UN Human Rights Rep in Kabul Calls for Repeal of War Crimes Amnesty

The United Nations’ highest human rights official in Afghanistan has publicly called on the Afghan government to repeal a recently publicized law that grants amnesty from prosecution to leaders of all warring factions during two more than two decades of conflict before 2001.

“This law relieves Afghan authorities of their obligation to investigate and prosecute, on their own initiative, those allegedly responsible for gross violations of human rights,” said Norah Niland, the representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kabul, on March 25.

“The law is likely to undermine efforts to secure genuine reconciliation, which is of course about bringing together different elements of a fractured society,” she added.

Afghanistan’s parliament passed the controversial measure known as the National Stability and Reconciliation Law in 2007, and in December of last year, the legislation was quietly brought into force. Only in mid March did the Afghan government confirm it had been enacted.

Human rights groups and Afghan civil society organizations have decried the blanket amnesty provided by the law as an affront to justice and a brazen display of disrespect for victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Former factional militia leaders, some of whom have been implicated in atrocities, comprise a significant portion of the Afghan parliament.

“Afghans have been losing hope in their government because so many alleged war criminals and human rights abusers remain in positions of power,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

An estimated one and a half million Afghans were killed in conflict between 1978 and 2001, and many acts, such as the shelling of Kabul during the civil war and ethnically-motivated massacres under the Taliban regime, qualify as some of the most serious crimes under international law.