A new report, “Truth Seeking and the Role of Forensic Science” presents the results of a three-day conference in Kabul, Afghanistan in October, 2010 where over 100 participants represented victims and civil society members, as well as governmental authorities from nine provinces in the country.
The impact of more than three decades of violence has rendered almost every Afghan a victim. Meaningful attempts to deal with the injustices of the past have been few and far between, due to the ongoing hostilities, precarious security situation, weakened status of many governmental institutions, and the fact that many of the perpetrators of violence and mass atrocities remain in positions of power. Under these circumstances, the International Forensic Program (IFP) has collaborated with civil society organizations in Afghanistan to undertake a program called “Securing Afghanistan’s Past.”
In this context, the program aims to initiate a dialogue between victims of conflict and Afghan authorities as a first step towards discussing necessary policy and legal frameworks to protect and preserve evidence of past abuses, and begin a process of truth seeking. The multi-year program began with a training course in the forensic documentation of mass graves in May and June 2010 and includes two conferences, the first of which was mentioned above.
The report recounts the details of the three-day conference, titled “Truth Seeking and the Role of Forensic Science” and presents a series of recommendations issued by conference working groups examining different aspects of how to deal with the crimes of the past. According to Stefan Schmitt, Director of the IFP, “This conference is based on the principle that the endless and ongoing cycle of violence can only be broken by starting with a discussion about how we can begin to acknowledge the truth. It is a conference about hope, the hope of a better future for our children. Those in Afghanistan, as well as those around the world.” International experts and national actors, such as one of Afghanistan’s Supreme Court Judges, contributed to the discussion with topics like comparative approaches to transitional justice and the current state of forensic science in Afghanistan, as well as what measures must be taken to improve it. Participants of the conference were unanimous in expressing that for any meaningful peace to take hold in Afghanistan, justice for crimes of the past would have to be addressed. Additionally, international actors in Afghanistan were asked to more actively support the Afghan people’s call for justice.
Forensic analysis, through its scientific objectivity and transparency, can provide an accurate and verifiable record of past mass crimes and make it difficult for official actors, perpetrators, and other responsible parties to ignore, deny, or distort the evidence. Therefore, PHR’s International Forensic Program uses scientific methods to document these violations against human life and dignity to provide a foundation upon which the wrongs of the past can be discussed in an impartial manner. The IFP has been engaged in Afghanistan since 1997 and continues to remain active in the country with its current program.
Before a country can move beyond its own past, its leaders and society must reckon with the previous dark chapters of its history. Despite the ongoing violence and hostilities in Afghanistan, the time to begin documenting past atrocities and truth seeking is now.