Afghan Panel on Human Rights and Transitional Justice
International Forensic Program (IFP) Director Stefan Schmitt and Program Consultant Zabi Mazoori participated on July 21, 2011 in the 79th “Guftegu,” a public discussion with expert panelists, on “Truth Seeking and Justice in Afghanistan” at the French Cultural Center in Kabul.
A Persian word meaning “conversation, dialogue, or interaction,” a “guftegu” is a public round table discussion reminiscent of “Meet the Press” in the United States, and organized by the Armanshahr Foundation to deal specifically with human rights and transitional justice issues. Transitional justice refers to the process of addressing human rights violations and abuses as a country moves away from conflict and seeks national healing.
Invitees for this round table discussion were prominent intellectuals and politicians in Afghanistan, with guest speakers including Member of Parliament Rafiq Shaher, Senior Legal Advisor of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) Ali Rezah Rohani, and Aziz Rafaie, Director of the Afghanistan Civil Society Forum.
The moderator, Ajmal Baluchzadah, commenced the discussion by giving a brief introduction for the session and presenting the panelists. Our own Stefan Schmitt began by providing background on PHR and the IFP, and specifically explaining our ongoing three-year project in Afghanistan. He emphasized the importance of using forensic science to document human rights violations and establish the truth, one based on facts rather than rumors. Going further, he highlighted the numerous mass graves found in Afghanistan as an example of these violations and explained in detail how to properly investigate and document them. Stefan concluded by reminding everyone that justice can only prevail when the truth is out there to find, and there exists those willing to find it.
Ali Reza Rohani, the Senior Advisor of the AIHRC, spoke in detail about the concept of transitional justice and its mechanisms. Mr. Rohani also gave examples of other countries' attempts at transitional justice, described their particular successes and failures, and also provided oversight to the challenges that transitional justice faces in Afghanistan.
Mr. Rafiq Shahir, an MP from the western province of Herat, commenced his speech by criticizing the international community present in Afghanistan for not playing a proper role in bringing justice and security to the country. Surprisingly, in contrast to his previous stance on transitional justice, he mentioned that Afghanistan should instead focus on stability and security. He gave an example of how the current Karzai government has not abided by the Afghan constitution and that, as we have seen, this violation has caused serious difficulty in implementing transitional justice.
Aziz Rafaie, the Director of the Afghanistan Civil Society Forum (ACSF), spoke about the recent release of ACSF’s report titled A First Step on a Long Journey: How People Define Violence and Justice in Afghanistan (1958-2008). He explained some of the major findings of the report, including statistics on which period of Afghan history had the most human rights violations. He disagreed with Mr. Shaheer, respectfully of course in true “Meet the Press" style, saying “there is no agenda as important as justice to Afghans and without implementation of justice we will not have sustainable peace and security.”
Following the panelists’ speeches, the dialogue portion began with participants asking the serious questions. One person inquired: “Who is responsible for implementing transitional justice in Afghanistan? If it is the government then it is full of perpetrators.” While the answer is too involved to provide here, the questions themselves provide a terrific example of the strong feelings of those attending, and the challenges faced by the panelists in responding to such a difficult topic.
A few examples of some shorter question and answers were:
Can forensic science determine the perpetrator by just looking at the physical evidence or the mass grave?
Stefan: Looking at physical evidence at a crime scene or in a mass grave is part of an investigation. In order to investigate an incident comprehensively, we need to look at physical evidence, we need to talk to witnesses and other relevant parties.
There are many mass graves in Afghanistan and there are thousands of people that are missing and potentially buried in these mass graves. Why hasn't there been any investigation by the Afghan government nor the international community?
Stefan: The investigation of the mass grave lies under the responsibility of the Afghan government. I remember a few years ago many victims and civil society groups protested in front of the UN Assistant Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA). I recommended to them that they should protest in front of Afghan ministries and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights commission. Also, the international community has not put adequate pressure on the Afghan government to take transitional justice seriously. A few years ago when I came to Afghanistan as consultant for UNAMA, I assisted the mass grave situation and I recommended future steps. Fortunately, after PHR's Crime Scene and Mass Gravesite Documentation training, with participants consisting of police, forensic doctors, archaeologists, human rights officers and civil society representatives, the Afghanistan Forensic Science Organization (FSO) was established. This team is trained on how to deal with the issue of mass graves and how to protect and start an investigation on them.
The previous Parliament passed the Amnesty Law and under that amnesty law no one can be prosecuted for human rights violations in the past and even in the future. How will the new Parliament deal with the amnesty law?
Rafiq Shaher: I don't agree with the Amnesty Law but even in the new parliament we don't have enough numbers to abolish that law because we need a two-thirds majority to abolish an act. But what we can do is to bring new legislation that undermines the Amnesty Law.
Invitations for these gatherings are made public via newspapers, email lists, and social media, and 300 to 500 individual guests from both universities and the general public typically attend. Thanks to further collaboration with the Armanshahr Foundation, the Dari-language version of our report on the recently concluded Kabul Conference, Truth Seeking and the Role of Forensic Science, was distributed during this event.
Armanshahr is a non-profit organization based in Kabul that creates opportunities to allow for greater social demand for democracy, human rights, justice, and rule of law, and promotes both regional and international discussion on ensuring peace and continued progress in Afghanistan.
Both the Dari and English versions of PHR’s report are available for download on our dedicated website.