PressInfo # 151
May 3, 2002
By Jan Oberg, TFF director
March 5, 2002
Remember the innocent dead in Afghanistan too
In many countries around the world, including NATO and the EU, governments and citizens observed three minutes of silence for the innocent victims killed in the terrorist attack upon the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on the 11th of September last year. In Denmark, for instance, a memorial service was also held in Copenhagen with representatives from the government, the Royal family and from The United States.
Out of a similar humanitarian consideration, it is my opinion that the same countries should show the innocent victims killed in Afghanistan the same honour. On the grounds of principle and because there is an obvious connection between the two events.
All religions maintain that each human life is sacred. Humanism is built, amongst other things, upon the premise that each and every human life is just as valuable as all others, no matter what the nationality, race, skin colour, gender, etc. There is therefore no doubt that the innocent human lives lost in Afghanistan are of exactly the same value as each of the almost 3000 innocent lives that were taken on the 11th of September.
Careful calculations have estimated that 3500 civilians have lost their lives as a result of the USA bombing campaign since the 7th October (Prof. Marc Herold, University of New Hampshire, USA). On top of this can be added the killing of half military groups and those the USA call illegitimate combatants, which are also not considered to be soldiers. As just one example from the months of bombing, the American Green Berets 'Tiger 03' team together with the bombers, killed 1300 supposed Taliban and Al-Quida men in one day, the 29th December (Ben Fenton, Telegraph, 8th January 2002). Since then, there have been many further reports of innocent deaths.
In addition to all this is all that we are as yet unaware of because, for differing reasons, it is kept secret. There are the people that have starved to death, or the children and the old that have been overcome fleeing from the bombs and by the acts of war. Then, over and above this is the well known phenomenon that a portion of the survivors will take their own lives after the worst of their experiences are over. And these also are a result of the continued effects of war.
An international war crimes tribunal for Afghanistan
Therefore, one cannot exclude the possibility that up to 5,000, maybe even 10,000 innocent civilians could have been killed by now. To achieve clarity over these and many other related questions, governments should firstly suggest the creation of a Hague-like tribunal for Afghanistan. This could function until the planned permanent International War Crimes Court has been established. It would allow for both the Afghani and the international sides of the conflict and their actions within the conflict to be explained in depth.
As is already known, the United States does not support the coming International Criminal Court because it will not accept that American citizens could be judged by anyone other than American authorities. The consideration paid to the letter and spirit of international justice, as well as to a sense of justice, should indisputably weigh heavier than considerations paid to the sensitivity of the United States since it is fighting a war against a country that has not attacked it.
And a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Afghanistan
Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, TRCs, slowly win through, but they do not justify or promote, to the same degree as courts and tribunals do, the division into the good guys who can take on the role of judge, and the bad guys who shall receive punishment. They are not swayed by feelings of revenge. For exactly this reason, TRCs can play a vital role, possibly even more so than a court, in the long-term work of healing and normalising the life of communities after war.
It should therefore be completely natural that Western governments, either alone or together with others, should suggest the creation of (and take the lead in the financing of) an international TRC which will bring forth the truth about the past 25 years of conflict and war actions in Afghanistan.
It would include the activities of non-Afghani parties related to the conflict in and against Afghanistan, and cover a period from well before the Soviet Union's invasion to the events of today. As in the Balkans, the population has fought internally against each other, but they have also been a pawn in a much larger game in relation to both the 'old' Cold War conflict formations and in the global restructuring and power struggle since 1989.
Such a commission would be able to lay open which roles foreign intelligence services have played, the roles of weapons dealers, the financing of the Taliban, the importance of the oil business, as well as how Afghanistan has come to play a central role in the world-wide drugs problem.
Focus on the deeply human dimension when rebuilding Afghanistan
The rebuilding of Afghanistan will take decades. The International community's contributions after war are often limited to humanitarian assistance, loans and credit, and help rebuilding roads, power installations and telephone systems. At best, they attempt to support the civilian communities by establishing courts of justice, educating police and with other similar schemes. These contributions are necessary, but never sufficient in a country that is suffering the aftermath of war.
The purely human dimensions are seldom addressed: how should we help people through the sorrow, the anger, the trauma and the hatred? How should we help them to respect each other and to live together once again in tolerance? How do we reduce their fear of revenge from 'the other side' that could threaten their new future? How to help the children and the young who are always particularly vulnerable? How to create better school text books than those that merely bring forth the winner's vision and therefore saddle generations of children and young with guilt for what has happened in the past?
All of this is not just about money. It's about people being educated to support others psychologically and socially, people with both empathy - the ability to identify, to sympathise - and love. It could be doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, priests, youth leaders, educationalists, child psychiatrists, etc. If we can send soldiers, then we should also be able to send these kinds of people.
In the Nordic countries, for instance, we still find a tradition of fundamental humanism thanks to such things as the folk high schools, the free schools, the grass roots, gender equality and the welfare state model. These countries have traditionally ranked high in terms of giving foreign aid and being hospitable to refugees and others in need.
The Nordic countries are not considered imperialists by others in the world. These are assets of tremendous value and should be put to good use in times of crisis. We should consequently render an exceptional humanitarian, peace building contribution, which is directed specifically to the people of Afghanistan and rebuilds souls, not just buildings.
It will also make us greater humanists
Some would maybe believe that holding three minutes silence for the dead in Afghanistan, diminishes the meaning of the catastrophe in the USA. This point of view does not hold. We should remember that quantitatively the United States has approximately 12 times as many inhabitants as Afghanistan does. In purely quantitative terms, therefore, 3000 dead is 12 times the catastrophe for Afghanistan than it is for the U.S. Three minutes silence and a remembrance service for those that have died in Afghanistan would remove any doubt that we differentiate between human lives. It would make us greater humanitarians.
Western governments, the Nordic in particular, must take responsibility
I take for granted that even smaller sovereign states such as Denmark and Sweden can exercise a certain independence in foreign policies. I, therefore, call upon Western government in general and the Nordic in particular to take the initiative to make the following suggestions into practical policies:
1) demonstrate respect visibly for all innocent dead, including those of Afghanistan;
2) propose a war tribunal for Afghanistan, to be transferred at a later date to the coming International Criminal Court;
3) propose an International Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and
4) render a new type of contribution to peace and reconciliation that is directed towards the individual inhabitants of Afghanistan.
© TFF 2002
Translated from Danish by Theresa Marlan