Documentation and Transitional Justice in Afghanistan

from US Institute of Peace
Published on 12 Sep 2013 View Original

During 35 years of war, Afghans have experienced many human rights abuses that have never been well documented or investigated. A focus on preserving and opening the archives that do exist can help counter politically motivated narratives of past events that could seed future conflict.


  • In Afghanistan, the social upheaval resulting from thirty-five years of war has created widely differing narratives of the conflict as various communities and political factions have reconstructed events through the lens of their experiences.
  • Extensive dislocation of large segments of the population and poor communication throughout the war years meant that Afghans often had no way of knowing what was happening in different parts of the country.
  • Although the war had several phases, earlier transitions—such as the collapse of the Najibullah government in 1992—failed to provide an opportunity for investigations into past human rights abuses because the conflict was ongoing. As a consequence, documentation remains thin. Conditions have made it difficult for human rights groups to function; additionally, many records have been either lost or destroyed.
  • Since 2001, a number of initiatives were launched to investigate and document war crimes and human rights abuses. The relative openness of this period provided increased opportunities to document ongoing abuses occurring in the context of the Taliban insurgency and counterinsurgency effort.
  • The most ambitious components of transitional justice, as envisioned by Afghan organizations and their international partners, however, appear to be indefinitely stalled given the failure of electoral vetting and the silencing of an Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission report that would have mapped all abuses in the three decades of conflict.
  • No single report or archive can provide a definitive truth about the past. Such an archive, however, can serve, however imperfectly, as vital evidence in the effort to understand the complex array of factors that have played a part in conflict.
  • Better documentation and access to other narratives could provide a counterweight to narrow or politically motivated interpretations of past events that could seed future conflict.

About the Report

This report discusses efforts in Afghanistan to archive existing documentation and make it available to anyone researching human rights violations and justice issues. Since 2004, USIP has supported both Afghan and international organizations engaged in transitional justice efforts in Afghanistan, primarily through grantmaking and educational support.