(Kabul) – Candidates for the 2014 presidential elections in Afghanistan include former military and militia commanders implicated in serious rights abuses, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The Afghan government’s failure to prosecute or disqualify those responsible for grave crimes underscores the importance of accountability in Afghanistan’s future.
Human Rights Watch called on the Afghan government to seek the repeal of recent amnesty and election laws that prevent the Electoral Complaints Commission from disqualifying presidential and vice presidential candidates responsible for past atrocities.
“Had the Afghan government in the last decade properly addressed crimes of the past, several current candidates would now be disqualified from seeking office – or would even be serving time,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Foreign donors should press the Afghan government to ensure future elections are not being contested by serious rights abusers.”
Afghanistan’s constitution bars any individuals “convicted of crimes against humanity, a criminal act or deprivation of civil rights by court” from running for elected office. But the Afghan government’s failure in the last decade to pursue criminal accountability for those responsible for grave crimes has rendered the provision ineffective. Since there have been no systematic investigations or prosecutions for past atrocities, no major commanders have been convicted for any of the massive abuses that have taken place in Afghanistan during the past 35 years of war.
Numerous Afghan warlords, senior politicians, and members of the security forces have committed serious human rights abuses during the various armed conflicts that have devastated Afghanistan over the last three decades. Human Rights Watch has documented abuses in reports throughout the period, including 1984, 1985 and 1988 reports on abuses in the Soviet occupation era, a 1991 report on abuses committed after the Soviet withdrawal, a major report issued in 2005 about grave abuses committed in Kabul from 1992-1995, several documents and reports on Taliban era abuses, including a 1998 and 2000 report, two more before the September 11 attacks, and two more in 2001 after the attacks. Yet in the almost 13 years since the end of Taliban rule, the Afghan government has systematically blocked inquiries and efforts aimed at accountability for past abuses.
In 2004, the governmental Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) completed a survey based on in-depth interviews and focus groups with thousands of Afghans across the country, focusing on citizens’ views on past crimes and what to do about addressing them. The findings made it clear that the vast majority of Afghans wanted the crimes of the past to be confronted: 94 percent said they considered justice for past crimes to be either “very important” (75.9 percent) or “important” (18.5 percent). When asked what the effects would be for Afghanistan in bringing war criminals to justice, 76 percent said it would “increase stability and bring security,” and only 7.6 percent said it would “decrease stability and threaten security.”
Under public pressure, the Afghan government in 2005 adopted the Peace, Reconciliation and Justice Action Plan, which rejected amnesty for rights violators and outlined steps toward accountability to be achieved over the following years. But since then, the Afghan government has failed to implement the plan, and instead taken steps to undermine it.
In 2007, parliament ratified an amnesty law sponsored by a coalition of powerful warlords and their supporters to prevent the prosecution of individuals implicated in human rights abuses in the preceding decades. The law stated that all those who took part in armed conflict before the formation of the Interim Administration in Afghanistan in December 2001 shall “enjoy all their legal rights and shall not be prosecuted.”
The law’s validity and constitutionality remained contested, but it went into effect with publication in the official gazette in 2010, despite President Hamid Karzai’s repeated assurances that he would not approve it. In 2013, the parliament amended a previous electoral law that had barred candidates “who command or are members of military organizations or armed groups (unofficial military forces)” and had provided for a vetting mechanism to assess which candidates could be disqualified. In the 2013 electoral law, the prohibition and the vetting mechanism were removed.
President Karzai also acted personally to block release by the AIHRC of one of the commission’s key projects – an 800-page report that maps war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan since the communist era. The AIHRC completed the report in December 2011, but the government has indefinitely suspended its public release, subverting the document’s value as a foundation for efforts to prosecute those implicated in past abuses.
“For 13 years the Afghan government and its international allies have nurtured commanders implicated in serious crimes, while the leadership blocked efforts to bring justice to the countless victims,” Adams said. “Without a reversal of this approach, the most infamous legacy of the Karzai era will be awarding power to those with blood-stained hands.”
Human Rights Watch called on the Afghan government to repeal the 2010 amnesty law, reverse the 2013 electoral law change, and empower Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission to allow complaints to be registered against candidates against whom serious allegations of rights abuses have been made, and disqualify candidates who have commanded militias or military units responsible for abuses.
“Afghan warlords and other human rights abusers who have killed, tortured and robbed civilians have no place in government,” Adams said. “A secure and just future for Afghanistan cannot be built by the same people who savaged it in the past.”