Numerous high-level officials and advisors in Afghanistan’s US-backed puppet government are implicated in major war crimes and human rights abuses that took place in the early 1990s, Human Rights Watch says in a new report.
‘This report isn’t just a history lesson. These atrocities were among some of the gravest in Afghanistan’s history, yet today many of the perpetrators still wield power,’ Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.
The 133-page report, ‘Blood-Stained Hands: Past Atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan’s Legacy of Impunity,’ is based on extensive research by Human Rights Watch over the last two years, including more than 150 interviews with witnesses, survivors, government officials, and combatants.
It documents war crimes and human rights abuses during a particularly bloody year in Afghanistan’s civil war – the Afghan calendar year of 1371, from April 1992 to March 1993, following the collapse of the Soviet-backed Najibullah government in Kabul.
Human Rights Watch said that although some perpetrators are dead or currently in hiding, many leaders implicated in the abuses are now officials in Afghanistan’s puppet defence or interior ministries, or are advisors to puppet President Hamid Karzai.
Some are running for office in parliamentary and local elections scheduled for September 2005. Others operate as warlords or regional strongmen, directing subordinates in official positions.
The period covered in the report, the Afghan year 1371, was marked by intense fighting in Kabul between different mujahideen and former government factions vying for power in the wake of the government’s collapse.
As the year began, the city was largely unscathed by serious military conflict, but as hostilities progressed, whole sections of Kabul were reduced to rubble, tens of thousands of civilians were killed and wounded, and at least half a million people were displaced.
Rival armed factions committed extensive human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war, illegally shelling and rocketing civilian areas, abducting and murdering civilians, and pillaging civilian areas.
The report shows that the abuses of the period were neither inevitable consequences of war nor unavoidable mistakes, but were rather the results of illegal acts and omissions by factional leaders and commanders.
The report notes that many commanders may be criminally culpable for their behaviour during this period.
Human Rights Watch urged the Afghan government and international community to prioritise efforts to hold past perpetrators accountable for their crimes by creating a Special Court to try offenders.
‘Perpetrators of past abuses who go unpunished are more likely to commit new abuses and use violence to get their way,’ said Adams. ‘They pose a continuing threat to Afghanistan’s future.’
Human Rights Watch also called on the government to implement vetting mechanisms to sideline past abusers from government.
Many Afghans, especially in Kabul, have terrible memories of the fighting in the early 1990s.
An Afghan witness described an incident in which factional forces targeted civilians from one of Kabul’s central mountains: ‘They were firing into this street. . . . Seventeen people were killed. . . . Clearly they were civilians. Yes, it was clear: they had burqas, there were children.’
An Afghan nurse quoted in the report described the typical effects of street fighting: ‘Hundreds of people were wounded when they fought – every time they fought.
‘The hospital would be full of patients, overwhelmed; we couldn’t treat everyone who was brought there. People were dying in the halls.’
Human Rights Watch said that much of Afghanistan’s last 27 years has been marked by human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war.
‘In Afghanistan today, alleged war criminals enjoy total impunity in the name of national reconciliation,’ said Adams. ‘This is an insult to victims and an affront to justice.’
Human Rights Watch’s report implicates numerous factional leaders and commanders for their role in the abuses, including:
• Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, a radical Islamist commander and leader of the Ittihad-e Islami faction, who now advises President Karzai and exercises major political power over the Afghan judiciary and has numerous proxies within the Afghan government;
• Abdul Rashid Dostum, the leader of the Junbish-e Milli faction who now holds a senior post in the ministry of defence and exercises political control of several provinces in the north of Afghanistan;
• Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Afghanistan’s defence minister from 2001 to 2004 and a commander in the Jamiat-e Islami/Shura-e Nazar faction of Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmed Shah Massoud (who was killed in 2001); and
• Karim Khalili, a commander in the Hezb-e Wahdat faction and now one of President Karzai’s two vice-presidents.
Human Rights Watch said that several other commanders from the Jamiat-e Islami and Shura-e Nazar faction implicated in crimes during the early 1990s are now candidates for parliament or are serving in the police and military.
Numerous commanders from Sayyaf’s Ittihad faction are also serving in important security and judicial posts.
Among excerpts from ‘Blood-Stained Hands’ a witness describes a typical street battle in west Kabul in mid-1992:
‘Everything was bullets, it was very severe. Everyone was rushing to flee from the violence.
‘Husbands forgot wives, brothers forgot sisters, mothers forgot children, uncles forgot nephews – everyone was running away, and could only think of safety. . . . I could see the women and men rushing away from the fighting, running down the street towards us.
‘At the same time, some of the bullets, or shrapnel from the explosions, was hitting people. So men and women were falling down into the street.
‘They would be running, and then the bullets would hit them, and they would fall down. The other people just kept running, and were not bothering to save those who fell.
‘They were all rushing to save themselves. It was a terrible day.’
An Afghan health worker in west Kabul, describes how Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Jamiat-e Islami faction would fire at civilians from the top of ‘Television Mountain’ in the centre of Kabul:
‘There was a time when the Jamiat troops on TV Mountain would target anything on Alaudin Street (a main road in west Kabul).
‘They would target anything that moved, even a cat. . . . I remember one time I went out to go to this clinic (to obtain medical equipment), and as soon as they saw me on that mountain they were shooting.
‘Anything that looked like a human being would be targeted. They shot everything: rockets, shells, bullets. There were times when the streets were littered with bullets.’
A Pashtun civilian who was abducted in 1992 and imprisoned by the predominantly Pashtun Ittihad-i Islami faction headed by Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf said:
‘Sayyaf’s forces brought thirty or forty Hazara civilians. . . . They were not fighters, but civilians, old and young. Later the fighting outside got severe.
‘We could hear the artillery. There was a lot of shooting. I could hear these people, Sayyaf’s people, talking about retreating. And at one point, one of them said to Commander Tourgal (an Ittihad commander), ‘What should we do with these prisoners?’
‘They were speaking in Pashto, and the Hazara people couldn’t understand them. But I could understand. Somebody said, “Go and shoot them”.
‘I was near the door. When I heard this, I hurried away and hid away from the door, in the corner of the room. A person came, and opened the door, and shot all over the room with his Kalashnikov, on automatic.
He just fired randomly all over the room. About ten people were killed, immediately, and four were wounded. . . . After, no one moved. We who were still alive were trembling with fear.’
A Tajik student who was abducted by Abdul Ali Mazari’s Hezb-e Wahdat faction in 1992 recalls:
‘A commander with two bodyguards came. . . . “You both are some guys from Shomali and you are helping Massoud!” he said.
‘I said, “I am a medical student; neither I nor my brother are soldiers. We are from Shomali, but we are not soldiers.” — “Keep quiet,”’ he said. And then the guards cocked their Kalashnikovs. The commander signalled to his troops to take us away. . .’