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The Killid Group
Reconciliation Needs JusticeWritten by
Wednesday, 26 May 2010 10:50
By Killid reporters
"Now I am like a butterfly flying over the graves of my children… My heart is broken… Someone set fire in my whole world and now I have nothing. I can only sit down, still like a statue and nobody listens to me."
Taj-e-nisa's litany was a long poem that went on and on explaining to an audience moved to tears at a gathering h at the Setara Hotel, in Kabul, on May 9th, where the first Victims' Jirga for Justice took place. A rocket hit her house in Kabul during the Northern Alliance-Taliban confrontation killing two of her children and her father, and later on her husband and a third son lost their sanity under Taliban torture.
Over 30 years of conflict and violent repression in Afghanistan have left at least 1.5 million people dead and millions more displaced, maimed, and bereaved.
More than 100 victims and their representatives from every region of Afghanistan and every phase of the country's long-running conflict gathered to share their experiences with each other and articulate shared answers to two main questions.
"Today, the Afghan government and international community talk about reconciliation, but what do the people want? What kind of peace do victims of serious human rights violations envision?" asked the Transitional Justice Coordination Group, the coalition of 25 civil society organizations working on issues of transitional justice in Afghanistan that organized the Jirga.
For the group it was "an occasion to strengthen the victims' movement at the national level" that it hoped would "ignite a much-needed public debate on reconciliation, peace and justice in the immediate lead up to the official Peace Jirga."
The Peace jirga, has been called by President Hamid Karzai to discuss and secure a mandate for his planned negotiation with Taliban in order to end the war and is scheduled to take place in Kabul on May 29.
Political peace, not enough
Emotions ran high at this first event of its kind in Afghanistan, as victims recounted stories of brutal crimes, personal loss and enduring impunity.
"I was very young when I got married," said an elderly female victim from Kunar province. "Then a mass killing took place in my village, in which my husband, uncle and all of our people were killed." The speaker's village was the site of a communist era massacre of more than one thousand people.
A male victim from Takhar broke down describing an official's reaction to the abduction and murder of his two children at the hands of a local commander in 2007. An official reportedly told him: "You are young; you'll have more children."
"If we want justice, perpetrators have to be brought to court," he added.
The demand for trials was a common refrain from the participants.
"A war criminal is a war criminal regardless of ethnicity or religion. They all have to be brought to court," said a victim of Taliban era abuses in Kabul. "If we want to see a real peace, not a political or short-lived peace, there at least must be acknowledgement of the past."
The speaker described how his brother was beaten to death with cables by the Taliban in 1997. His voice shaking, the speaker added: "We do not want vengeance. We do not want to wash blood with blood. We want justice."
A victim of civil war era abuses in Parwan compared peace without justice to "praying without ablution."
During the second half of the Victims' Jirga, participants in small breakout groups discussed how to address the crimes of the past and how to bring peace for the future. The recommendations the groups presented at the conclusion of the conference were products of consensus reached among victims from widely varying backgrounds.
Their demands included the prosecution of perpetrators of war crimes and serious human rights violations, social and economic support for victims through reparations, support for disabled victims, transparent and fair reconstruction efforts and aid delivery to conflict-affected populations, and the creation of more spaces for victims to express their demands.
Some groups also recommended the removal of perpetrators from government and the prevention of future crimes through comprehensive disarmament and the freezing of perpetrators' assets.
When asked what they wanted from the international community, the victims said they would like aid in the location and documentation of mass graves and other atrocity sites, and for strong support for the transitional justice process.
The organisers' conclusion was that "every group emphasized an overarching message: without justice, there will be no durable peace in Afghanistan."