On 17 August an explosion during evening prayers at a mosque in northern Kabul, Afghanistan, killed 21 civilians and injured 33, including several children. According to eyewitness accounts, the explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber. The attack was the latest in a series of mass casualty events, including blasts and mass shootings, that have killed and injured more than 250 Afghans in August, the highest monthly number of civilian casualties over the past year. The so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K) has been responsible for some of the recent attacks.
Since the Taliban took over the country in August 2021, deadly attacks like these have become a regular occurrence. According to a recent report from the Human Rights Service of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), from 15 August 2021 to 15 June 2022 there were 2,106 civilian casualties, including 700 killed. Most of these casualties resulted from targeted attacks with improvised explosive devices perpetrated by ISIL-K against ethnic and religious minority communities in places of worship, education and other civilian areas. Hazara Shi’as, Shi’a Muslims and Sufi Muslims have been primarily targeted.
UNAMA’s report revealed that since August 2021 the Taliban de facto authorities have also been responsible for a wide range of human rights violations, perpetrated on what appears to be a widespread and systematic basis. The violations include extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, incommunicado detention and torture and ill-treatment. The Taliban have perpetrated these violations and abuses against former government officials and military personnel, persons accused of affiliation with armed groups, such as ISIL-K and the National Resistance Front, as well as against media workers and human rights defenders.
A group of UN Special Procedures mandate holders condemned the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, stating that, “the daily reports of violence…gives us no confidence that the Taliban has any intention of making good on its pledge to respect human rights.” The independent human rights experts also emphasized, “attacks on religious and ethnic minorities, some of them claimed by ISIL-KP, have also flared up, emboldened by the inability or unwillingness of the Taliban to protect them and ongoing discrimination.”
Amidst regular targeted attacks by armed groups and human rights violations by the Taliban de facto authorities, civilians in Afghanistan are in dire need of protection. The Taliban de facto authorities must investigate all violations and attacks, hold perpetrators accountable and take immediate steps to protect all Afghans equally. The Taliban should also allow the international community to provide assistance in meeting these obligations.
Six months after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, at least 972 children have been killed or injured by the conflict – an average of over five children each day – according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). UNICEF asserted that the total number of casualties is likely “much higher” than those currently verified. Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director, said, “once again, as in all wars, the reckless decisions of adults are putting children at extreme risk. There are no armed operations of this kind that do not result in children being harmed.”
Ms. Russell noted that, “almost every child in Ukraine has been exposed to deeply distressing events,” including the millions of children who have been forced to flee because of the conflict. Those displaced from violence are at heightened risk of family separation, abuse, sexual exploitation, trafficking and further attacks.
Most of the verified child casualties were caused by the use of explosive weapons, particularly in urban areas such as Mariupol, Luhansk, Kremenchuk, Vinnytsia and elsewhere. The use of explosive weapons has devastating impacts on civilians and civilian structures, as these weapons are inherently indiscriminate and can have a large destructive radius. Unrelenting shelling and bombing has destroyed critical infrastructure, as well as devastated the education system in Ukraine. Schools have been targeted or used by parties to the conflict, with UNICEF estimating that one in ten schools have been damaged or destroyed.
As Ukraine prepared to mark the six-month milestone of the conflict and its independence from Soviet rule in 1991, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned of the possible threat of increased Russian attacks against civilian infrastructure and government buildings. The city administration in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, banned large public gatherings due to fear that a crowd celebrating the 24 August Independence Day could become a target of a missile strike.
Meanwhile, reports indicate that the Russian Federation and affiliated armed groups are planning to try Ukrainian prisoners of war in Mariupol in a so-called “international tribunal.” On 23 August the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) raised concerns about the planned prosecutions, noting “that willfully depriving a prisoner of war of the rights of fair and regular trial amounts to a war crime.” OHCHR Spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, warned that prisoners of war have mostly been detained without access to independent monitors, increasing the risk of being tortured.
All parties to the conflict must agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities and end the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The international community must support humanitarian agencies providing children protection services and psychosocial support.
Forced labor targeting Uyghurs and other ethnic groups has been perpetrated by the Chinese government in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), as well as in Tibet, according to a report released on 16 August by the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Tomoya Obokata. Common elements of the forced labor program in XUAR include the involuntary nature of the work, excessive surveillance, abusive living and working conditions, restriction of movement through internment, threats, physical and sexual violence, and other inhuman or degrading treatment. Special Rapporteur Obokata concluded that some instances of forced labor in XUAR “may amount to enslavement as a crime against humanity, meriting further independent analysis.”
Forced labor is integral to the Chinese government’s abusive campaign against Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in XUAR. According to the report, the Chinese government has implemented two systems to subject local people to forced labor in XUAR, including vocational training centers where “minorities are detained and subjected to work placements,” as well as a method of “poverty alleviation through labor transfer” that transfers surplus rural laborers “into secondary or tertiary sector work.”
This new report adds to existing evidence and is a rare instance of a UN expert or agency reporting that forced labor is occurring in the region. Special Rapporteur Obokata found that this practice was particularly common in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors in XUAR. The United States Department of Labor has estimated that over 100,000 Uyghurs and other ethnic minority ex-detainees may be working in forced labor conditions in China. Over 100 international brands might be implicated by Uyghur forced labor-produced cotton, as well as those affiliated with the tomato, solar panels and PVC plastics industries.
Liam Scott, China Expert at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said, “in light of this report of probable crimes against humanity, more member states should stop the import of goods that may be tied to forced labor in XUAR. The release of this report also underscores the fact that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has not released her long-awaited report on human rights abuses in XUAR. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights must publicly release this report before the High Commissioner’s term ends on 31 August.”