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Afghanistan: UN issues details of visit to alleged mass grave site

Afghanistan: UN issues details of visit to alleged mass grave site

Responding to recent news accounts about a suspected mass gravesite in the northern part of Afghanistan, the United Nations mission in the country today issued a statement providing details of its visit to the location earlier this year.

In early May the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) jointly undertook a preliminary forensic investigation into the area at Dasht-e-Leily, according to the statement by the spokesman for the head of the Mission, Lakhdar Brahimi.

At the time, UNAMA made it public that the investigation confirmed the existence of a large grave area of recent origin and that three bodies were exhumed for autopsy, spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said. The absence of blunt force trauma, sharp force injury or firearm injury led the team to conclude that the cause of death was consistent with death due to suffocation.

"While such findings called for a full-fledged investigation, UNAMA and OHCHR jointly endorsed the recommendation of the forensic team that any further activity on the site be initiated only after an effective witness protection scheme has been put in place," Mr. de Almeida e Silva said.

In the meantime, UNAMA's regional office in Mazar-i-Sharif received instructions to periodically visit the site in order to make sure that it has not been altered by deliberate human activity, Mr. de Almeida e Silva said, noting that in mid-July a UN team returned to one of the sites at Dasht-e-Leily and found that it had not been disturbed.

The UN Mission also raised concerns regarding the need for a witness protection programme before any more thorough investigation into what happened in those northern Afghan areas could be carried out.

As for past violations and abuses, the spokesman said that the recently created Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission envisaged organizing a nationwide consultative process to prepare a decision on a transitional justice strategy. "Different strategies were adopted in other countries: truth commissions, tribunals or a combination of the two," Mr. de Almeida e Silva noted.

"Afghan Transitional authorities have committed themselves to enhance the respect for human rights and justice, fight impunity and promote national reconciliation," he said. "UNAMA will continue to work with all Afghans in the pursuit of these objectives."

In other news, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that Sunday saw the highest number of refugee returns from Iran into Afghanistan, as some 5,700 persons crossed the border. Since 9 April, when the UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation programme started, close to 150,000 people have returned to Afghanistan from Iran, one-third of them in the last month.