The upper house of Afghanistan's parliament or 'Meshrano Jirga', on Tuesday adopted a controversial amnesty bill granting immunity for all war crimes. The decision comes less than a month after the 249-seat lower house, known as 'Wolesi Jirga', approved it.
The bill will now go to President Hamid Karzai for assent before it can become legislation. If Karzai vetoes it, the draft bill could either be sent to the Supreme Court or back to the lower house, which can overrule presidential dissent by a two-thirds majority.
The bill grants immunity to all those who committed war crimes during the Soviet occupation from 1979 to 1989; the civil war that followed until 1996; and during Taliban rule until late 2001.
Parliamentarians who endorsed the bill say it will prove instrumental in bringing peace and reconciliation to the conflict-ridden country. Others believe the bill was only passed because both the lower and upper houses are dominated by former warlords and communist officials who allegedly have blood on their hands.
The draft bill has also caused consternation in the international community and been criticised by the country's independent human rights commission, as well as other rights groups.
According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the rights of the victims must come first and foremost. UNAMA spokesman Adrian Edwards noted that while the decision of the upper house was not entirely unexpected, "it represents only one point of view and it is important that other viewpoints be heard".
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission member Farid Hamidi said it supported efforts for peace, justice and reconciliation adopted by the government and that all components of the plan had to be supported equally, but this should not mean blanket immunity.
"We can achieve peace and the rule of law when the war crimes are dealt with and the violators of human rights are brought to justice. Reconciliation should not stop the process of justice," Hamidi said, adding that the commission was waiting to see Karzai's response, as well as that of the Supreme Court.
Malik Setiz, a member of the Civil Society and Human Rights Network, added that democracy, rule of law and human rights would be endangered by the approval of a bill that would overrule all international laws.
"The upper and lower house of parliament should review the bill and respect public opinion," Setiz said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions