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Afghanistan: Amnesty Law Draws Criticism, Praise

Members of the Wolesi Jirga during a session in 2005 (file photo) (AFP) March 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's parliament has passed an amnesty law that prevents the state from independently prosecuting people for war crimes committed during conflicts in recent decades. Supporters say the law will help bring national reconciliation, but critics say alleged war criminals in the parliament are only trying to protect themselves from prosecution.

The new amnesty law places the burden of proof in war crimes trials upon victims rather than on state prosecutors.

Bill Amended And Passed

The law recognizes the rights of war crimes victims to seek justice and to bring cases against those alleged to have committed war crimes. But in the absence of a complaint by a victim, Afghan authorities are now banned from prosecuting accused war criminals on their own.

"I think the best way [to settle] the issue of the reconciliation law is to seek the viewpoint of the people. And that means conducting a public referendum."

The lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, approved the bill after President Hamid Karzai revised an initial bill that had been approved by both chambers of parliament that gave amnesty to all Afghans involved in war crimes during the last three decades of fighting.

Afghanistan's highest body of Islamic clerics criticized the initial draft legislation, saying parliament cannot issue a blanket amnesty from war crimes because only the victims of war crimes can forgive the perpetrators.

Mulavi Mohammad Musa, an Islamic scholar in Afghanistan's northeastern Nuristan Province, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that he agrees with other Islamic clerics who think the amnesty damages the prospects of national reconciliation.

Protecting War Criminals?

"We think it does not benefit the nation. It benefits those people who committed war crimes," he said. "And it inspires others to commit the same kind of crimes. We elected President Karzai and the parliament to safeguard our rights. But to the contrary, these people are pardoning those who are violating our rights."

A lecturer at Kabul University who specializes in law and political science, Wadir Safi, says a lot of Afghans are angry about the amnesty because many lawmakers are alleged to have committed war crimes themselves.

"Let us say that passing this legislation was not within the powers of the lower house of parliament," Safi said. "This means that the representatives of the lower house shouldn't be the judges of their own deeds."

The revised resolution grants a general amnesty from prosecution to all groups -- rather than individual members -- who led the anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s and then plunged the country into a civil war that killed tens of thousands.

Among the alleged war crimes, it is claimed that thousands of civilians in Kabul were killed by indiscriminate shelling and rocketing from 1992 to 1995.

Government Officials Accused

Even some members of Karzai's government have been accused of committing war crimes and human rights abuses.

General Dostum is one of those accused of crimes (AFP file photo)

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch says Afghan Vice President Karim Khalili and army Chief of Staff Abdul Rashid Dostum are among those who should face trial before a special court for alleged war crimes.

In a report last year, Human Rights Watch also listed Energy Minister Ismail Khan, Karzai's security adviser Mohammad Qasim Fahim, lawmaker Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani as among the "worst perpetrators."

Still, the amnesty law has its supporters. In February, more than 20,000 Afghans attended a rally at a Kabul stadium that was organized by parliamentary sponsors of the legislation. Sayyaf was among the speakers at that rally.

"The aim of this gathering is to support the decision of the parliament, and to gather people together for the unity, solidarity, and support for peace and stability, and to honor the mujahedin and martyrs," Sayyaf said. "That is why we have organized this gathering."

Promoting Reconciliation

Some Afghans interviewed by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan agree with lawmakers who say the amnesty is the best way to advance the process of national reconciliation and prevent the country from slipping back into civil war. Among them is Hafizullah, a medical doctor who lives in Kabul.

"All citizens know that national reconciliation will benefit this country," he said. "It is also clear that the entire nation welcomes this pardon as part of reconciliation."

But Sayid Zainabidin, a resident of Maimana in northwestern Afghanistan, says he thinks the amnesty law would not be approved by Afghan voters it were subject to a referendum.

"I think the best way [to settle] the issue of the reconciliation law is to seek the viewpoint of the people," he said. "And that means conducting a public referendum."

Victims Protest Angrily

Meanwhile, at a prison in Afghanistan's western city of Herat, detainees have started a hunger strike to protest the amnesty.

Ghulam Nabi Hakak, head of the Herat office of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, met with the striking prisoners this week to discuss their demands.

"When we first learned about their protest, we went to the prison," he said. "The prisoners submitted their demands, saying the parliament has pardoned people who have committed crimes but taken no action in their cases."

Hakak says the hunger-striking prisoners are poor Afghans who did not have the chance of a fair trial or even access to an attorney when they were convicted.

Hakak says one prisoner in Herat has sewn his lips together as a protest against the amnesty law.

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report.)

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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