A proposal to engage victims, experts, and the broader public in the Intra-Afghan peace negotiations
The Peace Process Beyond the Negotiating Table:
A proposal to engage victims, experts, and the broader public
in the Intra-Afghan peace negotiations
The Intra-Afghan negotiations will confront difficult issues in relation to victims, justice, recovery, and rights. These issues will demand careful consideration, and there are no easy or obvious answers or outcomes that should be assumed from the start. These are also issues of great importance for all Afghans, from across the country, and the final agreement on these issues will set the tenor of any peace that will follow. In light of this, this paper by Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) will focus on the issues of victims- with other proposals on various aspects of the peace process forthcoming. AIHRC believes that the peace negotiations should take advantage of our strong tradition of public input and consultation by formally engaging victims and the broader public. This can help deepen public support for the negotiations, and the understanding and support of the outcome. It would signal the parties’ awareness about all those who have suffered. It would also allow new ideas to feed into the discussions.
The following four proposals would ensure broader engagement on the difficult issue of conflict victims and human rights. AIHRC can offer models and options for implementation of each proposal if requested by parties.
AIHRC urges the parties to begin to engage on these issues immediately as they concern fundamental rights of citizens and lack of attention to them could lead to a relapse of conflict.
1. Victim testimonies
A number of victims, from across the country and of a variety of types of violence, should be selected to speak directly to the parties about their experience in the conflict. The selection of the victims should be done through independent and impartial bodies agreed by the parties, perhaps together with the facilitator. The purpose of these visits would be to highlight the importance of the victims’ issue for all members of the negotiating parties, and to give a number of representative victims a direct voice in the process. It would signal to the public that the parties were committed to responding to the suffering of the war.
2. Regular consultation with a select reference group
AIHRC recommends that the parties at the negotiation table appoint a sub-committee (separately or jointly) to meet at regular intervals with a select reference group comprised of civil society and human rights activists. These would be selected from civil society through a fair process of consultation; they could put proposals to the subcommittee and respond to the subcommittee’s questions on specific issues on the negotiating agenda, and should consult with their broader networks to feed in ideas. The subcommittee would not be expected to share confidential information, but could brief generally and inquire on those matters where input and outside perspectives may be useful. Depending on the pace and focus at the table, regular meetings every two or three weeks may be appropriate.
3. Specific proposals and expertise
Civil society and other independent entities and experts have given significant thought to many of the challenges that parties will face during negotiations. They should be encouraged to submit written proposals on identified issues, with specific and practical solutions or policy proposals (such as how to craft a reparations program, or how to advance community reconciliation post-agreement). The parties may also find it useful to invite experts to present specific ideas or to respond to questions that the parties are discussing, presumably in plenary session with both parties together. Either party might invite and consult with experts separately, as well. The facilitator of the process could help to arrange expert visits.
4. Nationwide consultation and outreach
When the national context allows (post Covid-19), it would be ideal to hold a national victims’ Consultative Jirga to discuss issues of victims, justice, and reconciliation. The Consultative Jirga is not a decision-making mechanism, rather an opportunity to discuss various aspects of the victims’ issue. In the meantime, while not a replacement for a jirga, the parties should take advantage of existing networks, through civil society or other societal groupings, to invite public input and reflection from Afghans from all provinces. There may be mechanisms for online submissions or consultations, or online targeted meetings, to promote discussion of these difficult issues. These efforts should ensure that they reach a wide range of individuals and communities that have suffered in the conflict, including those who might not always be heard. These channels could also be used to explain some of the initial outcomes of the talks and to receive feedback. While the parties at the negotiating table would not likely have the time to drive such consultations, they can help to shape them; the parties’ stated interest and commitment to receiving such public input would also be important. Independent actors in civil society or the private sector could be invited to develop creative consultation models.