Afghanistan: UN report finds July attack on peaceful protests in Kabul 'may amount to a war crime'

18 October 2016

A new report released by the United Nations mission in Afghanistan has concluded that the 23 July attack on a large, peaceful demonstration in the country's capital, Kabul, not only deliberately targeted civilians but also was a serious violation of international humanitarian law, which may amount to a war crime.

A new special human rights report released by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has concluded that the 23 July attack on a large, peaceful demonstration in the country's capital, Kabul, not only deliberately targeted civilians but also was a serious violation of international humanitarian law, which may amount to a war crime.

“The attack appears, disturbingly, to have deliberately targeted persons belonging to a specific ethnic and religious community,” said UNAMA in a news release today, announcing the release of the report Attack on a Peaceful Demonstration in Kabul, 23 July 2016.

“The fundamental human rights of all Afghans must be respected, including the rights of religious and ethnic communities,” it added.

The UNAMA report reviews the context of the 23 July demonstration, organized by a body known as the “Enlightening Movement,” the planning and preparedness of Afghan Security Forces, their behaviour during the demonstration and immediate response to the attack and its aftermath. It also raises, where relevant, human rights concerns for authorities.

The attack was the deadliest single civilian casualty incident in the country since UNAMA started its civilian casualties documentation in 2009. 85 civilians were killed and more than four hundred were injured when two suicide bombers detonated their explosives' belts at the end of the demonstration. The second explosive belt misfired and the attacker was shot and killed by security forces.

Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da'esh) had claimed responsibility for the attack, employing language that advocated religious hatred and violence. Almost all of the casualties in the attack were male and from the Hazara community which is predominantly Shia Muslim, the Mission said.

In the news release today, UNAMA also noted that the report has been released amid mounting concern at an emerging pattern of sectarian violence attributed to ISIL.

On 11 and 12 October, two separate attacks against Shia congregations commemorating Ashura in Kabul and in the northern province of Balkh killed at least 35 civilians and injured more than 100. ISIL issued an online statement claiming responsibility for the attack in Kabul using language similar to that used in the claim for the 23 July attack.

The Mission further said that its new report also offered recommendations on the respect for fundamental human rights of all Afghans, including the rights of religious and ethnic communities, as well as the need for the completion and implement of a strategy to prevent violent extremism.

News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

UN warns of humanitarian crisis as 7,400 cross Afghan border each day

Every day, some 7,400 Afghan returnees cross the border from Pakistan to Afghanistan, prompting the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to warn of an escalating humanitarian crisis.