Afghanistan: UN officials hail justice and reconciliation plan to bury past enmity

13 December 2005

Citing lessons from truth commissions in other States seeking to surmount troubled pasts, United Nations officials today hailed the Afghan Government’s adoption of a plan for justice and reconciliation as a “new and very important dimension” for peace in a country torn asunder by 25 years of war and violence and abuses.

“Addressing head-on the sequels of abuses and violence of the past 25 years, rebuilding confidence among those whose lives were crushed by the war, healing the very deep confrontations of the past and restoring the values of tolerance and trust… does not require international forces,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative Jean Arnault told the Transitional Justice Conference: Truth-Seeking and Reconciliation in Afghanistan.

“It does not require massive investments. It does not require legions of foreign experts. It is, nevertheless, one of the most difficult tasks that any country can face,” he said at the conference’s opening in Kabul, the capital. “Indeed it is a challenge that, I am afraid, many countries have failed to meet – and have paid the consequences for it.

“The battle lines of the civil war have been allowed to shape the political landscape. A culture of violence, impunity and intolerance survives unchecked, and the sufferings of the victims continue to haunt the survivors. In short, the burden of a violent past is allowed to frustrate the efforts at giving society a fresh start.”

UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Mehr Khan Williams noted the challenges involved in accounting for past abuses, the conflicting priorities that have to be balanced, the tense security situation, particularly in the south and southeast of Afghanistan that underscore how fragile the transition from conflict to peace is.

“In these circumstances, it is argued that Afghanistan can neither risk nor afford to address the issue of accountability,” she said. “I would argue that Afghanistan can neither risk nor afford not to.”

She noted that the UN had supported truth and reconciliation initiatives in a number of countries such as Sierra Leone, Burundi, Liberia, and Timor Leste, and that representatives from truth and reconciliation commissions in Sierra Leone and South Africa were present to share their experiences.

Many people saw transitional justice primarily as meaning trials, and fact-finding commissions and reconciliation initiatives as “soft options” – a second best when “real justice” is not possible, but truth, reconciliation and justice are mutually reinforcing, she said.

International law requires there be no impunity for those who commit war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, but not every offender must be punished in order to achieve respect for the rule of law. Societies have the right to demand a full and impartial narration of the past without closing the door on criminal responsibility, she added.

 

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