Declan Walsh / SF Chronicle Foreign Service – 2006-06-17 08:26:57
KABUL, Afghanistan (June 17, 2006) — A United Nations report that has been kept under wraps for 18 months accuses leading Afghan politicians and officials of orchestrating widespread human rights abuses, including massacres, torture and rape.
The 220-page report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights details atrocities committed over 23 years of conflict by communist, mujahedeen (“holy warriors”), Soviet and Taliban fighters.
In Kabul, UN spokesman Aleem Siddique said the report had been presented to the Afghan government, which has yet to give a green light for publication. “We need to ensure it is published at an appropriate time,” said Siddique, adding that it may be released next month.
Although it originally was scheduled for release in January 2005, the United Nations has repeatedly delayed its publication for fear of identifying former warlords now in positions of power, according to several human rights activists involved in the report.
Responding to the assertions, Jawad Ludin, chief of staff to President Hamid Karzai, said that the report had been discussed “a long time ago” and that he was unaware the United Nations was waiting for the president’s authorization.
Based on mostly press accounts and testimony by human rights groups, the report contains little new information, but it offers the first comprehensive survey of wartime abuses committed during Afghanistan’s various conflicts between 1978 and 2001.
The study carries the imprimatur of the United Nations, which human rights activists hope will increase pressure for a complete recounting of past abuses and possibly pave the way for prosecutions.
Those named in the report include:
• Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a former commander of mujahedeen fighters combatting the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, who now heads a pro-Karzai faction in parliament. In 1993, a former Sayyaf lieutenant told one of the report’s authors that before a massacre of Shiite civilians in west Kabul, Sayyaf ordered his officers: “Don’t leave anyone alive — kill all of them.”
• Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1993, is currently Karzai’s military chief of staff. His forces captured hundreds of Taliban fighters after they fled U.S. aerial bombing in 2001. At least 200 subsequently died inside overcrowded containers and were buried in mass graves. A full investigation into the incident has never taken place, the U.N. report says.
• Syed Muhammad Gulabzoi, a member of parliament from the southern Khost province, had been the interior minister under a puppet regime during Soviet occupation. According to the report, he oversaw an Afghan intelligence service notorious for torturing and killing civilians.
Taliban war crimes are also highlighted. A Taliban commander who participated in the massacre of 240 civilians in northern Afghanistan in 1997 described how the fundamentalist movement’s executioners stood 3 feet from their victims to ensure they didn’t miss. “Soon their beards were covered in blood.”
The report also focuses on Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a mujahedeen commander whose forces fired thousands of rockets on Kabul in the 1990s, “reportedly killing tens of thousands of people, the vast majority of whom were civilians.” Hekmatyar now is battling US forces in southeastern Afghanistan as a renegade warlord allied with the Taliban.
But for many Afghans, perhaps the most difficult revelation involves abuses allegedly committed by forces loyal to Ahmed Shah Massood, Afghanistan’s national hero and the head of the US-backed Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban. He was killed on Sept. 9, 2001, by two suspected al Qaeda assassins posing as journalists who had planted explosives inside a camera. The report details how his forces indiscriminately bombed Kabul during battles in the early 1990s, killing hundreds of civilians.
The importance of accountability for past crimes has been underscored in recent weeks, when an argument about the role of the warlords with questionable pasts erupted among Kabul’s overseas diplomatic missions.
Three European diplomats said they were angered that days after riots rocked Kabul last month, Karzai appointed 13 former commanders with alleged links to drug smuggling, organized crime or illegal militias to senior police positions across the country. The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the presidency had inserted the 13 names at the last minute to a list of 86 new officers that had been selected by a board of U.S., German and Afghan officials.
The selection process is part of a program to professionalize the notoriously corrupt police force, which is receiving $1.2 billion in U.S. aid this year.
“This is not acceptable to us. If we let people who have committed human rights abuses and economic crimes slip through, Afghans are going to start asking what we are doing here,” said a Western official.
The greatest concern, according to the diplomats, is the newly appointed Kabul police chief, Amanullah Guzar, who has also been linked to land theft and extortion in his home territory on the Shomali plains north of Kabul. Speaking last week at Kabul police headquarters, Guzar staunchly defended his reputation. “President Karzai appointed me, and he knows all about my past. Let anyone with allegations bring them to court,” he said.
Ludin, Karzai’s chief of staff, said the added names were needed to ensure ethnic balance and greater representation of former mujahedeen fighters.
“The list included only one Uzbek and very few Hazaras,” said Ludin. “There was also a feeling candidates with jihadi backgrounds were missing,” he said.
Another Afghan government official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said US Ambassador Ronald Neumann approved the appointment of Guzar.
“Keeping mujahedeen commanders out in the cold is not a good strategy because it turns them into anti-state elements. You have to include them,” he said.
Meanwhile, Patricia Gossman, a human rights activist who co-authored the report with Barnett Rubin, a member of the New York think tank Council on Foreign Relations, said she is bewildered by the delay in publishing her work. “It sends the wrong signals,” she said. “This is something Afghans wanted to see, and it’s really disappointing we couldn’t live up to that.”
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