Brandt School Universität Erfurt

Transitional Justice in Afghanistan - A Lost Case?

On December 7th, 2016, Nicole Birtsch gave a guest lecture on “Transitional Justice in Afghanistan- A Lost Case?”. The lecture was part of Dr. Anja Mihr’s course on Transitional Justice at the Brandt School.

Nicole Birtsch has been a research associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin since 2016. Before that, she worked as policy advisor to the Joint Secretariat High Peace Council of the Afghan Government in Kabul and served as Head of Department for Peace and Conflict Studies at the National Center for Policy Research at Kabul University.

In her lecture, Ms. Birtsch talked about the trajectory of Transitional Justice in Afghanistan since 2002 and presented her own research findings about the recent developments.

At the core of the transitional justice discourse in Afghanistan lies the challenge to deal with the atrocities and war crimes that occurred from 1978 to 2001. Ms. Birtsch finds that legal, political, historical or cultural ways to deal with the past of the country are not well recognized by the larger public. The political elites in the country have little interest in, for example, bringing perpetrators to justice or publishing testimonials of victims of the war. There is no common and shared narrative about the past.

Ms. Birtsch argues that the fact that the past has not been addressed and neither perpetrators nor state parties have been held to account nurtures the spiral of ongoing violence and human rights violations. As a result, a culture of impunity, of abuse of power and deprivation of social, economic and political rights continues. An example for this is the 2016 signed peace agreement with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had been accused of several war crimes and severe human rights violations in the past. As a direct outcome of the peace talks with the Taliban the agreement provides the known human rights violator with impunity for the sake of pacification and peace in the country. However, reports and accounts on who was responsible for crimes until 2001 and since 2002 are not published and those responsible for the continuing violence and crimes are not held to account. The trust in government and its institutions is thus very low. Thus, Ms. Birtsch concludes that transitional Justice in Afghanistan is rather a strategic hope for the future than a reality today.

Ms. Birtsch’s guest lecture concluded with an interesting and vivid question and answer session regarding the prospects of peace, the framing of a peace process, the role of the Taliban and other groups that fight over power in Afghanistan and foreign actors- such as Russia, USA and Iran. Nicole Birtsch gave an insightful presentation of the situation in Afghanistan and gave students the possibility to directly exchange with an expert in the field. 

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