Apr 28, 2010 | Article

After almost three decades of war, most Afghans are desperate for the rule of law and justice to return. Although Afghan and international decision makers have passionately debated transitional justice issues, and despite strong public support for dealing with the past, implementation of transitional justice has not been achieved.

The Peace, Reconciliation and Justice Plan—intended to provide transitional justice—was approved by the Afghan government and the international community in 2005. The program set a deadline of March 2009 to investigate, document and bring war criminals to justice. Its principle objectives, like all transitional justice programs, are to first establish a process of accountability and acknowledgement, and second, to prevent recurrence and ensure sustainable peace. However, according to an amnesty law, individuals are allowed to file lawsuits against alleged criminals, but the state will not investigate, document or address large-scale crimes and violations on victims’ behalf. Most victims are too weak to challenge the alleged culprits, many of whom yield extensive power in government. Since its establishment, not a single crime has been identified, and no one has been brought to justice.

In its recent news brief, entitled “Afghanistan: Justice Action Plan Headed for Oblivion”,the International Centre for Transitional Justice outlines the history of the Peace, Reconciliation and Justice Plan, addresses the catch 22 associated with the amnesty law, and discusses the future for justice in Afghanistan. The failure to address past crimes and implement transitional justice has contributed to a culture of criminal impunity, in which “all violent actors have continued committing crimes.” To what extent any transitional justice mechanism on its own is able to achieve the second objective—to prevent recurrence and ensure sustainable peace—is questionable, but it is here that the connection to security sector reform becomes particularly significant.

To prevent institutional human rights violations, the government agencies responsible for the violations must be reformed. Thus, in order for transitional justice mechanisms to achieve any of its objectives, a complementary approach must be applied, employing a combination of different transitional justice mechanisms, while coordinating and working with processes of security sector reform.