Afghanistan: Victims must be heard in peace talks

Victims of the conflict in Afghanistan should have a voice during the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and their demands for justice must be heeded, said Amnesty International.

With peace talks between the two sides poised to begin in Doha, Qatar, the human rights organization called on negotiating teams and the hosts to include the voices of victims and ensure the meaningful participation of women in the talks, to ensure that their rights are respected in any deal which emerges.

But for any peace talks to be worthy of their name, they must commit to delivering justice for victims and ensuring accountability for serious human rights violations.
David Griffiths, Director of the Office of the Secretary General of Amnesty International

“No one desires peace more than ordinary Afghans who have suffered so much, for so long because of the conflict. But for any peace talks to be worthy of their name, they must commit to delivering justice for victims and ensuring accountability for serious human rights violations. The participation of victims in these talks is a critical safeguard to ensure that their voices are not ignored," said David Griffiths, Director of the Office of the Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Peace cannot merely mean a cessation of hostilities. For Afghanistan to break with its painful past and for wounds to heal, victims must have access to justice, with perpetrators held accountable. A failure to address serious human rights violations committed by all sides in the conflict will not only betray the victims but also threaten further conflict.”

Amnesty International also called on the negotiating teams and parties to the conflict - particularly the Government of Afghanistan - to ensure that the advances made on human rights over the past two decades are not rolled back, and that the human rights of all Afghans, especially women, are at the heart of any eventual agreement. All efforts on women's rights should aim to consolidate and further strengthen the ability of women to exercise their human rights fully.

War crimes and crimes against humanity

The talks begin just days after the United States of America Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sanctioned Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, because her office is carrying out an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by all sides in the conflict.

Since Afghanistan became a state party to the Rome Statute in 2003, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have documented serious human rights violations against Afghan civilians, including torture, disappearance, targeted killings, and the deliberate targeting of civilians in war crimes. Following a failure by the Afghan authorities to seriously investigate these crimes, the ICC stepped in as a “court of last resort”.

The sanctions follow the controversial release by the Afghan government of Taliban prisoners who have been credibly accused of serious human rights violations, including war crimes. Unaccountability on serious human rights violations, particularly war crimes and crimes against humanity, further reduces the prospect of justice for victims.

“The unconscionable sanctioning of the ICC prosecutor represents the latest attempt by the Trump administration to punish people seeking justice for crimes under international law in Afghanistan. In doing so, the USA has decided to shield perpetrators from accountability and abandon the victims,” said David Griffiths.

“The negotiating parties from the Afghan government and the Taliban should stop shielding perpetrators, support the ICC’s investigation, and commit to ensuring domestic justice to all victims of decades of atrocity crimes in the country. If they are serious about delivering peace to Afghanistan, they must demonstrate that they are not afraid of delivering justice.”

Preserve human rights gains

The peace talks must also make a commitment to preserving and strengthening Afghanistan’s human rights progress over the past two decades.

In particular, any peace agreement must meet Afghanistan’s international obligations by upholding fair trials and the rights of women and girls, children, religious and ethnic minorities, journalists, and human rights defenders.

The Taliban have thus far failed to make explicit and credible commitments to the human rights enshrined in Afghanistan’s constitution and international human rights law including the right to work, the right to education, the right to freedom of movement, the right to religion or belief, and the right to freedom of expression.

“There is no getting away from the fact that the Afghan authorities have failed to meet their own commitments to human rights, but there is also no denying that important strides have been made over the past two decades towards greater freedoms for women and girls, religious and ethnic minorities, journalists and human rights defenders, and on the right to education. Afghans, despite serious security treats, have been exercising their civil and political rights. These gains must be consolidated and not bargained away,” said David Griffiths.