Populations in Afghanistan face an imminent risk of further mass atrocity crimes under Taliban rule. Other armed extremist groups also continue to pose a threat to civilians.
On 15 August 2021 Taliban forces entered Kabul, effectively overthrowing the Afghan government. Since then, the Taliban have perpetrated human rights abuses targeting vulnerable populations, including religious minorities and women and girls. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) have received credible reports of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, beatings and threats of previous Afghan government officials, former Afghan security personnel, political opponents, journalists, civil society activists and human rights defenders. According to Human Rights Watch, Taliban officials have forcibly displaced residents, including Shia Hazara and people associated with the former government, in several provinces as a form of collective punishment. From 15 August to 15 February 2022 UNAMA and OHCHR documented over 1,153 civilian casualties, including more than 400 deaths.
The Taliban have severely restricted fundamental rights, including freedom of religion, as well as access to civic and public space. Reports also indicate a pattern of institutionalizing large scale and systematic gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls, including forced marriage, as well as restrictions on freedom of movement and expression, employment opportunities and access to education and healthcare.
Attacks and bombings by non-state armed groups, such as the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K), also pose a threat to civilians in Afghanistan. These groups carry out sporadic targeted attacks on religious institutions and residential areas, as well as against minority groups. In April 2022 approximately 135 civilians were killed in a series of attacks targeting places of worship, schools and minorities, including the Shia Hazara. Many of these attacks were attributable to ISIL-K. In October 2021 ISIL-K carried out similar attacks, including bombings at Shia mosques in Kunduz, Kabul and Kandahar that killed more than 90 civilians.
The people of Afghanistan are facing a growing humanitarian crisis, compounded by the impact of sanctions and the freezing of state assets. According the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than half the population is currently in need of humanitarian aid, with 1 million Afghan children facing acute hunger. In 2021 around 700,000 Afghans were forced to flee their homes as a result of hostilities, adding to the 5 million who have been displaced since 2012.
Despite assurances from the Taliban, the risk of further war crimes and crimes against humanity, particularly for vulnerable populations, persists. Women and girls, minorities, journalists, civil servants, human rights defenders, and those affiliated with the former Afghan government are at high risk of targeted attacks by the Taliban. Continued restrictions on fundamental freedoms, including systematic efforts by the Taliban to exclude women and girls from social, economic and political spheres, could lead to more severe violations of international law and possible atrocities.
Meanwhile, religious minorities, particularly the Shia Hazara, continue to be threatened by ISIL-K. Recent attacks and the direct targeting of minorities indicate that the Taliban is likely unable or unwilling to protect vulnerable populations. Tit-for-tat attacks between the Taliban and ISIL-K throughout the country also pose an imminent risk to civilians.
During two decades of war with the Afghan government, the Taliban perpetrated likely crimes against humanity and war crimes. Meanwhile, Afghan security forces, members of the United States (US) military and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) may have also committed war crimes, including the torture of detainees and summary executions.
The Taliban must honor their obligations under international law and uphold their responsibility to protect all populations across Afghanistan without distinction.
Since 2011 the UN Security Council (UNSC) has imposed an arms embargo and sanctions on individuals or entities who support the Taliban and its affiliates. On 22 December 2021 the UNSC adopted Resolution 2615, allowing for the flow of humanitarian aid into Afghanistan for one year without violation of UN sanctions against the Taliban. On 17 March the UNSC renewed the mandate of UNAMA, including its robust human rights monitoring mandate.
On 7 October the UN Human Rights Council appointed a Special Rapporteur to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan.
On 5 March 2020 the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorized the Office of the Prosecutor to investigate alleged atrocity crimes perpetrated in Afghanistan since 1 July 2002. On 27 September 2021 Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan announced the decision to focus on crimes allegedly perpetrated by the Taliban and ISIL-K, and to de-prioritize other aspects of the investigation, including likely war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Afghan national security forces, US forces and the CIA.
The Taliban and all international actors engaging with their representatives must ensure respect for international law, as well as the promotion and protection of human rights for all Afghans. Recognition of a new government in Afghanistan, as well as acceptance of the Taliban’s UN credentials must be contingent upon respect for human rights, the cessation of systematic gender-based discrimination, severance of all terrorism ties and adherence to Afghanistan’s international treaty obligations. The Taliban must cooperate with and facilitate access for the UN Special Rapporteur, UNAMA – including its Human Rights Service – and OHCHR, as well as ensure the safety of all humanitarian workers and organizations.
The international community should continue to pursue international justice for war crimes committed in Afghanistan, regardless of the position, nationality or affiliation of the alleged perpetrator. The ICC Chief Prosecutor should reconsider the decision to exclude likely atrocity crimes perpetrated by Afghan national security forces, US forces and the CIA from investigations.