For Immediate Release
Cambridge, MA (PRWEB) December 15, 2008 — In response to the UN's December 15 pledge to help Afghan authorities protect a mass grave site in northern Afghanistan that may contain evidence of war crimes, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) calls upon U.S. Army General David McKiernan, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, to assist the UN in preserving any remaining evidence and protecting any surviving witnesses. PHR also calls on the US government to provide the Afghan Government, the UN and the US Congress a declassified analysis of satellite imagery of the site from November 2001 to the present.
Last week, McClatchy Newspapers revealed that Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a US ally in the fight against the Taliban, reportedly removed evidence of potential war crimes from the Dasht-e-Leili mass grave. A PHR expert has reported large holes at the location of the site its researchers discovered in 2002. PHR has demanded investigation both in Afghanistan and in the United States. Dasht-e-Leili is allegedly the burial location of as many as 2,000 prisoners who surrendered to the Afghan Northern Alliance and to US Special Forces in November 2001 after the fall of the Afghan city of Kunduz. According to reports, General Dostum's forces suffocated the prisoners in cargo containers, and then buried them at the site.
"PHR is gratified that the UN is calling for the site to be protected, and that they have pledged to assist Afghan authorities in that crucial task," said PHR CEO Frank Donaghue. "However, full protection of the grave will be dependent upon NATO forces being given the mandate to preserve any remaining evidence and safeguard any surviving witnesses."
PHR further stated that:
- NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan should provide the troops and logistics to enable this to happen right away. ISAF is currently under the command of Gen. McKiernan, who reports to CENTCOM Commander Gen. David Petraeus. The UN does not currently have security forces in Afghanistan; NATO troops already stationed in the area are the logical choice.
- A full security cordon must be established around the area with round-the-clock guards, as was done with major alleged crime scenes of this type in Bosnia and Croatia during the Balkan wars. A full forensic investigation to assess and document the extent of damage to this site can occur only if the site has been secured for evidentiary as well as personal security reasons.
- Afghanistan, with the UN and international community, must launch an investigation into the initial November 2001 incident as well as the likely destruction of evidence. Removal of evidence of an atrocity is in itself a crime, under the Geneva Conventions.
- The Bush Administration needs to answer questions of who knew what and when, provide information on what they did or failed to do to secure the site, present detailed accounts of their internal investigations, and support accountability.
- PHR requests that the US declassify satellite imagery over this particular site and the surrounding area from November 2001 to the present that would show both changes to the site in 2001 and the recent removal of massive amounts of soil from it and its disposition, and make the images available to the Afghan government, the UN, Congress, and other responsible parties.
"As PHR knows from our work in Bosnia, Rwanda, Central America and elsewhere, communities that have lost loved ones in mass killings—especially the mothers, siblings, and children of victims—have a right to the truth and to justice, including identification and return of remains," said Donaghue. "The demands of mothers and families demonstrating in the streets of Kabul over the last few days show that the Afghan people are demanding that those who have committed mass atrocities be held accountable. Peace and stability require truth and justice; it never pays to ignore mass graves and the atrocities associated with them."
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.