Afghan and international human rights activists on Sunday called on the government to purge its ranks of officials who allegedly committed wartime atrocities, but recommended holding off on prosecuting suspected war criminals until the country's weak legal system was up to the task.
"Down the road, I think we want to work for that ultimate goal," Patricia Gossman, director of the Afghanistan Justice Project, an independent research organization that authored the report, said at a news conference. "We just aren't there yet in Afghanistan."
The Afghanistan Justice Project report provides one of the most comprehensive accounts to date of dozens of atrocities, including mass rapes and massacres, committed during nearly three decades of war and civil strife in Afghanistan.
The report echoes concerns raised in a document released by Human Rights Watch earlier this month that said many alleged perpetrators of war crimes have been appointed to high office in the government or allowed to run in parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
The joint U.N. and Afghan body charged with overseeing the elections investigated about 230 candidates, out of more than 6,000 who registered this spring, for possible links to illegal militias, and disqualified only 11 on those grounds.
Bronwyn Curran, a spokeswoman for the Joint Electoral Management Body, said the organization was merely following election law, which only bars candidates convicted of crimes or determined to be actively linked to illegal militias by an international body charged with disarming them.
Among the candidates approved was Abdurrab Rasul Sayyaf, a radical Islamic leader who advises President Hamid Karzai. As commander of the Hezb-e Wahadat militia, Sayyaf helped lead a scorched earth offensive in 1993 in the Afshar neighborhood of the capital, Kabul, in which a still uncounted number of civilians were raped and summarily executed.
An ally of Sayyaf's, Shir Alam, was recently appointed governor of Ghazni province by Karzai.
"His appointment is appalling given the amount of information about him that's well known," Gossman said.
She rejected an argument frequently made by Afghan and U.S. officials that it is necessary to include former militia leaders in the government to ensure their support for Afghanistan's fledgling democracy.
"We're nearly four years into that [argument] and what we've seen is that it hasn't led to greater stability," she said.
Mohammed Karim Rahimion, a spokesman for Karzai, said that it would have been wrong for the government not to appoint Alam based on unofficial information. "It should be based on an investigation of a fact-finding committee" of the sort that would be set up if Karzai approves the new vetting system under consideration, he said.
"Before you should accuse anyone, first you should have legal proof," he said.