During the previous 2 weeks two architects of crimes against humanity within Latin America have either been lost to history or in life continue to evade justice. While Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt of Guatemala historic conviction for the genocide of 1771 of his countries Mayan’s population during its thirty-six year civil war has been overturned former Argentinian general and dictator Jorge Rafael Videla has also died recently. To many this means he has escaped true justice. According to the Times magazine Gen. Efrain Rios Montt conviction was the first time a former Latin American leader was convicted of such crimes in his home country.This overturning was reportedly applied to solve appeal issues.
Though also convicted for his role in a seven-year reign of terror enacted by the military junta Videla remained defiant till his death and there is a sense among sections of the Argentinean community he takes with him secrets hidden within the details of his crimes. Known tactics included kidnapping children from opponents – left-wing revolutionaries from the 1960’s and 1970’s who were executed with their wife’s once given birth – and bringing them up in military families. An example where details are more vague is the precise nature of the ‘Condor Plan’. This is claimed to be a network with which he collaborated with other autocrats such as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet to eliminate any left-wing elements within the continent.
Nora Cortinas whose son Carlos disappeared during Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ told Times magazine “I do not celebrate his death, because they die and take with them the most important secrets in history”. To her and several other mothers his crimes therefore remain buried with him and perhaps forever in history.
Today the withdrawal of Nato troops from Afghanistan posing questions for Nato about the security and right of interpreters who worked alongside their troops. I would argue that we therefore have the potential for our own ‘disappeared’ in 2013.
Though it is true that the UK government have responded to pressure and now plan to provide up to 600 interpreters with the right to live in the UK a greater number of 2000 Afghans have actually served with UK troops. Arguably these interpreters showed an equal bravery to UK soldiers. As members of Afghan society they would likely know and experience the ruthless nature of its radical elements such as the Taliban most directly. It is surely not beyond comprehension that any potential form of reappraisal by the Taliban once we leave would sink to the horrific depths such as their hanging of a seven-year old boy accused of spying in 2010, as reported by several outlets including Channel 4 news and NY Daily.
Clearly there can be no substantial parallel between the motives of the British Ministry of Defence and historic Latin American dictatorships. Yet through our actions we may be inadvertently condemning interpreters to similar individual suffering that these dictatorships enacted on their political enemies.
We must not allow Afghanistan interpreters to pay for this commitment in their very lives. After government members recent complaints about the negative consequences of our ties to the Human Rights Treaty our withdrawal from Afghanistan therefore presents an opportunity to show our dedication to human rights. It is also an opportunity to prevent the interpreters from potentially becoming forgotten victims of the Afghan conflict. If our intervention in Afghanistan was an attempt, however unsuccessful, to bring a degree of democratic stability to the country then abandoning the Afghans who shared a similar desire through their actions when helping Nato soldiers can only be the ultimate betrayal of our values.