Human rights activists in Pakistan have called on the UN to establish a war crimes tribunal for Afghanistan.
"I want to request the UN human rights commission to set up a panel of experts to investigate war crimes and mass executions carried out in Afghanistan over the past two years," chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Afrasiab Khattak, told IRIN on Monday.
"There should be accountability for the violation of international laws in Afghanistan and now is the right time as the witnesses and sources are there," he said.
Khattak's comments follow a statement issued by international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday, urging the US and Britain to take immediate measures against three Afghan commanders accused of committing war crimes. Two of the three in question are Mullah Fazil, accused of killings in the northern Takhar province, and Mullah Dadullah, linked to the burning of 4,000 homes in the mainly Shi'ite Muslim central area of Yakaolang and massacres in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif in 1998.
The third, Mawlawi Nurullah Nuri, former governor of the northern Balkh province, has been accused of involvement in the massacre of Afghans of Uzbek ethnic origin in the region. "I think the international community has a responsibility to track down these commanders the same way they are hunting down Osama bin Laden," Khattak said. All three are Taliban commanders and their alleged crimes were committed over the past three years.
HRW's researcher in Islamabad, Sam Ziazarifi, shared similar concerns. "If I were to get one message across it would be to ask where these commanders are now," he told IRIN. A few days ago they were in custody under Uzbek commander General Dostum's forces, but their whereabouts were now unclear, he added.
Ziazarifi stressed the importance of bringing war criminals to court. "This action in Afghanistan was launched in the name of justice and it is important for the international community to send a message to say that this is about the rule of law and justice," he said. "We haven't seen any indicators about how the US wants to deal with the terrible crimes in Afghanistan," he added.
The HRW statement called on the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, to facilitate a council for an independent authority to take custody of suspected war criminals until a venue could be found to try them.
Meanwhile, reports of massacres continued to emerge from Mazar-e Sharif following its takeover by Northern Alliance (NA) forces. Last week hundreds of Taliban prisoners-of-war were killed after they rose up against their captors at a fort near the northern city. Human rights bodies have called for an independent investigation into the killings. The precise circumstances surrounding the incident remain unclear.
Commenting on the case, Ziazarifi said it was of great concern and that there was an urgent need for clarity and justice to be upheld. "Based on press statements it is clear to see that neither the United States nor United Kingdom is considering holding an investigation on Mazar-e Sharif," he explained, stressing that press accounts had painted a worrying picture of what had happened at the fort.
He added that the US and the UK held responsibility to conduct an investigation and that HRW would like to carry out its own interviews in Mazar-e Sharif pending improved security there.
HRW has also criticised the US's decision to try members of the Al Qaeda network by special military court, saying it excluded others who had committed war crimes over years of conflict in Afghanistan. "The US-proposed tribunal doesn't even apply to what has happened in Afghanistan," he said.