Afghanistan's lower house of Parliament (Wolesi Jirga) has approved a non-binding resolution urging the government to grant immunity to all Afghans involved in the wars of the last 25 years. The move brought protests on February 1 from human rights advocates and the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, who had been working with the government on a plan to address the many abuses over the last three decades. Lawmakers said the resolution was passed in the interest of peace and stability and was intended to include even the fugitive Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, and the renegade mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
It was approved just days after President Hamid Karzai began work on the government's reconciliation plan. He said he was ready to hold talks with Taliban leaders as Afghanistan braced for a spring offensive by insurgents linked to the Taliban, who were ousted from power in late 2001.
The lower house of Parliament (Wolesi Jirga), which includes many former militants and mujahedeen commanders and a handful of former members of the Taliban government and the earlier Communist leadership, passed the 12-point resolution, called the Peace and Reconciliation Charter, by a show of hands on January 31.
The resolution had been proposed by a group of former Mujahedeen leaders and Nur ul-Haq Ulumi, a former Communist general who served during the Soviet occupation. A small number of liberal and democratic legislators left the chamber in protest before the vote.
The resolution is not a law. It was not scheduled to proceed to the upper house of Parliament or to the president. But it is a public expression of the views of those who advocate one approach to reconciliation as Afghanistan continues to grapple with an insurgency in the south and east, legislators said.
"The main point of this scheme is how long should we fight and how long would we have violence?" Ulumi said. Despite the language about immunity, he said the resolution was not intended to advocate pardoning criminals. "This is just an invitation for peace," he said.
The measure says that those who took up arms in the past should be free from prosecution and that those who had fought the current government should be allowed to join the reconciliation process if they accept the Constitution and the laws of the land.
The resolution also denounced recent comments by the New York-based Human Rights Watch. The group, which is based in New York, named several members of Parliament who it said had been implicated in war crimes and rights abuses.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which has a mandate to monitor human rights issues, quickly issued a statement questioning the impartiality of a resolution passed by political and factional leaders.
"For any process of national reconciliation to succeed, the suffering of victims must be acknowledged and impunity tackled," the statement said. "No one has the right to forgive those responsible for human rights violations other than the victims themselves." It said it wanted to ensure that "the rights of victims remain at the heart of this debate."
Human Rights Watch has called for the Afghan government to honour promises it made a year ago to develop a five-year Action Plan for Peace, Reconciliation and Justice, a process that Karzai officially initiated last month.
The parliamentary resolution, which was passed soon after the assembly returned from its winter break, may have been a reaction to Karzai's move. Several of the most powerful militant leaders who now hold seats in Parliament have been blamed for causing civilian suffering during the civil war of the 1990s. Members of the Communist governments, ousted in 1989, have been blamed for disappearances and torture in prisons, and indiscriminate bombing of rural areas. Members of the Taliban rule have been accused of killings and forcing many people from their homes.
"After three decades of suffering abuses, Afghans have repeatedly called for accountability for those responsible for serious human rights abuses, whether Communists, warlords, or the Taliban," Sam Zarifi, Asia research director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement this week. "There can be no sustainable peace and security in Afghanistan without respect for the rule of law."
(Courtesy: The International Herald Tribune, February 2, 2007)
“This is not a law, this is about more power for the Mujahedeen. Millions of Afghans will be unhappy,” said Shukria Barakzai, a Parliamentarian who stormed out of the Wolesi Jirga or Lower House, in protest.
However, Syed Mustafa Kazmi, who voted in favour, said the vote would foster unity. But the UN said: “No one has the right to forgive those responsible for human rights violations, other than the victims.”
(Courtesy: The Guardian, February 3, 2007)