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For Immediate Release

President Obama Called to Act on Promise to Investigate Dasht-e-Leili Massacre

On anniversary of massacre, PHR urges President to address accountability by the US and Afghanistan

Cambridge, Mass. - 12/13/2011

In a letter dated December 9, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) asked President Obama to make good on his promise to investigate the massacre of prisoners by the Northern Alliance, US allies. 

December marks the ten-year anniversary of the “Convoy of Death.” In 2001, while being transferred by Northern Alliance forces,  2,000 prisoners who had surrendered to US special forces, CIA officers, and the Afghan Northern Alliance were allegedly shot to death or suffocated in sealed metal truck containers. The dead prisoners—some of who had been tortured—were then buried in the northern Afghanistan desert at Dasht-e-Leili. 

According to the New York Times, there were “repeated efforts by the Bush administration to discourage any investigation of the massacre — even after officials from the F.B.I. and the State Department, along with the Red Cross and human rights groups, tried to press the matter.”

On July 12, 2009, during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, President Obama stated that he would ask his national security team “to collect the facts” and he would then “make a decision on how to approach it once the facts were known.”  To date, the President has not issued a public statement as to who is responsible for the massacre, whether US troops were involved, or whether any US officials had sought to prevent an investigation of these events from going forward. 

“PHR has not given up on learning what happened at Dasht-e-Leili. The victims’ families deserve to know the truth about this atrocity,” said Susannah Sirkin, Deputy Director of PHR. “As the US prepares to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, we must address these alleged war crimes in order to help Afghanistan achieve a legitimate democracy where the rule of law is respected.”

PHR discovered the mass graves in 2002. Since then, PHR has led the advocacy effort and investigations into the Dasht-e-Leili massacre. Under the auspices of the United Nations, PHR’s International Forensic Program conducted an initial examination of part of the site, exhumed fifteen remains, and conducted autopsies on three individual remains, finding that the likely cause of death was consistent with suffocation. For the last ten years, PHR, together with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has sought to have the gravesites protected, evidence collected, and the perpetrators of this alleged war crime brought to justice and held accountable.

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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