18 September 2013
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In the course of a War Crimes investigation concerning Torture and Killings, the International Crimes Unit of the Netherlands National Police has obtained Death Lists from Afghanistan, dating from the 1970s. Almost 5000 names are listed in these documents, in which the authorities meticulously recorded the regime’s killings.
These lists end the uncertainty of numerous relatives who have been in the dark for decades about the fate of their fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins and other loved ones.
Under the supervision of the National Prosecutor’s Office, the Netherlands Police started investigating Amanullah O. in 2010. He was suspected of having committed War Crimes in Afghanistan in 1978 and 1979. The investigation focussed in particular on O.’s involvement in Torture. Under his responsibility as chief of the Interrogation Department of the Afghan Security Service AGSA – predecessor of the KAM, KhAD and WAD – people were purportedly arrested, interrogated and tortured. The methods that were used include beatings, electricity and sleep deprivation.
Prison circumstances were bad. Over-population, little to no sanitary provisions or medical care and violence by the guards were so severe that they amounted to cruel and inhuman treatment. Some prisoners were released after power changed hands within the communist regime. Others are known to have been executed. Many others, however, have ‘disappeared’. Their relatives have never heard from them again.
Amanullah O. came to the Netherlands seeking asylum in 1993. In an interview with the Immigration Service, he stated that he had been the head of the Interrogation Department of AGSA, where people were tortured. He also stated that he had signed documents concerning people who were to be executed. From his statement: “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. 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.” Partly on the basis of this interview with the Immigration Service, O. was denied refugee-status in The Netherlands in conformity with Article 1F of the Refugee Convention.
Article 1F of the Refugee Convention provides that the Treaty does not apply to any person with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that he has committed certain crimes, for example War Crimes. Refugee-status is therefore withheld from such persons. In case such a person would be in real danger if he were to return to his country of origin, he is nevertheless not deported. This was the case with O. He was not granted asylum, but he was not deported either.
The criminal investigation concerning O. was based on his statement to the Immigration Service as well as on documentary evidence: the so-called Transfer Orders. The Transfer Orders were published in a book by the Afghan Mirwais Wardak in 2000-2001. The book contains copies of documents of the Afghan State Security Services from 1978 and 1979. They concern the transfer of persons to and from detention centres, such as the infamous Pul-i-Charkhi Prison. The transferred persons are mentioned by name in the documents.
The Netherlands Police have later obtained the original Transfer Orders from Wardak. The signature of O., head of the interrogation department, is on 27 of the Transfer Orders. In these documents, detainees were described as Muslim-fundamentalists, intellectuals, students, civil servants, military officials, shop-keepers and rogues.
During the course of the investigation, the Netherlands Police found and contacted witnesses in Germany. They mentioned the existence of Death Lists. One of the witnesses, a 93 year old woman from Hamburg, turned out to be in the possession of 154 pages listing in Dari the names of people who, according to the then-Afghan authorities, were executed in 1978 and 1979.
On these pages, the dead are listed in chronological and alphabetic order. The Lists state their names, the names of their fathers, their professions and their places of residence as well as accusations. The woman gave the Lists to the Police on the condition that they would be returned to her. She had obtained the list from United Nations Special Rapporteur for Afghanistan Felix Ermacora.
Quest for Definite Answers
During the investigation, it became clear to the Police that many victims and relatives did not know of the Death Lists and the Transfer Orders. One woman told Dutch investigators about the quest she had undertaken together with her mother to obtain definite answers about the fate of her disappeared father. All her efforts proved fruitless. She went back to Afghanistan and met with former members of communist parties and Mujahedeen. She heard that so many people were killed in 1978-1979, that bulldozers were used to bring them to a place behind Pul-i-Chargi Prison. People were lined up and shot with a machine gun. Whoever was still alive, was buried alive. Thousands allegedly met this fate.
Seeing the Transfer Orders presented by the Dutch investigators brought the woman to tears. She had been waiting and searching for this kind of document about her father for thirty years. The Transfer Order provided her with clarity about his last days. Other witnesses recognized names of their loved ones on the Death List. They obtained certainty about the fate of their relatives for the first time as well.
Death of the Suspect
The War Crimes investigation ended in 2012 with the sudden death of O. The results of the criminal investigation are shared with other European States where co-suspects of O. reside. The Netherlands National Prosecutor’s Office is in touch with the Judicial Authorities in those States.
The National Prosecutor’s Office and the Netherlands Police are making the Death List and the Transfer Orders public today. These documents are accessible in their entirety on www.warcrimes.nl. They have also been brought to the attention of the Red Cross and the international press. The Netherlands authorities hope that the list will bring closure to the tormenting uncertainty that thousands of Afghan relatives have lived in for years.