UN Confirms: "The site at Dasht-e-Leili has been disturbed"

Yesterday, UN spokesperson Dan McNorton confirmed the report by McClatchy Newspapers concerning the mass grave in Dasht-e-Leili, Afghanistan. AP reporter Heidi Vogt, in the USA Today reports:

The U.N. confirmed Friday that a mass grave in northern Afghanistan has been disturbed, raising the possibility that evidence supporting allegations of a massacre seven years ago may have been removed.

The Dasht-e-Leili grave site holds as many as 2,000 bodies of Taliban prisoners who died in transit after surrendering during one of the regime’s last stands in November 2001, according to a State Department report from 2002.

McClatchy Newspapers first reported the tampering with the grave site on Thursday.

“We can confirm that the site at Dasht-e-Leili has been disturbed,” said Dan McNorton, a spokesman for the U.N. mission in Afghanistan. He declined to say how or when the site had changed, saying that details would be available in an upcoming report.

The AP also reported rumors that there was burning of some of the evidence from the mass grave and recalled some of the past circumstances surrounding the mass grave, including the torture, murder and disappearances of eye witnesses to the original crimes; additional mass grave sites; and alleged mass suffocation in sealed container trucks of some of the detainees who are believed to have been dumped and buried at the Dasht-e-Leili site.

In a follow up to its own report and the AP report, McClatchy reported on Friday evening that

The U.N. in Afghanistan had acknowledged to McClatchy that it knew of the digging — reportedly by backhoes or bulldozers, or maybe both — but said in statement that it previously had decided not to publicly acknowledge it.

The UN report alluded to by Dan McNorton will therefore be a welcome addition to the cause of finding out the truth and obtaining justice for these alleged atrocities.

The McClatchy follow up piece continues:

A U.N. spokesman in New York, Farhan Haq, said Friday evening that, “We’re certainly opposed to any disturbance of the gravesite.”

Asked about PHR’s call for an investigation, Haq said that the U.N. team in Afghanistan would have to examine the matter before he could comment.

The gravesite area, which a previous State Department cable said could hold as many as 2,000 bodies, was dug up during the past year. A U.N.-sponsored PHR team discovered two large pits in the grave area during a June-July trip to Afghanistan, and a McClatchy reporter found three new holes there last month.

“Removing evidence of an alleged mass atrocity is itself a war crime and must be investigated,” PHR’s chief executive officer, Frank Donaghue said in a statement Friday. “The Afghan Government, with the support of the U.N. and the international community, must move quickly to protect the site.”

However, without security assistance from NATO troops in Afghanistan, who’re commanded by a U.S. general, the government in Kabul won’t be able to secure the gravesite, Donaghue said in an interview with McClatchy Friday evening.

Donaghue said that a NATO-controlled team was based less than three miles from the site, and that securing it is “something the … team could do tonight if they wanted to.”

PHR has made three recommendations:

  • The Afghan Government should be supported in an investigation with the assistance of the UN, the United States and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force). Any remains or evidence of criminal activity at Dasht-e-Leili must be secured immediately and witnesses must be protected.
  • Congress, the Pentagon and the CIA must finally publicly determine the extent of US responsibility for these alleged atrocities and disclose who in the US Government knew what about the alleged murder of the prisoners and what they did or did not do about it.
  • The Afghan Government must register and protect other mass grave sites in Afghanistan. It must be made clear to the Afghan people and the international community which authorities have responsibility over each location.

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