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Afghans want justice to exorcise horrors of past atrocities
by Daily Star, Lebanon
Wednesday Feb 2nd, 2005 12:03 AM
KABUL: Battered taxis ply the streets, shops are open for trade, people go about their business. But despite the apparent normality of the Afghan capital, no one can forget the horrors of nearly a quarter century of war, and all want justice.

Most Afghans have spent half their lives or more in a climate of conflict: the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation, the ensuing civil war (1992-1996) and the brutal Taliban regime (1996-2001).
There is not one among them who does not have memories of atrocities.

"During the civil war I saw soldiers who wanted to rape a 19-year-old girl. She wanted to keep her honor so she killed herself," said Abdul Hakim, 27, who runs an estate agency.

"During the civil war, a woman was running," said Ghulam Sakhy, 52, a former officer who is now unemployed. "I asked her, 'What is going on?' She said, 'There is a lot of fighting and all my family was killed.'

"She had blood on her back. I asked her why. She said: 'I had my child on my back. He was shot. It's his blood'."

Mohammed Yaqub, 38, joint owner of a clothes shop, said: "I heard a warlord say to his soldiers that if they seized a district, they could take everything, do everything."

War crimes were perpetrated by all factions under the Soviet occupation, the civil war and the Taliban regime, and included mass rapes, large-scale massacres, disappearances and summary executions, and the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, rights officials have said.

According to a study by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission released on Saturday, few people escaped such atrocities unscathed.

Of 4,151 people questioned for the study, "69 percent identified themselves or their immediate families as direct victims of a serious human rights violation during the 23-year period."

Many said some of these crimes lasted after the fall of the Taliban.

A quarter of the respondents said at least one member of their family had been killed and nearly 400 said they themselves or their close relations had been tortured or detained.

"These are staggering statistics in comparison to any other conflict in the world," the commission said.

Advocacy group the Afghanistan Justice Project documented some of the war crimes and crimes against humanity in a report in October.

It said former post-Taliban defense minister Mohammed Qassim Fahim and deputy defense minister Abdul Rashid Dostam could be possibly be implicated, even if it was because they had done little to stop the atrocities.

Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, leader of the Ittihad-i Islami party, was also mentioned, as was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the banned Hezb-i Islami party which is considered a terrorist group by the United States.

According to the rights commission survey, 90 percent of those questioned "requested the removal of human rights violators from public office" and 40 percent wanted the "prosecution of notorious perpetrators".

"The clamor for justice and changes that transpires through theses pages [of the report]does not surprise us," UN special envoy to Afghanistan Jean Arnault said in a statement.

Three years after the fall of the Taliban, Abdul Hakim, Mohammed Nazir, Ghulam Sakhy and Mohammed Yaqub have a tranquil existence.

Hakim has his estate agency and Nazir's taxi plies the streets; Sakhy's son works for the UN and Yaqub's trade in clothes imported from China and Pakistan in flourishing.

But despite having moved on, they are not prepared to just turn the page on past atrocities.

"The government must ask the warlords and the criminals why they have committed these crimes," Nazir said.

"They must create a special court to judge these people," said Sakhy.