Each member of the Salwari family has a slightly different way of
recalling the day they took Said Talib Shah away. With varied
vantage points like characters in the Japanese film "Rashamon,"
three men retell the dread of watching the Taliban stop their
younger brother on the street and force him into the back of a pick-
up truck along with hundreds of other young men.
A fourth, their father, remembers pleading for his son's release,
telling the Taliban soldiers that he was just an engineering student
at Kabul University, not a soldier. "I ran out to catch him, but the
Taliban said, 'It's not important whether he's studying or not.' It
was just like a vulture that snatches the smaller birds," says Said
Gauhershah Salwari, a man with finely etched eyes.
Memory is in the mind of the beholder - a characteristic that is
evident this week as the eyes of the world focus on the trial of
former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The man who is accused
of ordering the slaying, starvation, and expulsion of thousands in
Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo throughout the 1990s, but insists he was
only trying to preserve his country's unity and defend it from
Justice, however, is supposed to be far less subjective. But in
an era in which nations emerging from the horrors of war are
increasingly turning to tribunals - whether in search of public
catharsis or international legitimacy - the terms of justice are
becoming as difficult to weed through as the scene of a crime in the
eyes of four loved ones.
UN pulls out of Cambodia
Virtually on the eve of the Milosevic trial in The Hague, the
United Nations announced it could no longer be a party to the
creation of a war crimes tribunal in Cambodia. After spending nearly
five years in negotiation with Cambodian officials over a court that
would try the surviving senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge, a
genocidal communist regime responsible for the death of more than
1.5 million of its own people between 1975 and 1979, the UN
concluded that officials in Phnom Penh did not and would not meet
the basic standards for a fair trial.
One key matter of dispute involved the Cambodian government's
attempts to preserve amnesty deals it worked out for key Khmer Rouge
"It's disheartening, because this is the last chance to bring
some accounting for what happened in Cambodia, and this doesn't bode
well for that," says Brian Tittemore, one of the authors of a study
on the process. But Mr. Tittemore, a lawyer with the Organization of
American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, says
that the UN negotiators could not conscience being party to a trial
that put political convenience before jurisprudence.
"Particularly when you're talking about crimes against humanity,
such as genocide, there's a doctrine that these sorts of crimes are
so serious ... that you can't submit them to amnesty," says
Who shall be pardoned, and who shall be prosecuted? These are
some of the most difficult questions Afghanistan will face if it, as
its new leadership promises, also pursues a war crimes tribunal.
Afghanistan's interim foreign minister says that such a tribunal
will only pursue the perpetrators of crimes committed under the
Taliban's five-year rule.
The Taliban, however, was far from the only author of mass
killing and ethnic cleansing over some 22 years of war in
Afghanistan. Warlords and militias only loosely tied to the Northern
Alliance - whose political leaders now comprise a weak central
government in Kabul - are widely reported to have committed crimes
equally as chilling as the Taliban's. Indeed, its ethnic Pashtun
base also has been the target of bloodletting, and the Hazara
minority to which the Salwaris belong have been brutal as often as
To the Salwaris, however, a family of mild-mannered pharmacists,
the Taliban years were a time of great persecution. …