humanitarian law, human rights, Afghanistan
After more than two decades of war and foreign interventions, including the US-led military campaign following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, Afghanistan has entered a period of transition and rebuilding. It thus joins a host of other countries—from South Africa to Sierra Leone to East Timor—which have sought in recent years to move from a repressive and violent past to a future based on democracy, the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights. In this respect, Afghanistan presents one of the most confronting case studies for the field of ‘transitional justice’. This article considers the question of how to confront the long history of systematic and widespread violations of international humanitarian and human rights law perpetrated by previous Afghan regimes, warring factions, terrorist groups and other relevant actors (including foreign military personnel). Two general arguments are advanced. First, the scale and scope of atrocities in Afghanistan, combined with the current unstable political and fragmented social environment make the pursuit of both accountability and justice on the one hand and truth and reconciliation on the other extremely problematic, at least at this early stage in the country’s transition. Second, the actions of the US, both inside Afghanistan as part of its military campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda and in other parts of the world as part of its ongoing war against terrorism, are serving to undermine long-established principles of international humanitarian and human rights law, and threaten to impede the transition to peace, security and the rule of law in Afghanistan. The Article ends with an assessment of both the normative and institutional choices faced by Afghanistan as it begins to navigate the divide between seeking justice for past abuses on the one hand, and dealing with political realities and entrenched power relations on the other.