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AFGHANISTAN: President pressured to sign controversial amnesty bill

KABUL, 26 February 2007 (IRIN) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai is under pressure to sign a controversial amnesty bill approved by the country’s national assembly last week. The bill provides sweeping immunity for those guilty of war crimes committed over the past two and a half decades of conflict in the country.

The 49-year-old Afghan leader had earlier decided not to sign the bill, but pressure for him to sign the document into law has been steadily rising. However, the 12-point bill must also be harmonised with the country’s constitution.

“The President would amend it [the bill] in a way that should not violate the country’s constitution or Sharia law,” Asif Naang, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, told IRIN on Sunday.

On Friday, more than 25,000 people rallied in the capital, Kabul, calling on Karzai to approve the bill. If signed by the president and made law, the bill would effectively shield those accused of serious human rights violations, many of them former Mujahideen (Afghan resistance fighters) who fought Jihad (a holy war) against the Soviet invasion in 1980s.

Former Mujahideen leaders - including second Vice-President Karim Khalili, Minister of Water and Energy Ismael Khan, former Defence Minister Qaseem Fahim and former Afghan president Burhanudin Rabani - took part in Friday’s rally, sending a clear message that the Mujahideen still wield significant power in the country.

Supporters of the bill have called it a trust-building mechanism that would encourage various factions in post-Taliban Afghanistan to work closer together in building peace and stability for the country.

Others were even more vocal. “Those who oppose the bill, in fact, oppose Islam and reconciliation,” Abdul Raab Rasoul Sayaf, an MP and former Mujahideen leader, said.

However, lawmakers, rights groups and the international community object to the bill.

“We call on the President to decline the bill,” Kabir Ranjbar, a member of Afghanistan’s Lower House, said.

Ranjbar and other MPs have criticised the amnesty saying not only would it contravene the country’s constitution, but also the rights of thousands of Afghan victims.

Karzai has said he will only act in accordance with the constitution, adding that no one, including himself, could grant blanket immunity to war criminals.

President in difficult position

“The President is in a difficult position,” Nasrullah Aabid, a Kabul University lecturer, said. “From one side, his second deputy and some cabinet members have put pressure on him to sign the bill, while on the other hand the United Nations, rights groups and many others want him to decline it.”

If Karzai declines the bill, there is likely to be trouble from its supporters. And if he accepts the bill, there is a possibility of protests by victims of war crimes.

Ahmad Nadir Nadiri, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Human Rights Commission, said the government must not ignore the millions of silent victims of wars and violence in Afghanistan who expect justice and fairness. “It is upon the government of Afghanistan to ensure both security and implement justice,” he said.

On 31 January, the country’s 249-seat lower house initiated the amnesty-for-all bill in defiant reaction to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report in which Karzai’s government was called upon to prosecute all those accused of mass human rights violations and war crimes in the country.

The international watchdog named some of those who, according to the organisation, had committed widespread violence during decades of war in Afghanistan.

The controversial bill, which criticised the HRW report, was approved by the upper house of Afghanistan’s national assembly on 20 February, bringing it one step closer to becoming a law.

Under the country’s constitution, if Karzai refuses to sign the bill, it will revert to the Lower House where it will require a two-third majority to overrule the President and come into effect.

Around 80,000 civilians were killed in Kabul alone during the internal fighting between various Mujahideen groups in the 1990s after the Soviets pulled out of the country in 1989. Many others were kidnapped, mutilated or raped between 1992 and 1996 as the country plunged into a chaotic civil war.



Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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