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Afghanistan: Dutch Verdicts Could Reopen Old Wounds

Afghanistan's new National Assembly may have to begin the reconciliation process by examining its own members The Court of Law in The Hague on 14 October sentenced two former Afghan generals to imprisonment for war crimes committed in Afghanistan and violating the Torture Act and the Dutch War Crimes Act. The case can be a prelude to more arrests and could have an unintended influence on the soon-to-be convened National Assembly of Afghanistan.

According to a press release on 17 October from the National Policy Agency of the Netherlands, the two men -- Hesamuddin Hesam and Habibullah Jalalzoy -- had applied for asylum in the Netherlands, where they have been residing since 1992 and 1996, respectively. Both men were sentenced for involvement in torture while working for military intelligence when Afghanistan was ruled by the Soviet-backed communist regime.

Hesam, who was the director of the Military KhAD, or Khad-e Nezami (KhAD was the acronym for State Intelligence Service) from 1982 until 1990 and also served as the deputy intelligence minister was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. Jalalzoy was head of the interrogations department of the Military KhAD from 1979 until 1990 and was sentenced to nine years in prison.

According to the Dutch court, Hesam had knowledge of the practice of torture, was involved in torture, and did not act to prevent the torture, while Jalalzoy was actively involved in torture.

Criminal investigations involving the two Afghans began in 2003 leading to the arrest of Hesam a year later (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 December 2004). According to the press release, during the investigation the Dutch National Crimes Squad spoke with witnesses in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Norway, and Afghanistan.

British Precedence

The sentencing of the two former Afghan communist generals in the Netherlands follows sentencing of a former Afghan warlord to 20 years imprisonment by a British court in London in July on charges of torture and hostage taking (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 July 2005).

Zardad Sarwar Faryadi, a former member of the radical Hizb-e Islami party, was convicted of crimes he committed while in the Sarubi area along the road from Kabul to Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan from 1992 until 1996. After the fall of the communist government in 1992, former mujahedin resistance groups turned their guns against one another in a bloody fight for power, plunging Afghanistan into civil war and chaos.
Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission spokesman Nader Naderi said he welcomes the trials of accused Afghan human rights violators as a positive step "toward increasing [the Afghan] people's trust in the peace process in Afghanistan and ending impunity."

In Faryadi's case, which was tried based on the UN Convention on Torture, witnesses testified via a video link from the British Embassy in Kabul.

Following Faryadi's conviction, Nader Naderi, a spokesman for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) told RFE/RL that he welcomed the British action as a positive step "toward increasing [the Afghan] people's trust in the peace process in Afghanistan and ending impunity."

Afghan Implications

The conviction of two communist generals and a mujahedin commander on torture charges in two European countries could have consequences inside Afghanistan, and even in the National Assembly which was elected on 18 September and is due to begin its work soon.

While Afghan and international human rights organizations have called for a mechanism under which those who are accused of committing crimes against humanity on a mass scale during 25 years can be brought to trial, the Afghan authorities have taken no organized steps to address this issue. The cases in the Netherlands and in Britain could make it more difficult for Kabul to avoid acting on this potentially divisive issue much longer.

Moreover, and perhaps more challenging, is the fact that among the representatives who will be sitting in the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) of the country's National Assembly, there are a few who have records that seem to link them directly with torture and other crimes against the Afghan people. If Afghanistan is ever to heal the wounds of its past, the legislative assembly that must lead such an effort could have to begin by examining its own members. Alternatively, these few members of the People's Council may become a factor in convincing their colleagues to let bygones be bygones. Under such a scenario, those who have been victimized by such crimes must either forgive their tormentors and move on or try to raise their cases in foreign countries in their quest for some measure of justice.