Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Rights and Freedoms

Victims Organisations Sound a Wake-up Call

Sari Kouvo 3 min

AAN continues its analysis of civil society’s role in and ability to influence the processes unfolding in Afghanistan. AAN’s Sari Kouvo and Obaid Ali participated in the National Victims Conference held in Kabul 30-31 March.

The National Victims’ Conference held in Kabul 30-31 March brought together representatives from victims and martyrs organizations, civil society and government from all regions of Afghanistan. The conference, organized by the Transitional Justice Coordination Group (TJCG), a loose network of 25 Afghan and international civil society organizations, was a follow-up to the Victims’ Jirga organized in May 2010 (see an earlier blog about this event here). The conference aimed at gauging the interest in and discussing the modalities for establishing a National Victims’ Network in Afghanistan. As often seems to be the case with conferences, ‘we’ actually never discussed what we had come to discuss, but it was interesting anyway.

Our overwhelming sentiment during the conference was that of sitting in a room full of people that had just not been listened to before, but that had stories to tell about what had happened to them and their families during the different stages of Afghanistan’s internal wars and ideas about what the Afghan government and its international partners needed to do for them – and for Afghans in general. The traditional conference format with panel speakers and question and answers sessions was not ideal for this conference. The panellists did not want to keep to their ten minutes time limit and many in the audience used the question and answer time for making speeches from the floor rather than asking questions. One of the strongest moments of the conference was the presentation of a theatre play developed by a Kabul-based human rights organization, the play built around testimonies from victims from different phases of the Afghan conflict, which prompted a series of spontaneous and very personal testimonies from the audiences about what they had experienced during years of conflict.

The working groups organised on the second day provided the participants an opportunity – although probably not a sufficiently long one – to discuss the need and the possible challenges with establishing a National Victims’ Network. Rightly, many of the working groups concluded that without a national platform, victims were neither likely to get access to funds nor to Afghan or international policy-makers unless they are represented in Kabul. If a national platform was established, the working groups thought, they would be able to work to promote concrete transitional justice measures; prosecutions, truth-seeking and memorialisation were repeatedly mentioned.

However, many of the working groups also noted that establishing a national platform would not be easy because there would be political resistance from those currently in power and there would inevitably be –real and perceived – trust issues to overcome amongst victims. They also thought that the amnesty law (read an earlier blog on this issue here) approved by parliament in January 2009 would stand in their way. While some of the working groups may have discussed it, the summaries did not open up for a discussion about some of the important conceptual issues, such as who is a victim and what kind of organizations qualify as ‘victims’ organisations’.

Having had the opportunity to follow the development of civil society’s engagement on transitional justice and the attempts by the more established organisations to pull victims and small victims’ organizations into the discussion about (transitional) justice, I have always remained cautiously enthusiastic. I have been worried that the more established organisations ‘use’ victims as tools in their advocacy campaigns, and that victims’ mobilization does little but further stigmatising those already suffering from trauma, poverty and marginalization.

At the same time, I am convinced that those who have suffered violations during different phases of the Afghan conflict do need to be provided with the opportunity to tell their stories. I am also convinced that their experiences of conflict, power-sharing and previous ‘quick fix’ reconciliation efforts could be a very useful ‘wake-up call’ in these times of urgent policy-making and politicking about reconciliation and Afghanistan’s future.