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For Immediate Release

Afghanistan Should Repeal Amnesty Law Offering Immunity for War Crimes

Cambridge, Mass - 03/17/2010

Cambridge, MA — A new Afghan law giving amnesty to people who have committed serious human rights violations is a major step backward, and Physicians for Human Rights urges the country's legislature to repeal the measure.

Under the law, passed by the Afghan parliament in 2007 but made public only recently, those who committed serious human rights violations in Afghanistan prior to 2001 would be immune from criminal prosecution if they agreed to cooperate with the Afghan government. The immunity would cover even war crimes and crimes against humanity, including massacres, rape, torture, public executions and similar abuses.

“The international community should not stand by and let this law undermine the goal of stabilizing the country,” says Susannah Sirkin, Deputy Director at PHR. “All international stakeholders in Afghanistan should vigorously protest this development.”

International law requires states to investigate and prosecute gross human rights violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Afghanistan's constitution commits the country to abide by the major treaties and conventions of international law, including the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 2005, the country drafted a Plan for Peace, Justice and Reconciliation that addresses the needs of victims traumatized by 30 years of war.

“The new law in effect rescinds that commitment,” says Sirkin, “and essentially declares impunity as the cornerstone for reconciliation.” The law extends an offer of immunity even to those engaged in current hostilities, as long as they agree to reconciliation with the government. “This could be interpreted as a blanket amnesty to further integrate known human rights offenders into parliament,” Sirkin adds, “with the only difference being that now Taliban perpetrators of serious crimes get to join, too.”

PHR, which has been documenting serious violations of human rights in Afghanistan since 1998, endorses the March 10 statement by the Transitional Justice Coordination Group (TJCG), representing 24 Afghan civil society organizations, which calls for the law to be repealed. The TJCG stated that "accountability, not amnesia, for past and present crimes, is a prerequisite for genuine reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan. All Afghans will suffer as a result of implementation of this law, which undermines justice and the rule of law."

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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