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UN Investigator: Afghans Must Agree on New Justice System - 2003-04-12

A United Nations special investigator says Afghanistan will not become a stable, peaceful society, until it comes to terms with the crimes of its past, and punishes those responsible. The investigator, who visited Afghanistan in October, has submitted her study to the U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva.

U.N. special investigator Asma Jahangir says extrajudicial executions have not stopped in Afghanistan, but are not nearly as common as they were in the past. She says most are being carried out by local or regional commanders or militias under their control. The investigator also has received reports of reprisal killings by the warlords.

But Ms. Jahangir says some practices have carried over from when the Taleban ruled Afghanistan, such as so-called honor killings - that is when a woman is killed for doing something that is said to bring dishonor to her family, such as leaving her husband.

The U.N. special investigator says Afghans, in order to have confidence in the future of their country, need to believe that people will be punished for the crimes of the past.

"My sense is that you cannot get peace and security without instilling the rule of law in the whole process, which I found at the time of my visit was completely sidelined," she said. "There is the whole question of transitional justice. There are people out there who have lost their sons, their husbands. They want justice, and I believe that the international community cannot ignore or deny them this very right."

As a first step toward accountability, Ms. Jahangir recommends that a commission of independent experts be established. She says the task of the commission would be to make a catalogue of crimes against humanity that have been committed over more than two decades of conflict in Afghanistan.

"Surely, the new fragile system cannot be expected to take on the huge task of building the society and, at the same time, dealing with the past," she said. "So, I believe the international community has to take the lead in that. And, at the same time, they have an independent commission, Afghan Commission on human rights, which needs to be strengthened, encouraged to start the debate on what form of transitional justice the people of Afghanistan want."

U.N. investigator Jahangir says it is very important that the Afghans themselves decide how they want to reconcile the differences of the past.