KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan confirmed for the first time publicly on Tuesday that it had enacted into law a blanket pardon for war crimes and human rights abuse carried out before 2001.
Human rights groups have expressed dismay that the law appeared to have been enacted quietly, granting blanket immunity to members of all armed factions for acts committed during decades of war before the fall of the Taliban.
President Hamid Karzai had promised not to sign the National Stability and Reconciliation Law, when it was passed by parliament in 2007.
Human rights groups say they learned only this year that the bill had been published in the official gazette, making it law.
Karzai's spokesman, Waheed Omer, said on Tuesday that the bill had become law because it was passed by two-thirds of the parliament and therefore did not require Karzai's signature.
Parliament is made up largely of lawmakers from former armed groups, some accused by rights groups and ordinary Afghans of war crimes.
"This law was passed with a two-thirds majority in our parliament, and according to our constitution, when a law is passed with a two-thirds majority, it does not require the president to sign it," Omer told a briefing.
It was the first time the palace had confirmed that the measure had become law.
Brad Adams, Asia director for watchdog Human Rights Watch, said there was still mystery surrounding the process, and why it apparently took more than two years for news of the law's enactment to be made public.
"This law is absolute disgrace. It's a slap in the face to all the Afghans who suffered for years and years of war crimes and warlordism," Adams told Reuters.
He called on the international community and the United States to apply pressure on Afghanistan to repeal the law.
"The U.S. needs to decide whether they're with the victims or the perpetrators, and make their views known publicly," he said.
During Karzai's eight years in power, he has consistently included former commanders of armed factions in his government and inner circle, including many accused by the West of war crimes and other abuses.
Both of Karzai's two vice presidents are former leaders of armed groups whose factions squabbled for control of Kabul in the 1990s, when thousands of civilians were killed and hundreds of thousands fled their homes.
Supporters of the amnesty say prosecuting old allegations would risk restarting years of civil war. But critics say providing a blanket pardon for former warlords allows them to retain their grip over the economy and public life.