Victims’ Jirga Precedes Peace Jirga in Afghanistan

By Asma Nemati (in Afghanistan)

Ahead of the upcoming and much anticipated Peace Jirga to be held in Kabul at the end of May, a group of victims recently came to Kabul to testify about their losses. About 300 people gathered to listen to the various stories of victims from all over Afghanistan. I interviewed Aseela Rahmani, a 23-year-old woman now living in Kabul and studying to get her teaching certificate. Rahmani was teary-eyed and choked up as she was recounting the story of how she lost her young brother in the northern province of Takhar.

“When I was in the seventh grade, the Taliban bombed a plaza [near where I lived]. They air-bombed the area and all the shopkeepers and the local people were killed,” said Rahmani. Aseela’s father was also injured in the same bombing, but luckily he survived. Aseela describes the bombing further, “the bombing was so bad that their [the victims’] hands and legs were strewn all over the place; no one could be recognized.”

Aseela’s story resembles many other stories conveyed by victims that day. A few victims openly accused members of parliament of kidnapping and killing their loved ones. Some expressed their wounded emotions through beautiful prose and poetry, while others passionately called for the immediate implementation of justice. Many noted that participants in the upcoming Peace Jirga must keep the victims’ plight in mind and not forget about their past agonies.

The Transitional Justice Coordination Group (TJCG), one of several organizations which helped put the event together, called for the establishment of accountability mechanisms, the launch of programs to promote reconciliation, and increased efforts to document past human rights abuses. These actions—termed the Action Plan for Peace, Reconciliation and Justice—were based on the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission’s (AIHRC) findings from a survey of more than 4,000 people from 32 provinces. The results revealed persecution on an immense level, including nearly 70 percent of survey respondents identifying themselves or their immediate families as direct victims of a serious human rights violation.

However, in February of 2007, the Afghan National Assembly passed a law granting a blanket amnesty to perpetrators of human rights violations during the years of conflict between 1979 and 2001. The law was implemented in late 2008, when it was published in the official gazette, but that publication was only announced in January 2010. The TJCG has called for the law to be suspended, maintaining that the state has a duty to investigate and prosecute war crimes and the government shouldn’t usurp the rights of victims. Khodadad Bisharat, a member of the TJCG, said without justice for victims, war and brutality will continue.

The upcoming Peace Jirga is scheduled for May 29. The main topic of the Jirga will be how to bring the Afghan war to an end and whether reconciliation with the Taliban is possible, and on what conditions. Until then, the immediate future of the Afghan state continues to remain up in the air.

Asma Nemati is based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Her blogs have appeared in Foreign Policy and The Huffington Post.

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