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For Immediate Release

PHR Demands That Authorities Fulfill Responsibilities toward Afghan Mass Graves

Cambridge, Mass - 12/22/2008

Cambridge, MA – Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) calls upon Afghan, UN, and NATO authorities to cease evading responsibility and to act immediately to secure the mass grave site at Dasht-e-Leili in northern Afghanistan. During the past 72 hours, PHR has sent separate letters demanding action to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and General David McKiernan, Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

PHR has called repeatedly for the protection of the site and for security for witnesses since first discovering the mass grave in 2002. As PHR has done in more than a dozen communications since 2002, the Karzai and McKiernan letters have requested specific assurances that authorities would act. PHR has urged the Afghan government to request NATO assistance in securing the Dasht-e-Leili grave, and has asked NATO step forward to provide security. To date, it appears that neither of these things has happened, and that each entity is waiting for someone else to make the first move.

PHR is concerned that the delay in action on all sides may be allowing for additional destruction of evidence and further endangerment of witnesses at the Dasht-e-Leili site.

"To do nothing about what has happened at Dasht-e-Leili would be sending a clear signal to the victims of war in Afghanistan that their situation will not be addressed," said PHR CEO Frank Donaghue. "The first step towards any type of justice is to secure the evidence of crimes committed. This hasn't happened yet. PHR feels strongly that we must take the lead of mothers who have demonstrated for the truth in the streets of Kabul and do everything possible to hold accountable the perpetrators of mass atrocities. It is never a good strategy to ignore mass killings such as the ones allegedly connected to Dasht-e-Leili, since peace and stability require truth and justice."

PHR repeated its call for the US to provide vital assistance to the UN and the government of Afghanistan by declassifying and releasing all satellite imagery of the Dasht-e-Leili site and the surrounding area. These satellite images could provide evidence of past mass burials, as well as the recent destruction of the site, and may assist in locating where remains were placed after their removal from Dasht-e-Leili.

"The site at Dasht-e-Leili is extremely complicated," said Stefan Schmitt, director of PHR's International Forensic Program. "It contains evidence of mass atrocities from different events, which now includes signs of site tampering. It is critical that as part of any investigation an international team of forensic specialists provide the necessary scientific approach to document such a complex crime scene."

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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