Working Groups and Their Recommendations
On the afternoon of the second day of the conference, panelists and audience participants divided into 11 working groups, moderated by facilitators, to discuss and debate designated topics and challenges concerning the implementation of transitional justice in Afghanistan. These topics included:
- the truth seeking process and documentation efforts in Afghanistan;
- barriers and challenges to transitional justice in Afghanistan;
- forensic science training and human identification resources;
- victim empowerment;
- missing persons strategy;
- government responsibilities;
- grave-site protection/cultural and religious aspects of mass graves and the right to truth;
- international community and transitional justice; and
- women and transitional justice.
Following vigorous discussion and debate on the topics, representatives of each working group presented their findings and recommendations at a plenary session on the third and final morning of the conference.
In their presentations, several groups reported on the significant hurdles that exist to pursuing transitional justice, including:
- ongoing hostilities and the absence of security throughout the country;
- the lack of political will both domestically and internationally to begin the process;
- known human rights violators occupying Afghan government posts; and
- widespread distrust of government.
One group addressed the weaknesses within the legal system, including the Amnesty Law, and the absence of a legal framework for prosecuting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. Another group expressed frustration with Afghanistan’s complicated relationship with the international community. That group acknowledged appreciation of international efforts to help with local law enforcement capacity-building and training, but expressed disappointment in unfulfilled promises to promote human rights and in what they perceived as contradictory messages on accountability.
By the conclusion of the conference, following the plenary discussions and working group exchanges, a consensus emerged around eight essential recommendations which would have to be addressed and formally established by the Afghan government in consultation with Afghan CSOs and the international community. These recommendations are:
- Establish an independent special unit for the documentation of past crimes including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious human rights violations. The unit would be comprised of representatives of the Afghan National Police, forensic specialists, prosecutors, and human rights activists. One important focus of the unit’s work would be the protection and documentation of mass graves. An advisory board would oversee the unit’s work.
- Create a national documentation center to archive the work of the special unit as well as ongoing documentation efforts by civil society/human rights organizations.
- Construct a comprehensive strategy to protect and document mass graves.
- Establish a national missing persons’ database to be maintained by AIHRC. Registration would be conducted in coordination with the Ministries of Education, Hajj and Religious Affairs, and Rural Development. UNAMA would provide oversight and technical support where required.
- Implement the Action Plan for Peace, Reconciliation, and Justice.
- Provide a legal definition for crimes in accordance with Afghanistan’s obligations under international law and the international conventions and treaties the state has signed.
- Establish an effective identifcation program for those alleged to have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious human rights violations from positions of authority in the government. The Advisory Panel on Appointments should be strengthened and its mandate extended to include other senior positions not currently covered.
- Expand resources for long-term capacity building and sustainability of forensic science in Afghanistan, including increased technical, material, and financial support as well as greater assurances of independence for forensic research facilities.
Conference participants were in agreement that these recommendations would provide a first step towards a meaningful dialog on truth, reconciliation, and justice and needed to be at the core of any reconciliation process.
This conference set out to demonstrate — and the wide-ranging coalition of participants resoundingly agreed — that truth-seeking must be addressed and legally defined as a part of any peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. The conference highlighted the deep urgency to begin a dialogue toward transitional justice and reconciliation as more than three decades of violence have rendered nearly every Afghan citizen a victim, and mass graves have been discovered across the country. The truth seeking process has partially commenced in Afghanistan, but its progress has been slow and fitful for reasons this conference sought to explore and articulate. Nevertheless, participants were adamant that — despite the ongoing hostilities and the unstable security situation — the time to begin this discussion is now.
This conference also strove to emphasize the singular contribution that forensic science can and must make to any process of national reckoning. As long as the Afghan past remains sealed off, it is vulnerable to denial or distortion and there can be no meaningful reconciliation. Forensic research and documentation is crucial precisely because it can establish an objective, scientific, apolitical accounting of the facts. And as so many experts testified at this conference, before a society can heal its own wounds it must understand how and why they were sustained.
As the conference also made clear, however, in order to realize the potential contributions that forensic science can make, there is enormous work to be done. Afghanistan’s grave sites must be protected and preserved, local capacity for this research must be bolstered, and the research itself must be insulated from political pressures if it is to carry any legitimacy. Many present at this gathering have already been working toward addressing these challenges. Their subsequent efforts will be more effective for the alliances forged and the resources shared at conferences such as this one.
And, finally, this conference, for the first time, put governmental authorities and actors in dialogue with those in civil society — leaders who are working toward transitional justice in Afghanistan from other angles. Their efforts on legal reform, victims’ rights advocacy, and a host of other issues will help ensure that, once the process of creating an historical record based on scientific and forensic methods is established, it can be leveraged effectively. As the expert presentations, panels, and working groups made clear, the only means by which meaningful peace and reconciliation can be achieved is by beginning a truth seek-ing process, with vigorous yet respectful support from the international community.