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Investigating Mass Graves in Afghanistan

A mass grave with at least 100 bodies was discovered last week near the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. It’s not the first mass grave to be found since the toppling of the Taliban but as with the others, nobody knows exactly who the victims are and who killed them. It’s not easy to investigate the crimes that took place over a period of thirty years in the war-torn country.

Both the Taliban and Mujahideen are blamed for mass murders in the past

Both the Taliban and Mujahideen are blamed for mass murders in the past

Mass graves keep being found in Afghanistan. The most recent one was found a few kilometres from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

One local inhabitant has her theory: "There are hundreds of bodies buried there -- they are mainly from the Hazara tribe -- they were brutally killed by the Taliban.”

But Sardar Sultani, the head of the security forces in Balkh province, has a different opinion: “There are civilians, soldiers and others among the dead. Their bodies were brought here from other parts.”

Massacres on all sides

Although it is unclear whose bodies these are in the latest mass grave to be found, what is certain is that members of the Hazara ethnic group and other minorities were massacred under the Taliban.

But the Taliban were not alone in committing mass murder in Afghanistan. During the country’s long civil war, the Communists and the Mujahideen also massacred their political opponents and ethnic minorities.

Aziz Rafie, the director of the Afghan Civil Society Forum, explained why it is so hard to uncover the truth about the mass graves.

“The people who committed these crimes,” he said, “will never disclose it. People who are linked to these crimes, these unhuman acts, are very scared because of the justice system and the government in Afghanistan. The justice system is not working and the government is very weak so they cannot get enough protection and if they reveal information they become vulnerable.“

Lack of political will

The fear of revenge is one thing and the government’s lack of political will is the other, says Ahmad Fahim Hakim, the deputy chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

He says there is a plan of action but it isn’t being applied because this would “encourage criminals to continue their abuse of power and to further cause misery to ordinary people. It would definitely cause a continuation of the culture of impunity”

The lack of political will “is a severe blow to democracy, credible government and human rights.”

No Afghan observer is prepared to say straight out that another problem is the fact that there are warlords in President Karzai’s government who need to be appeased, such as the Uzbek Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has a long string of war crimes to his name.

The Afghan president apparently prefers to integrate such people into the business of politics rather than have them as his opponents by daring a confrontation with the past and demanding justice.

Justice needed for stability

Mr Hakim from the Human Rights Commission deplores the lack of public debate. He thinks most Afghanis want to know the truth but says the right conditions for investigating the war crimes, as well as the right investigators, do not exist.

He fears that there are other mass graves waiting to be discovered and worries that who is in them and who killed them might never be revealed.

Mr Hakim warns that if there is no judicial examination, then the country as a whole will suffer.

"The last six years in Afghanistan are clear proof that you cannot achieve peace and stability without justice and accountability.“

Time will tell if Afghanistan’s government finds the political will to tackle the past; until then the identities of the hundred bodies in the newest mass grave remain unknown.

  • Date 21.04.2008
  • Author DW Staff (act) 21/04/08
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LryO
  • Date 21.04.2008
  • Author DW Staff (act) 21/04/08
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LryO