(For more on Afghanistan, click on [ID:nAFPAK])
By Jonathon Burch
KABUL, March 25 (Reuters) - The United Nations urged Afghanistan on Thursday to repeal a law that grants a blanket pardon for perpetrators of war crimes and rights abuses, saying the law could hamper efforts to make peace.
Afghan and international human rights groups expressed alarm earlier this month at the law, which appeared to have been enacted unannounced and gives immunity to all members of armed factions for acts committed before the Taliban's ouster in 2001.
Rights groups say there is still some confusion over when the bill became law. It was passed by parliament in 2007 but President Hamid Karzai had promised not to sign it.
Karzai's spokesman, Waheed Omer, said this month that the bill had become law because it was passed by two-thirds of the parliament and therefore did not require Karzai's signature.
"This law relieves Afghan authorities of their obligation to investigate and prosecute on their own initiative those allegedly responsible for gross violations of human rights," said Norah Niland, the chief U.N. human rights officer in Afghanistan.
"It contravenes Afghanistan's obligations of international law, it green-lights impunity and of course continues human rights violations," Niland told a news conference in Kabul.
In its first public statement on the National Stability and Reconciliation Law since its enactment was made public, Niland said the United Nations was calling for the law to be repealed.
"The High Commissioner of Human Rights and Afghan civil society and human rights NGOs (non-governmental organisations) in and outside the country have asked that the law be repealed."
Washington has yet to comment on the enactment of the law, despite being criticised by rights groups in recent weeks for failing to speak out against it.
The law protects powerful people in Karzai's government who led armed factions during Afghanistan's decades of conflict, and enacting it quietly could also help lure some of the leaders of current insurgency groups to the negotiating table.
Karzai acknowledged this week he had met a delegation from Hezb-i-Islami, his first direct contact with one of the three main factions fighting against his government and foreign troops.
The group's leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is a veteran militia commander who has been blamed for killing thousands of civilians during Afghanistan's bloody civil war in the 1990s.
The new law would mean Hekmatyar and others accused of similar crimes could not be prosecuted by the state.
Niland said the amnesty could undermine public trust in the reconciliation process, fundamental for lasting peace.
"This law is likely to undermine efforts to secure genuine reconciliation which ... is about bringing together different elements of a fractured society in a manner that allows them to overcome or deal with harmful and divisive practices it breeds.
"At the very minimum there must be an acknowledgement of the grave injustices that have occurred if the long and notorious pattern of abuse is to end in this country," she said. (Editing by Alex Richardson) (For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here)