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Analysis: Let Bygones Be Bygones?

Reckoning with the past has been a hot topic in the Afghan press The report on human rights abuses issued by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) on 29 January, which claimed that the majority of Afghans want people who have violated human rights in the past to be declared ineligible for public office, has generated a heated debate in the Afghan media and official circles.

The AIHRC report stated that 69 percent of respondents identified themselves as victims of human rights violations during the past 23 years of international and internal conflict in Afghanistan. The majority of respondents -- 90 percent -- called for the removal of human rights violators from public office, while 40 percent wanted the prosecution of notorious perpetrators.

In an unattributed article on 5 February, the independent Kabul weekly "Thabat" criticized the AIHRC report for its finding regarding human rights abuses during the "mujahedin period" -- when various anticommunist resistance groups (known as the mujahedin) and some former communist henchmen took control of the country from 1992 to 1996 and fought for power.

The "Thabat" article begins by calling into question the independence of the AIHRC and asks how one can "accept the views of a person who does not believe in God's orders on human rights?" The article does not refer to any specific person on the AIHRC by name.
The editorial recommends that if convicted, these individuals "should not only be sacked from their government posts...but they should face severe punishment before the people."

Additionally, the article criticizes the AIHRC's scope of survey in proportion to the total Afghan population. According to "Thabat," 4,000 Afghans out of a population of 30 million were interviewed by the AIHRC, and the paper argues this is an inadequate number to claim that the views expressed represent those of a majority of Afghans.

The article calls on the Afghan government and the United Nations to "form a truly independent commission that can safeguard human rights and whose members themselves are not involved in crimes against humanity." "Thabat" bases its last argument on the allegation that some members of the AIHRC, while having a "strong bias against the mujahedin," have sympathies with the former communists who ruled Afghanistan from 1978 until 1992 and caused the deaths of "2 million compatriots."

The article in "Thabat" concludes by focusing on the upcoming parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, commenting that the AIHRC report "will create another obstacle" to holding the polls (the election were scheduled to be held before 21 May, but have been delayed; see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 January 2005). According to the weekly, the aim of AIHRC report is to prevent the mujahedin from winning an "adequate number of seats in parliament."

Call For Trials Of Violators Before Elections

In an editorial on 7 February, the Kabul independent daily "Erada" focuses on the timing of the AIHRC report and the upcoming parliamentary elections. Saying that the elections will play a key role in determining the fate of the Afghan people, "Erada" notes that those guilty of human rights abuses may be preparing to run for parliament.

According to "Erada," Afghans have recently been disclosing names of those involved in human rights violations over the past 23 years. These people "should be prosecuted under the supervision of the members of [the AIHRC and the UN] ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary election," the paper suggests.

The editorial recommends that if convicted, these individuals "should not only be sacked from their government posts [if they are currently employed as such] and barred from taking part in the election, but they should face severe punishment before the people."

In an interview with the Afghan Voice Agency on 9 February, the chief of the criminal court for domestic and foreign security, Abdul Baset Bakhtyari, said that the people of Afghanistan have already left the pain of the last 23 years behind them, and the AIHRC reports will lead "Afghanistan toward a new crisis."

Bakhtyari added that it's "not a proper time to bring the human rights violators and war criminals to court, because those who have had a hand in civil wars" are now powerful people or religious leaders. Thus, if convicted, "they will play a significant role in destabilizing the country," he added. According to Bakhtyari, some of the same individuals seen by one group as war criminals are regarded by others as national leaders and heroes.

Discussing various dimensions of human rights, such as freedom of speech, belief, security, and so on, Bakhtyari argued that if violations of all of these are considered, "more than 90 percent of the people of Afghanistan are violators of human rights."

Undoubtedly, the issue of human rights violations is a very sensitive subject in Afghanistan, and as Bakhtyari has pointed out, some of the alleged perpetrators of these crimes hold great power in Afghan social and political life. However, the very fact that Afghanistan has developed to a stage where its own indigenous human rights commission dares to discuss the horrors committed by powerful forces in the country, some of which continue to yield much power; and that this is done without the use of guns is in itself a major step in the country's progress toward the establishment of a civil society based on laws, accountability, and responsibility.

To continue this progress, Afghans deserve recognition of their untold suffering, not necessarily by putting more people in jail and creating chaos, but perhaps by following the example of post-apartheid South Africa.