Afghanistan

1 December 2022
Risk Level: Current Crisis
2,100+ civilians killed or injured in targeted attacks since 15 August 2021

Populations in Afghanistan are facing systematic and targeted human rights violations perpetrated by the Taliban de facto authorities. Other armed extremist groups also continue to pose a threat to civilians.

BACKGROUND:

On 15 August 2021 Taliban forces entered Kabul, Afghanistan, effectively overthrowing the Afghan government. Since then, the Taliban and various armed groups, including the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K) have committed widespread and systematic human rights violations throughout the country, including regularly perpetrating attacks that predominantly target ethnic and religious minorities. In addition, the Taliban de facto authorities have imposed severe restrictions on fundamental rights, including freedom of religion, as well as access to civic and public space. They have also imposed a sweeping series of decrees that severely restrict women’s rights to fully participate in public and daily life, including restrictions on freedom of movement and expression, employment opportunities and access to education and healthcare.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan reported in September 2022 that attacks against ethnic and religious minorities appear to be systematic in nature and reflect elements of an organizational policy, likely amounting to crimes against humanity. These attacks are frequently claimed by ISIL-K and directly target Hazara Shias, other Shia Muslims, Sufi Muslims, Sikhs and other minorities. Their places of worship, as well as educational and medical centers, have been systematically attacked, and their members have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured, summarily executed and forced to flee the country. The Human Rights Service of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented over 2,106 civilians killed or wounded in such targeted attacks from 15 August 2021 to 15 June 2022. Since then, over 450 people have been killed and injured in a series of bombings and mass casualty attacks, including those targeting Shia neighborhoods of Kabul. Many of these attacks were attributable to ISIL-K.

UNAMA has documented evidence of Taliban de facto authorities committing a wide range of human rights violations against former government officials and armed forces, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, incommunicado detention and torture and ill-treatment. Dozens of media workers and human rights defenders have been targeted with similar violations. UNAMA has also documented 217 instances of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment of individuals accused of “moral” crimes, as well as 118 instances of excessive use of force by the Taliban.

The Taliban have also extrajudicially killed, arbitrarily arrested, detained and tortured persons accused of affiliation with armed groups, such as ISIL-K and the self-identified National Resistance Front (NRF). The NRF has been opposing the Taliban militarily in Panjshir and surrounding areas since the Taliban took over Afghanistan. Civilians have faced violations and abuses in the country’s northern provinces, including Panjshir and Baghlan, as Taliban de facto security forces clash with fighters affiliated with the NRF.

The people of Afghanistan are facing a growing humanitarian crisis, compounded by the impact of sanctions and the freezing of state assets. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than half the population is currently in need of humanitarian aid, with nearly 20 million people facing acute hunger.

 

ANALYSIS:

Despite assurances from the Taliban, the risk of further war crimes and crimes against humanity persists. The Taliban de facto authorities have frequently targeted women and girls, minorities, journalists, civil servants, human rights defenders and those affiliated with the former Afghan government with violations that appear to be perpetrated on a widespread and systematic basis, leaving them particularly vulnerable.

Efforts by the Taliban to exclude women and girls from social, economic and political spheres have institutionalized large-scale and systematic gender-based discrimination and violence against them. Continued restrictions on fundamental freedoms could lead to more severe violations of international law and possible atrocities. Impunity for these violations significantly increases the likelihood of escalation.

Meanwhile, religious minorities, particularly the Shia Hazara, continue to be systematically targeted by ISIL-K. The large-scale attacks against minorities indicate that the Taliban is likely unable or unwilling to protect vulnerable populations. Targeted attacks are largely unreported due to the Taliban’s increasing crackdown on independent media. Localized clashes between the Taliban and ISIL-K, as well as between the Taliban and NRF, 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, as well as 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.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:

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 without violation of UN sanctions against the Taliban. On 17 March 2022 the UNSC renewed the mandate of UNAMA, including its robust human rights monitoring mandate. In June the UNSC removed two Taliban officials, the Minister of Higher Education and the acting Deputy Education Minister, from the travel ban exemption list due to policies barring Afghan girls from attending secondary schools.

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.

On 7 October 2021 the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) appointed a Special Rapporteur to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan. During October 2022 the HRC renewed the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, adding to the mandate a child’s rights perspective, as well as the responsibility to document and preserve information relating to human rights violations and abuses. The HRC also requested the Special Rapporteur and the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls to jointly prepare a report on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan for its 53rd session.

NECESSARY ACTION:

As the de facto authorities, the Taliban are bound by all existing international human rights obligations codified in the treaties to which Afghanistan is a state party. They must uphold these obligations, including by halting all violations and abuses perpetrated by their officials and guaranteeing the equal protection and promotion of human rights of all people in Afghanistan, regardless of gender, ethnic background, religious belief or political affiliation. The Taliban must investigate patterns of human rights violations documented by UNAMA and the Special Rapporteur and take immediate steps to prevent future violations, including by holding perpetrators accountable. The Taliban should allow the international community to provide assistance in meeting these obligations. It is imperative that the Taliban cooperate with and facilitate access for the UN Special Rapporteur, UNAMA – including its Human Rights Service – and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as ensure the safety of all humanitarian workers and organizations.

The international community should continue to pursue 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.

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