Empowering Afghans to Uncover the Truth

Afghanistan has suffered 40 years of intense conflict that has left millions of people dead or missing. Many of these people are presumed to be buried in mass graves – some dating back to the late 1970s – scattered across the country.

Historically, mass graves have been either unprofessionally excavated by Afghan authorities or randomly dug up by the public. While these exhumations may provide answers for families who are desperate for information, disruption of gravesites inevitably destroys evidence of mass crimes – which in turn thwarts efforts to scientifically establish the truth about what happened and to ultimately assign responsibility.

In 2010, PHR led 18 Afghan police, archeologists, doctors, civil society members, and others through a five-week training course in basic crime scene documentation and human osteology.

Inspired and emboldened by what they had learned, these professionals mobilized to form the Afghanistan Forensic Science Organization (AFSO), the first non-governmental forensic organization in the country’s history. Since then, AFSO has been working to fulfill its mandate to document, protect, and preserve Afghanistan’s mass graves.

For five years, PHR trained and mentored AFSO members in how to raise awareness about their work and produce comprehensive, scientific documentation of mass graves so as to secure evidence. Today, AFSO is the clearinghouse for forensic science in the country, spearheading information campaigns against torture and sexual violence.

In 2016, more than 35 years after the bodies of a group of Afghans were dumped into a mass grave in Bamyan province, PHR-trained AFSO forensic scientists conducted the country’s first mass grave exhumation.