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Transitional Justice in Afghanistan

Transitional justice refers to the process of addressing human rights violations and abuses as a country moves away from conflict and seeks national healing.

As PHR has learned from countries such as El Salvador, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia, the objectivity and transparency of forensic techniques is critical to creating an accurate record of the past. This record forms the basis of justice for victims, accountability for perpetrators, and a chance for the community to tell the truth about its dark past. In Afghanistan, where over 100 mass grave sites allegedly contain many of Afghanistan’s estimated 1.5 million dead, forensics can help identify victims’ remains and determine how they died.

Since the establishment of the Government of Afghanistan (GoA), there have been only limited efforts to begin a national dialogue on justice, accountability, and reconciliation. Many perpetrators hold power at the local, regional, and national levels. At the same time, Afghan civil society has continued to push for transitional justice, arguing that Afghanistan must start to plan for peace now.

PHR has been documenting human rights abuses in Afghanistan since 1997. As part of the grassroots push for transitional justice, we have partnered with Afghan civil society organizations (CSOs) in a multi-year program called Securing Afghanistan’s Past. The program works with national stake-holders to develop the following forensic capacities:

  • Training a Paraprofessional Grave Site Team
  • Hosting two conferences annually to create an Information Sharing Network
  • Providing an assessment of scientific and technical capabilities Afghanistan needs in order to document past abuses.

>> October 2010 Transitional Justice conference report
      (English, pdf, also available in Dari, pdf)

>> October 2010 Transitional Justice conference agenda and participant bios
      (English, pdf, also available in Dari, pdf)

>> Learn more about this multi-year project at SecuringThePast.org.

PHR Responds to White House Comment on Reported Afghan Massacre (July 31, 2013)

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today responded to a White House official’s remarks indicating the conclusion of its investigation into the 2001 incident at Dasht-e-Leili that may have claimed as many as 2,000 lives.

White House Closes Inquiry Into Afghan Massacre – and Will Release No Details (ProPublica, July 31, 2013)

Soon after taking office, President Obama pledged to open a new inquiry into the deaths of perhaps thousands of Taliban prisoners of war at the hands of U.S.-allied Afghan fighters in late 2001. Last month, the White House told ProPublica it was still “looking into” the apparent massacre. Now it says it has concluded its investigation – but won’t make it public.

Four Years Ago Obama Promised to Investigate Afghan Massacre. Has Anything Happened Since? (ProPublica, June 4, 2013)

In his first year in office, President Barack Obama pledged to “collect the facts” on the death of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Taliban prisoners of war at the hands of U.S.-allied Afghan forces in late 2001. Almost four years later, there’s no sign of progress. When asked by ProPublica about the state of the investigation, the White House says it is still “looking into” the apparent massacre.

Afghanistan Must Bolster Its Capacity to Identify the Missing, PHR Declares in New Report (April 24, 2013)

A new report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) released at a conference in Kabul today on “Truth Seeking and the Role of Forensic Science” outlines steps that Afghanistan can take if it is to make progress in addressing the right to truth of victims of more than three decades of violent conflict by identifying missing and disappeared persons.

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Science and Justice in Afghanistan (April 27, 2012)

With the backing of PHR, the Afghanistan Forensic Science Organization (AFSO) was officially launched in Kabul on March 7, 2012. The AFSO was created by eighteen participants of PHR’s 2010 forensic training program in Afghanistan, and funded through PHR’s International Forensic Program.

On 10 Year Anniversary of ‘Convoy of Death’, President Obama Must Keep His Promise to Investigate (December 20, 2011)

This December marks the 10-year anniversary of the “Convoy of Death.” During Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, 2,000 prisoners who had surrendered to the US and the Afghan Northern Alliance were shot or suffocated to death in sealed truck containers while being transferred by Northern Alliance forces. The dead prisoners – some of who had been tortured - were then buried in a mass grave in a northern Afghanistan desert at Dasht-e-Leili.

Obama’s Attempt to Prevent Mass Atrocities is Positive First Step (August 16, 2011)

Recently the Obama Administration unveiled landmark legislation which has the potential to strengthen how the US deals with the prevention of mass atrocities and serious human rights violations. The inter-agency Atrocities Prevention Board (PSD-10) aims to close existing gaps in US law and provide new economic, diplomatic, and political deterrents to ensure that the US responds swiftly and unequivocally to all manner of human rights violators.

Afghan Panel on Human Rights and Transitional Justice (August 12, 2011)

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.

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Securing Afghanistan's Past: Human Remains Identification Needs and Gap Analysis (April 2013)

PHR's report outlines steps that Afghanistan can take if it is to make progress in addressing the right to truth of victims of more than three decades of violent conflict by identifying missing and disappeared persons.

More Transitional Justice in Afghanistan Research »

Featured Expert

Stefan Schmitt

Stefan Schmitt, MS

Stefan Schmitt directs PHR’s International Forensic Program. Most recently, Schmitt documented a massacre by Qaddafi forces in Tripoli for Libyan authorities and the International Criminal Court. Subsequently, the authorities asked him to assemble a team of forensic and legal experts to conduct a human identification needs assessment and gap analysis to advise on identifying the dead from Libya’s revolution. Read More »