UN funds specialists to help investigate mass graves

The UN has invited forensic specialists from an international organisation to help investigate over 80 mass graves discovered in different parts of war-torn Afghanistan, officials told IRIN in Kabul.

On 24 July one specialist from Washington-based Physicians for Human Rights visited several mass graves to the north of Kabul. Another is expected to arrive in Kabul for an extensive technical investigation which hopes to shed light on the mass graves found in the country, a UN official said.

“They [international specialists] will work independently,” said Ahmad Nadir Nadery, a spokesman for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

The specialists will determine the period in which victims were killed and buried in collective graves and release their findings jointly with the country’s human rights watchdog.

In July, Afghan officials said the country did not have the technical and professional expertise to conduct fact-finding examinations on thousands of human skeletons found in dozens of mass graves across the country.

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“We neither have adequate resources nor the appropriate equipment to do DNA tests, for instance, and uncover the facts about these graves,” said Mirza Mohammad Yarman, an official from the Ministry of Interior.

AIHRC officials said, so far, it has only been able to mark the geographical locations of mass graves and does not have all the required resources to conduct proper forensic examinations.

A spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) said the UN would provide all kinds of assistance to enable Afghans to uncover past crimes and identify victims.

“We are an assistance mission and will provide assistance whenever the Afghan authorities ask us,” said UN spokesman, Aleem Siddique, adding that the UN is funding the Physicians for Human Rights’ mission to Kabul.

Thousands feared buried

In the last 13 months, 81 mass graves have been discovered in different parts of Afghanistan where the remains of thousands of humans are feared buried, AIHRC told IRIN on 25 July.

In July 2007, several mass graves were found in Chamtala, north of Kabul, where thousands of human bodies could have been buried, officials said.

Another mass grave was identified in April 2007 in Badakhshan Province, northeastern Afghanistan, where the remains of 500 people had been found, according to government officials.

“The remains of some 1,200 victims have been found in a mass grave in Kerala District of Kunar Province [eastern Afghanistan], while several smaller graves have been found in Kabul - each containing the remains of 50 to 70 people,” Nadery said.

''The remains of some 1,200 victims have been found in a mass grave in Kerala District of Kunar Province [eastern Afghanistan], while several smaller graves have been found in Kabul - each containing the remains of 50 to 70 people.''


The Afghan authorities have temporarily closed sites of mass graves.

The forensic specialists who have been invited from Washington will also recommend measures to ensure that the mass graves are not tampered with, until appropriate investigations take place.

Growing calls for justice

According to the country’s human rights commission up to 830 victims, found in several mass graves, have been identified, to date.

However, people in many parts of the country and several civil society organisations have increasingly called upon the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to identify all victims of mass graves, name perpetrators of mass killings and specify periods when these atrocities were committed.

“With over two million people killed and the whole country destroyed, nobody can deny the fact that appalling crimes were committed in Afghanistan in the last 27 years. It is up to us to find out who committed those crimes and hold them responsible for their misdeeds,” said Noor Akbary, a member of parliament in the National Assembly.

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