UN rights chief condemns Afghanistan abuses as Taliban advance continues

10 August 2021

Disturbing reports of Taliban violence against communities now under their control in Afghanistan have been condemned by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet, who on Tuesday backed a return to peace negotiations in Doha.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement that there was “fear and dread” across Afghanistan, which had driven people to flee their homes.

Women have been flogged and killed in areas overrun by the extremists, while journalists and human rights defenders had also been attacked and killed, Ms. Bachelet said.

War crimes

Reports of violations that “could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity” have emerged, including "deeply disturbing reports" of the summary execution of surrendering government troops. Since 9 July in four cities alone – Lashkar Gah, Kandahar, Herat and Kunduz – at least 183 civilians have been killed and 1,181 injured, including children.

On Monday the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also reported a rapid escalation of violations against children in Afghanistan, following the deaths of 27 children in the country in the past 72 hours, and 136 who were injured. But “the real figure could be much higher,” as “these are just the civilian casualties we have managed to document,” Ms Bachelet said.

Even before the latest Taliban military offensives on urban centres, the UN had documented a steep increase in civilian casualties.

The militants, ousted in the weeks after September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, are now in a position to advance from different directions on Mazar-i-Sharif, the biggest city in the north, according to latest news reports.

To date, the Taliban has overrun 192 district administrative centres in Afghanistan, attacked provincial capitals and reportedly overrun at least six provincial capitals in Nimroz, Jawzjan, Kunduz province, Takhar and Sar-e-Pul. 

‘Living in fear and dread”

In Geneva, spokesperson for High Commissioner Bachelet, Ravina Shamdasani, said that people “rightly” feared that the Taliban would erase the human rights gains of the past two decades, as US and international forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Repeating the High Commissioner’s condemnation of reported Taliban violence against communities, including women, rights defenders and journalists, she told correspondents that “women are already being killed and shot for breaching rules,” whilst “some radio stations have stopped broadcasting”.

In Balkh Province, “a women’s rights activist was shot and killed for breaching the rules”, added Ms. Shamdasani. OHCHR had also been receiving reports of “summary executions, attacks against current and former government officials and their family members, destruction of homes, schools and clinics and the laying of large numbers of IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” in areas already captured by the Taliban and in contested areas, she said. 

Half the population at risk

The head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Tuesday, also voiced his concern about the impact of the conflict on displaced populations, and those on the move, including returnees.

With over 5 million people already internally-displaced - more than 359,000 so far this year and record numbers of undocumented returnees - some 680,000 Afghans have returned in the first seven months of this year, according to the Border Monitoring Team of the Directorate of Refugees and Repatriation (DoRR).

Director General António Vitorino said that along with the country being “in the throes of a third wave of COVID-19 and a severe drought,” almost half of Afghanistan’s population are in need of emergency relief assistance, with needs expected to rise.

Insisting on unimpeded access to staff and service providers, “all parties to the conflict and neighbouring countries” must do “everything they can to ensure that border crossing points remain open, and humanitarian workers are able to access vulnerable populations in the border areas, “ Mr Vitorino said. 

Families fleeing

Calls for restraint have also come from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which urged the international community to provide more protection for civilians and vital infrastructure, such as hospitals, from attack and help prevent collateral damage caused by fighting in populated areas.

Since 1 August, the organization has treated 4,042 patients wounded by weapons at 15 ICRC-supported health facilities, and nearly 13,000 patients in July alone, while ICRC medical services have been heavily strained due to damage and a lack of staff.

“We are seeing homes destroyed, medical staff and patients put at tremendous risk, and hospitals, electricity and water infrastructure damaged”, Eloi Fillion, ICRC’s head of delegation in Afghanistan said in a statement.

“The use of explosive weaponry in cities is having an indiscriminate impact on the population. Many families have no option but to flee in search of a safer place. This must stop.”

According to the ICRC, electricity is out across several contested cities and water supply systems are barely operational in some places. Many families are trying to leave but cannot find transport to escape or simply do not have the financial means.

 

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