[New publication] The road to justice: Lessons for Ukraine from the USSR invasion of Afghanistan

Published 22 February 2023

Copyright: Oleksandr Polonskyi. Kyiv/Ukraine - 08.29.2020: Mourning families of killed in Russian Ukrainian war soldiers bring flowers to the Memory Wall with portraits of their sons and husbands.

The USSR invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s and the process towards justice and peace which followed the withdrawal of Soviet troops could provide important lessons for the implementation of transitional justice and respect for the international rule of law following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, conclude Asser Institute Associate Fellows Nader Nadery and Victoria Kerr in a new article in the Security and Human Rights Monitor. The Russian invasion of Ukraine should be seen as a pivotal moment for the international community to demonstrate a renewed commitment to sustainable peace and security, and that includes ensuring justice for the victims.

The USSR left Afghanistan in February 1989 ending a ten-year invasion. While victims’ demand for justice was overwhelming across the country, the focus on peace meant that justice for the victims of the atrocities was never prioritised by authorities and the international community. Thirty-three years later, on 24 February 2022, Russian Federation President Putin announced the commencement of a ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. Even as the invasion continues, questions remain as to how Ukraine will approach and implement transitional justice.

 @ A. Solomonov (Wikimedia) - Withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan - 15 February 1989 

Lessons for transitional justice in Ukraine
Nearly a year after the commencement of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, authors Nadery and Kerr link their respective expertise in the justice processes in Afghanistan and Ukraine. They highlight that while the invasions can be distinguished in a number of respects, there are nonetheless a number of lessons to be drawn from the past that can be relevant for transitional justice in Ukraine. The Russian rhetoric around the invasion draws on Soviet and imperialistic “greatness”. Firstly, Nadery and Kerr argue that this historical framing of the invasion of Ukraine and the role of the Soviet legacy will be critical to the transitional justice process in Ukraine.

The article also calls for addressing institutional failings throughout military structures to ensure sustainable peace. These failings are illustrative of continued Soviet influence within the Russian army and include the lack of education and training, as well as patriarchal and hierarchal attitudes that are perpetuating brutality. In stark contrast to the approach in Afghanistan, there are unprecedented criminal justice initiatives in the context of Ukraine. However, Nadery and Kerr caution that such initiatives must be effective, coordinated, and led by victims’ interests.

Promoting the international rule of law
While justice for Ukraine should be tailored to its specific context, Nadery and Kerr argue that lessons can be learnt from the response from the international community to the USSR invasion of Afghanistan. The Russian invasion of Ukraine should be seen as a pivotal moment for the international community to demonstrate a renewed commitment to sustainable peace and security, and that includes ensuring justice for the victims.

Read the full article

About the authors
Nader Nadery is a national security fellow at Hoover Institution of Stanford. He was a member of the Peace Negotiation Team for the Afghanistan peace process in Doha, and served as Chair of the independent Civil Service Commission of Afghanistan. Prior to joining the commission, he was a senior advisor to the Afghan president on human rights, and from 2004-2012, he served as a commissioner of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Victoria Kerr is an international lawyer and consultant on the Asser Institute & Global Rights Compliance partnered project ‘Strengthening Ukraine’s Capacity to Investigate and Prosecute International Crimes’, funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She also works with REDRESS on sanctions and asset recovery with a view to reparations for victims in Ukraine.

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