A First Step on a Long Journey: How People Define Violence and Justice in Afghanistan (1958-2008)


Afghanistan is in the most momentous period of history. On the one hand, it is in the constructive change process and on the other hand it faces the formidable challenge of past human rights abuses and crimes. The Government of Afghanistan supports investigation of past crimes. The establishment of an independent human rights commission as agreed in Bonn Accord, the convention of national human rights workshop and President Hamid Karzai’s emphasis on investigating the past crimes in its inauguration, and refraining from signing the national reconciliation bill 2007 are all examples of support to the transitional justice process. Nevertheless, the Government of Afghanistan has not been able to formulate a clear mechanism to implement transitional justice. Afghans demand justice more than ever. Investigating the previous crime is a legitimate right of Afghans. If the government does not seriously consider this issue, the current distrust and gap between people and government will increase and can create gigantic problems for Afghanistan’s future. 

Afghans have witnessed many rights violation and crimes committed by ethnic and ideological leaders, commanders, belligerent factions and locally powerful forces. After 9/11, the international community and civil institutions have taken steps to redress people’s grief. They have strived to assess the human rights violations and crimes committed during different periods in order to inform people. As a result, human rights organizations have published several reports on human rights issues. Nonetheless, Afghanistan has a long road to truth seeking and there exists a wide-range of hidden crimes. Human rights organizations have not been able to identify these hidden areas, since there are powers in the country that prevent the truth to be found.

How People Define Violence and Justice is a research project on international crimes, massacres, rapes, murders, destruction of residential areas, homicide and imprisonment of intellectuals, torture and human rights abuses of the past fifty years. This research extends to the past fifty years of Afghan history and starts from Shah Mahmud Khan premiership during Muhammad Zahir Shah monarchy. Human rights abuses have deep roots and can be traced back to Muhammad Hashim Khan premiership. Therefore, certain parts of this report refer to that period. Afghanistan witnessed rather stable regimes during Muhammad Zahir Shah monarchy and Dawood Khan Republic; however, human rights abuses were systematically committed during those periods. An outstanding example of which was depriving ethnic and religious minorities from political and social participation and from the right to education which continued till the end of Dawood Khan Republic. 

After the communist coup in Afghanistan, the civil war broke out. During these periods heinous human rights abuses took place, the most prominent of which were arbitrary imprisonments, forced disappearances and massacres. After the collapse of Communist regimes and Mujahedin triumph, a new chapter of crimes in Afghanistan began. Ethnical, sectarian and lingual conflicts, territorial divide of cities and villages by belligerent factions, rule of local commanders on the lives and properties of people, destruction of house, rapes, plundering government and people’s properties and stealing historic monuments are examples of such crimes. 

During Taliban rule, areas such as northern Kabul and Bamyan were turned into burned lands. Some evident examples of Taliban crimes were the massacre in northern Kabul, Bamyan and Mazar-e- Sharif, women rights violation, confiscation of public properties, wanton imprisonments, forced disappearances, and humiliation of human dignity. 

In order to assess the past events, How People Define Violence and Justice Project developed a questionnaire that encompasses these abuses and crimes. It consists of five sections and 36 questions. The last fifty years that constitutes our scope of research has been divided in six following periods: 

1. The Monarchy (King Mohammad Zahir Shah) 1958 – 1973

2. The Republic (President Mohammad Dawood) 1973 – 1978

3. The Communist Regime 1978 – 1992

4. The Islamic State (Mujahedin) 1992 – 1995

5. The Islamic Emirates (Taliban) 1996 – 2001

6. Islamic Republic (Karzai) 2001 – 2008 

The research has been conducted in nine provinces including Kabul, Kandahar, Badakhshan, Bamyan, Herat, Nangarhar, Paktia, Balkh and Faryab. In each province 400 questionnaires were filled, making the total number of interviewees 3600 respondents. These provinces were selected on the basis geographical, political, historical and ethnical criteria.

Product details
Date of Publication
July, 2011
Heinrich Böll Stiftung - Afghanistan
Number of Pages
All rights reserved
Language of publication
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