On September 18, 2013, Dutch authorities released a death list of Afghanistan’s disappeared that threw Afghans into a frenzy. The list opened old wounds. Families held funerals and called for justice. There were nearly 5,000 of those on the list who disappeared under the communist regime from 1978-79. Brutal ruling regimes from the communists, the Mujahideen, the Taliban and the current Karzai government have been responsible for tens of thousands more war crimes in the last 35 years. A handful of Dutch detectives have taken charge of the issue and are calling for Afghans (and others) from all over the world to help them find and prosecute the Afghan criminals who live in Europe.
I have written extensively about this issue because my own uncle was on the list, and this is a promised follow-up for families of victims. I hope this Q and A with Bertjan Tjeerde, the Dutch detective I have been in contact with, will answer some of the questions many Afghans have.
FN: Why did you release this list?
Bertjan: The list was published as it holds relevant information for Afghan people who have lost dear relatives or loved ones. The information was never properly communicated to the concerned people. As the suspect passed away prior to an arrest, no court proceedings were to take place and the list and documents were made public alternatively.
FN: What is your jurisdiction?
Bertjan: In general, we can prosecute people who live in the Netherlands or who have the Dutch nationality. To prevent any misunderstanding, we cannot prosecute Afghan people who committed crimes in Afghanistan and still live there. Of course, we sometimes come across information on possible perpetrators living outside of Holland, but somewhere else in Europe. Under certain circumstances, we actively share this information with that other country. Depending on the jurisdiction and legal framework of that country, prosecution could take place.
FN: Have you talked to Afghans inside Afghanistan and the government in charge to give you information about suspects and their crimes? If so, how have they helped?
Bertjan: Yes, we have talked to Afghans in Afghanistan. The Afghan authorities have been cooperative in our investigations.
FN: How can people provide evidence for you from afar, if they live in the U.S. or outside of Europe?
Bertjan: They can contact us by phone and/or email, of course. As mentioned before, we only have jurisdiction when the alleged perpetrators live in the Netherlands, and if this is not the case, we can only refer people to the possible relevant authorities. We take witness statements on several locations, also outside of Holland.
FN: What kind of evidence are you looking for?
Bertjan: In general, these kind of investigations hold two kinds of evidence people can provide: statements and documents. Of course in general, for a police investigation to begin, it requires the identification of a suspect or suspects.
Depending on the kind of crime and its judicial qualification, authorities will have the possibility to prosecute or not. In general, cases of genocide, war crimes, torture and/or crimes against humanity can under certain circumstances be prosecuted. Please be aware that an investigation on war crimes requires great efforts and money for that matter. If crimes can simply not be proven, the start of an investigation is not likely.
FN: Can you offer protection for those who want to come forward? Will there be anonymity? If a case goes to trial, will witnesses be exposed to the media?
Bertjan: Anonymity and protection measures are not impossible but extremely rare in these kind of criminal investigations.
FN: How many Afghan criminals have been convicted so far for war crimes?
Bertjan: Three. One man in Britain and two in Holland. I can refer you to the website of Trial Watch. It concerns Mr. Zardad in the UK, Mr. Hesam and Mr. Jalalzoy in the Netherlands.
FN: You mentioned one man in Holland, Amanullah Osman, who admitted to being an interrogator and committing crimes, on the website you released the list. He died before you arrested him. Did he lead you to any other criminals? How many other suspects do you have in Europe?
Bertjan: We never spoke with Mr. Osman. As you can read in the statement of the prosecutor’s office, Mr. Osman did mention during his immigration procedure that he was in charge of the interrogation department of AGSA. During the criminal investigation of the Dutch national police, other officials of the Afghan intelligence forces were identified. You will understand that I can and will not mention these names here for several reasons.
FN: Are these suspects from the communist time, Mujahideen, Taliban or the latest government? You want to arrest and prosecute from any era as long as the evidence is there, correct?
Bertjan: The investigation concerned the period of 1978-1979, so the information and evidence we found are related to crimes that were committed in that period. We are aware of the fact that crimes were committed during other regimes as well. If the suspect lives in the Netherlands and the case looks like it can be proven, yes. A crime is a crime.
FN: There were a few names on the list of people who were not killed during that time but died later in exile, and a couple who are still alive today. And there are tens of thousands of others who were not on the list. Do you have access to any other lists?
Bertjan: We know that there are several sources mentioning lists. These sources often mention different numbers when it comes to the number of names on the lists.
FN: One list mentioned in New York Times which Najibullah gave to Lord Bethel, the British envoy, mentioned 11,000 names in 1989.
Bertjan: The list we found existed of 154 pages, it lacked one page. We consider it to be the list given to Mr. Lord Bethell in 1989 in Afghanistan for a number of reasons. With the list, we found a note from the former Security Forces of the Republic of Afghanistan. This note is addressed to Mr. Lord Bethell, in those days he was the Vice-Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of the European Parliament. The note says that this list was introduced to the public during the time of Hafizullah Amin, mentioning the names of people killed in his reign. It also says that a lot of names were missing on the list. Unfortunately, the note holds no further specific information.
We did do additional research concerning the list. The article in the NYT mentions the fact that the list given to Bethell should hold 11,000 names.
Though Bethell unfortunately passed away in 2007, we found and talked to people who accompanied him on his journey to Afghanistan in 1989. They confirm that Lord Bethell received the list during this journey. One of the people present when the list was handed over told us that when they received the list, they never counted the number of names. “It was just said that there were 11.000 names on it.”
I can refer you to the book of Mr. Nicholas Bethell titled “Spies and other Secrets.” You can also find information in the following link.
In this last article November 10, 1989, in the Sun Journal, you can read the names of Mr. Musa Shafiq and Mr. Noor Ahmad Etemadi. The names of Shafiq and Etemadi are not on the list we have. After the research we did, it remains unclear whether the list given to Mr. Lord Bethell actually held 11.000 names, or that it was just said to have 11,000 names.
We can be convinced that the recently published list is the list as given to Lord Bethell. It nevertheless could be just a part of a larger list, however, we cannot be sure.
We made considerable efforts to see whether the EU or people who were related to Mr. Bethell had additional lists/information, this was not the case unfortunately.
If we receive any kind of additional information on the existence of further lists and it would be of relevance in a criminal investigation, we will do additional research.
FN: Were there any women on the list you released?
Bertjan: There were women mentioned in the documents of AGSA and on the list as well.
FN: How can Afghans form a tribunal to investigate war crimes in Europe? Is it possible to have a truth and reconciliation commission in Europe for Afghans?
Bertjan: I cannot answer this question. This is a political question, and it is not up to me to answer such a question.
If someone wants to file a complaint against someone, it is his or her right to do so. This complaint should be addressed to the right authorized authorities, the one with jurisdiction.
Please know that anyone who would like to know whether there is additional information on his/her family is welcome . We will try our best to help them, though possible answers are of course tough since so many years have passed by. We don’t want to raise false hope.
For more information or to file a complaint or evidence, please contact Bertjan Tjeerde at Bertjan.Tjeerde@klpd.politie.nl