Afghan generals stand trial 15 years on

10 October 2005 by HEIKELINA VERRIJN STUART

In July, a British court sentenced a former Taliban to twenty five years in prison for torture and hostage-taking [see IJT no. 30]. Now a Dutch court has tried two former Afghan generals for war crimes and acts of torture committed under the communist regime between 1978 and 1992. This Hague-based trial, from September 18 - October 7, has made one thing clear: the almost insurmountable complexity of investigating and prosecuting crimes committed 15 to 25 years ago in a still-violent, chaotic and far away country like Afghanistan.

Heshamuddin Hesam, 57, and Habibulla Jalalzoy, 59, are being tried in the Netherlands because they live there. In 1992, they had made an attempt to obtain refugee status and finally ended up with F-1 status, which is reserved for people whose violent history prevents them from obtaining refugee status, while the human rights situation in their own country makes it impossible to send them back. They became the subject of an investigation in 2004, when investigators listening to wiretaps of other Afghan suspects recognised Hesam's voice speaking of "unlimited torture practices" and saying that back in his time "force, threats and extortion were the fashion." Since then, Hesam and his subordinate Jalalzoy, both generals, have been charged with inflicting serious bodily injury on detainees at the Sedarat prison in Kabul or in the building housing the Khad (the secret police), where they held a position of authority.

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