|"Many of the men named on the list were arrested or disappeared in 1978 and 1979 after a military coup." (AFP/Getty Images)|
By Emma Graham-Harrison
The Guardian, September 20, 2013
"The names of nearly 5,000 Afghans killed by a Soviet-backed government in purges that marked the start of decades of violence have been published by the Dutch government, 35 years after the men died. The release has been a rare chance for survivors of Afghanistan's civil wars to find out what happened to sons, brothers, fathers and other relatives who have been missing for more than 30 years. The list only names male prisoners. Many of the victims were arrested -- or simply disappeared -- in 1978 and 1979, after a military coup known as the Saur Revolution brought to power the Soviet-backed president, Nur Muhammad Taraki. He was killed months later by a rival whose rule was so brutal it precipitated the arrival of Soviet troops, who assassinated him in his palace. Successive Afghan governments have made almost no attempt to hold anyone to account for the abuses of the past three decades. The most notable legal effort since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 was a sweeping amnesty law passed in 2008 that angered many survivors and relatives of victims. 'Disclosure of Afghan victims from 70s killings is big step towards accountability and ending impunity for past human rights violations,' said the head of human rights for the UN in Afghanistan, Georgette Gagnon, on Twitter. The list is a key part of people's right to truth, she added. Afghans living at home and in other countries rushed to find their dead on the list, as well as relatives of prominent figures, including the head of the independent human rights commission, Sima Samar. Her husband and his brothers disappeared in 1979. The list stands as a gruesome and depressing testimony to the cruelty of the regime.
Among the dead are boys who were still at school, farmers who were likely illiterate and others detained for seemingly inconsequential crimes. Nassir Ahmad, son of Ali Ahmad, was a 12th grade pupil in Kandahar when he was seized. Ahmad Mohammad, who was arrested in northern Jawzjan province, had a white flag with 'Allahu Akbar' written on it. Another man from the same province had made the mistake of 'insulting ... the great leader'. 'For years, we kept hoping,' said Nushin Arbabzadah, who found her uncle on the list, number 1,416, decades after he vanished. The family suspected he had been seized but never knew, and split as cousins accused each other of a murder the government denied. So many years of vicious fighting followed that, for many, the memory of the purges was overshadowed by the violence that followed. The list of the dead emerged when the Dutch government launched a war crimes investigation into Amanullah O -- who was found to have run the secret police's investigation department. 'Of course, there were people who were maltreated during interrogations. Naturally, I was responsible for such maltreatment, but that is how it goes in Afghanistan,' he was quoted saying. 'It was not possible to adopt a different attitude. That was expected and desired of me. If you don't go along with it, you can never attain such a high position.' The investigation was shelved in 2012 when the suspect died, but the Dutch authorities decided to publish the list of the dead, obtained from a 93-year-old woman in Hamburg. 'The Netherlands authorities hope that the list will bring closure to the tormenting uncertainty that thousands of Afghan relatives have lived in for years,' the national prosecutor's office said in a statement."
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch.]