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 over 110 credible reports of extrajudicial killings of former Afghan security personnel and 50 credible reports of arbitrary detentions, beatings and threats of previous Afghan government officials, political opponents, journalists, civil society activists and human rights defenders. According to Human Rights Watch, Taliban officials have forcibly displaced residents in several provinces, including Shia Hazara and people associated with the former government, as a form of collective punishment.
The Taliban have severely restricted fundamental rights, including freedom of religion and expression. The Taliban have also dissolved key government agencies, including the Independent Election Commission, the Ministry of Peace and the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs. 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, freedom of expression, employment opportunities and access to education and healthcare.
When the Taliban were overthrown in 2001 by a North Atlantic Treaty Organization coalition of military forces, they conducted a prolonged insurgency against the internationally recognized Afghan government. During two decades of war, 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. From 2009-2019 UNAMA recorded more than 10,000 civilian casualties per year.
During the Taliban offensive between May-August 2021, more than 3,750 civilians were killed or maimed in Taliban attacks and retaliatory airstrikes by the former Afghan government, according to OHCHR and UNAMA. The Taliban, US armed forces and Afghan national security forces all perpetrated attacks that likely amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
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. In October 2021 ISIL-K carried out a series of attacks targeting the Shia minority, particularly the Hazara, including bombings at Shia mosques in Kunduz, Kabul and Kandahar that killed more than 90 civilians. Since then, ISIL-K has carried out sporadic targeted attacks on religious institutions and residential areas, including with shootings and improvised explosive devices. ISIL-K and Taliban forces have also engaged in a series of violent tit-for-tat attacks.
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 already 5 million who have been displaced since 2012.
Despite assurances from the Taliban, the risk of further war crimes and crimes against humanity 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. Meanwhile religious minorities, particularly the Shia Hazara, continue to be threatened by ISIL-K. Tit-for-tat attacks between the Taliban and ISIL-K throughout the country pose an imminent risk to civilians.
Continued restrictions on fundamental freedoms could lead to more severe violations of international law and possible atrocities. Systematic efforts by the Taliban to exclude women and girls from the social, economic, and political spheres put them at increased risk of further abuses.
The Taliban must honor their obligations under international law and uphold their responsibility to protect the people of Afghanistan.
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 30 August 2021 the UNSC adopted Resolution 2593, calling for safe passage of those wishing to leave, unhindered humanitarian access and respect for human rights, particularly of women and girls. 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 24 August the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution on Afghanistan during an emergency special session, but failed to establish a proposed investigative mechanism. On 7 October the HRC 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 authorized the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to investigate alleged atrocity crimes perpetrated in Afghanistan by all parties since 1 July 2002. Although the OTP had paused the investigation following a request from the Afghan government to conduct investigations nationally, on 27 September 2021 Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan requested authorization to resume due to the Taliban’s takeover. Chief Prosecutor Khan also 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, 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 and any other human rights monitoring mechanisms, 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 OTP should reconsider its decision to exclude likely atrocity crimes perpetrated by Afghan national security forces, US forces and the CIA from its investigations.