Statement of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan at the Opening Ceremony of the Transitional Justice Conference,13 December 2005

Excellences, ministers, deputy ministers, governor, dear friends from the international community, members of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Inclosing this round of opening statements, allow me to make some brief remarks.

By adopting the Action Plan For Peace, Justice and Reconciliation yesterday, the Afghan government has added a new and very important dimension tithe peace process in Afghanistan – that of addressing head-on the sequels of abuses and violence of the past 25 years; rebuilding confidence among those whose lives were crushed by the war; healing the very deep confrontations of the past and restoring the values of tolerance and trust.

That undertaking does not require international forces. It does not require massive investments. It does not require legions of foreign experts. Its, nevertheless, one of the most difficult tasks that any country can face. Indeed it is a challenge that, I am afraid, many countries have failed to meet – and have paid the consequences for it. The battle lines of the civil war have been allowed to shape the political landscape. A culture of violence, impunity and intolerance survives unchecked, and the sufferings of the victims continue to haunt the survivors. In short, the burden of a violent past is allowed to frustrate the efforts at giving society a fresh start.

In its attempt to overcome the consequences of conflict, Afghanistan does not start from scratch today. The pride of delegates to last year’s Constitutional Loyal Jirga (who set aside bitter differences two years ago to give their country its new Constitution); the strong sense of recovered dignity that was so widely felt by voters in the Presidential Elections two years ago; the peaceful and orderly unfolding of political competition in 34 provinces a couple of months ago; are all steps in building the confidence of Afghans in themselves and in their country.

That Afghans were able to bridge such differences so successfully in a few short years, paved the way for them to turn their attention more confidently today to the darker pages of their recent past.

One should not, of course, underestimate the daunting task that reconciliation will be in Afghanistan, where the trauma of war has been so protracted, has created such deep divides – ethnic and otherwise – and has left such extensive scars in the lives of so many. As Afghans setoff on this journey, they should get as much assistance as their international friends can provide them. This is why the High Commissioner for Human Rights and ourselves were keen to bring to you, on the occasion of this conference, the experience of other people in faraway countries who have confronted in recent years the dilemmas involved in the search for truth, for justice and reconciliation.

Each peace process, however, is unique. And particularly so in the diverse ways in which individuals and communities deal with the painful past. We are, therefore, not suggesting that you should seek to fashion your approach to the experience of others. Quite the contrary. We hope tattoo will find some inspiration in the way in which other people have harnessed their best traditions, the wisdom of their religions and the strength of their moral values to bring, as much as humanly possible, closure toe violent past and allow tolerance, respect for the sanctity of life and the dignity of all human beings to flourish again.

Kabul, 13 December 2005