very balanced manner and to an international standard.

“The journalists are coming up with their own ideas and this shows the high level of interest in the subject.”

The video documentaries are being filmed by international producer Javier Manzano and associate producer Zaman Mohammadi, an Afghan filmmaker with extensive video film and production experience.

Manzano recently won a World Press Photo award with an image captured in northern Mexico depicting a death in the on-going violence of the drug wars along the US-Mexico border. He has also produced a documentary on the subject.

Each of the three video documentaries will be about 30 minutes long and will focus on each of the three recent eras which experienced widespread human rights violations.

The video documentaries have been researched with help from more than a dozen human rights organizations in Afghanistan and numerous victims advocacy groups. Filming is underway, and will involve the training of local video journalists on location.

“I am very excited to be part of this project,” Manzano said. “The tragic loss of life over the past 30 years of Afghan history is largely the result of massive violations of human rights.

“These documentaries will highlight the need for the tens of thousands of victims and their surviving family members find justice. As many Afghans have told me, Afghanistan can only have peace where there is justice.”

IWPR country director Peter Eichstaedt said the project will require a lot of skill and sensitivity because many of those who are suspected of being responsible for human rights violation still wield considerable power in government and communities across the country.

Reporters face severe risks if the documentaries are not handled properly, Eichstaedt said, so each report must focus on historical accuracy and be well balanced, since many Afghans have been involved in one way or another with human rights abuses.

“We are concentrating on the victims of human rights violations, because everyone in Afghanistan has suffered,” Eichstaedt said. “By showing the extent of the problem, in Afghanistan, we hope to stimulate a push for justice in Afghanistan.” 

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