Document - Amnesty International News, December 1995. Vol.25, No.12.
December ‘95 Focus
Afghanistan: a country in ruins
Sixteen years of civil war have left Afghanistan fragmented and its people traumatized. There is no effective central authority and laws have become meaningless. Armed guards allied to dozens of political groups and local military commanders have committed widespread and systematic human rights abuses fuelled by unlimited supplies of weapons. A generation of Afghans have had their lives shattered, yet their suffering is largely ignored by the rest of the world.
As Afghanistan plunged into civil war following the Soviet invasion in 1979, governments around the world eagerly lined up to offer political, financial and military support to the warring factions.
For over a decade vast quantities of weapons poured into Afghanistan. The countries primarily responsible were the former Soviet Union, the United States of America (USA) and its European allies, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran. All either sold arms directly to Afghanistan or financed and facilitated transfers of weapons through their territory.
For Afghan civilians, the consequences have been catastrophic. Up to 400,000 children have been killed during the civil war, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Villages, homes, livestock and crops have been destroyed by rockets, mortars and bombs. More than five million people — a third of the population — have fled the country in terror, most ending up in sprawling refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran. Hundreds of thousands of others who remain in Afghanistan have been made homeless.
Since April 1992, when Mujahideen groups took control of parts of Kabul and other cities, the human rights crisis has escalated. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and many more wounded in artillery attacks by all factions, some of which appear to have been deliberately aimed at residential areas because the people living there were considered to support a rival group. Thousands of others have been killed at close range by armed guards during raids on their homes. Several thousand people are missing after being abducted by armed groups.
Torture is endemic. Women and girls are treated as the spoils of war, being raped by armed guards at will or sold into prostitution. Prisoners have been forced to eat what they were told was human flesh, given electric shocks or had their testicles crushed by pliers. Almost all are beaten, deprived of food for long periods and exposed to extremes of hot and cold. The jails are crammed with people being held solely because of their political opinions or religion or ethnic origin. Some are being held as hostages.
Members of Afghan political groups are committing human rights abuses without the slightest fear that they will be disciplined. The countries that have supplied military, financial and political support to the warring Afghan factions have helped create a climate of lawlessness and violence in which human rights are treated with contempt. Yet they have consistently refused to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
The world appears to have forgotten Afghanistan. The future is not, however, without hope. If the world wakes up to the plight of Afghanistan and if the international community takes constructive action, there is every reason to believe that the next generation of Afghans can build a society in which their human rights are respected.
On a day no different from any other in 1993, a crowd of people stood waiting for a bus in Kabul. A moment later there was mayhem as bombs rained down around the bus stop. Bodies were strewn everywhere. One man’s head was separated from his body. In a matter of seconds more than 80 people had been killed or wounded.
In just one month, between 12 September and 12 October 1994, an estimated 800 people were killed and more than 17,000 wounded when various factions pounded residential areas in Kabul with artillery and mortar fire, justifying their attacks on civilians on the grounds that they believed the local population had supported their political rivals. Most of the victims were unarmed women and children.
The bombardment of homes has continued almost without pause. In March 1995 President Borhannudin Rabbani’s forces launched a heavy assault using jet fighters against the Shi‘a populated areas of Karte Seh in Kabul. They then rampaged through Karte Seh, looting houses, killing and beating unarmed people, and raping women.
Armed guards of the warring factions have killed thousands of civilians deliberately and arbitrarily at close range. Many have died while trying to protect their relatives or property. Women and children have been killed because they resisted abduction or rape.
Some of the killings are motivated simply by revenge. Others are rooted in hostility to certain ethnic and religious groups, or hatred of educated individuals or former government officials. There is no one to turn to for protection.
In one incident in May 1992 a man suspected of being a member of the former ruling party was arrested in the Ministry of the Interior by the armed guards of Shura-e Nezar, the Supervisory Council. Eye-witnesses said that an armed guard tied him up and kicked him down a flight of stairs. On the ground floor, a Mujahideen fighter allied to the new government reportedly clubbed him with a rifle butt. He then reportedly fired at least 10 bullets into the prisoner. After that he tried to cut the dead man’s throat with a blunt ceremonial sword.
Anyone who dares to voice opposition to the armed political groups or who works for peace risks assassination. Among the most well-known of such victims was Najmuddin Musleh, an Uzbek national employed as a personal assistant to President Rabbani. On 31 December 1993 he was sent to negotiate with General Dostum immediately before intense fighting broke out on 1 January 1994. Despite being an emissary, he was arrested by the allied forces of General Dostum and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. He was handed over to the forces of Hezb-e Wahdat, Party of Islamic Unity, in western Kabul who in April 1994 reportedly asked his family for US$5 million for his release. They could not pay it. When President Rabbani’s forces captured positions held by Hezb-e Wahdat in western Kabul in March 1995, they found a detention centre in which eight prisoners, including Najmuddin Musleh, had been shot dead.
AI has not heard of a single case where an armed guard or commander has been held to account for committing such gross human rights abuses. Until they are, there seems little hope that the killings will end.
All factions routinely torture and ill-treat captives. Armed guards even torture people in their homes or in the streets, displaying their brutality for all to see.
Gul Nabi Khan, a former Afghan army officer, was stopped in early 1994 by guards belonging to Harekat-e Inqilab-e Islami, Movement for Islamic Revolution. They beat him in front of witnesses until he no longer showed any signs of life. One witness told AI:
“The guards thought he was dead so they dumped him at a corner. He has become totally paralysed.”
In the detention centres that are maintained by various Afghan armed political groups, torture and ill-treatment are part of the daily routine. Detainees are brutally beaten, deprived of food and water, exposed to extremes of heat and cold, and, in the case of women, raped or otherwise sexually assaulted.
They are tortured to punish or humiliate them on account of their ethnic or religious identity, or because they are suspected of working for a rival group. Some are tortured to force their families to pay ransoms.
Those facing interrogation are subjected to particularly painful forms of torture. A man arrested in Kabul told AI about his interrogation under torture by people working for the Ministry of State Security:
“They put one of my testicles between a pair of pliers and crushed it...One day they hit me with a Kalashnikov rifle butt and my skull broke. Electric shocks continued to be given to my hands and feet. I was tortured there for two weeks every other night.”
Nafisa, a 25-year-old woman, ran to the top of her building and flung herself off the balcony. Armed men from Shura-e Nezar had come looking for her. She knew what they would do to her and death seemed preferable. She did not die, but her back and legs were broken.
Women and girls all over Afghanistan live in constant fear of being raped by armed guards. Every day they hear stories of sexual assaults by members of armed political groups who are allowed to commit such abuses without fear of reprimand from their leaders. In fact, rape is apparently condoned by most leaders as a means of terrorizing conquered populations and of rewarding fighters.
Age is no barrier to the cruelty of some armed guards. A 15-year-old girl was forced to watch her father being shot dead and was then repeatedly raped by armed guards in her house in Kabul’s Chel Sotoon district in March 1994. For the victims of rape and sexual abuse, the pain never goes. She told AI that words could not describe her ordeal. Fear of rape has led many families to flee Afghanistan.
The door of Assadullah Wakilzadeh’s Kabul home burst open. A group of armed men, reportedly belonging to Jamiat-e Islami, Society of Islam, stormed in. Assadullah Wakilzadeh tried to resist but was beaten unconscious. When he came round, his 15-year-old son, Rahmatullah, had been abducted. Two days later, on 22 November 1993, two other sons, Ahmadreza, aged 13, and Mustafa, aged 11, were also abducted in a similar raid. The three boys have never been seen again.
The special terror of abductions followed by silence has haunted the people of Afghanistan for over a decade. Friends, relatives or witnesses usually know who took the person away, but those responsible deny they are holding them. The only time relatives officially find out what has become of them is if a ransom is demanded. Some families have been waiting for years for news of their loved ones.
The total number of people who have gone missing after being detained by Mujahideen groups runs into the thousands. The vast majority of those held in unacknowledged detention are people suspected of supporting a rival faction or associated with previous governments. Some were apparently targeted because of their efforts to end the fighting.
Some people have been detained in unknown locations because their expertise is needed by a local military commander; among them are medical doctors and people with specialist military training. Others have been taken prisoner and forced to dig trenches, clear mines, carry weapons, or work as servants. Young women and children have been detained in order to be available for repeated rape or to be sold into prostitution. Their relatives have been unable to trace them.
The world’s governments have betrayed Afghanistan. They have played out their rivalries on Afghan soil. They have supplied weapons to armed political groups in the full knowledge that they are being used to abuse human rights. And now they are doing almost nothing to end the cycle of abuses. Even now, despite ample evidence that human rights abuses are being committed every day, governments are still offering political and military support to their favoured Afghan groups.
Afghan armed groups, including those represented in the transitional government, have claimed that they wish to “restore” religious and humane standards. In practice, they have killed, tortured, raped, abducted and secretly detained tens of thousands of civilians using weapons obtained from abroad. These abuses have been committed with total freedom by all armed political groups who have terrorized the population in order to secure their power bases.
It is time for governments to put pressure on their allies in Afghanistan to respect basic human rights and humanitarian law. They should send them a new message: if you commit abuses, you will be without friends.
The countries that have been involved in the Afghan war should stop putting their own interests above the human rights of Afghans. In particular, the USA and the successor states of the Soviet Union should acknowledge their responsibility for the human rights disaster and take appropriate action. They could also ensure that the UN takes the Afghan crisis more seriously. They could provide the UN with the tools and money it needs to make its intervention more effective. At the moment the various UN agencies involved in aiding the Afghan population appears to lack adequate funding and coordination. UN efforts at mediating towards a peace settlement have been thwarted by a lack of political will to compromise by the warring factions and the states supporting them.
Regional powers must also take responsibility for ending the carnage. The Organization of the Islamic Conference has initiated discussions on Afghanistan, but these have faltered at every turn. Many of its members appear more concerned about winning influence in the country than in seeking a speedy and just solution to the problems facing ordinary Afghans.
Afghanistan is not a lost cause. There is hope because the seeds for a better future exist. They are there in the human rights defenders who under daily threat risk their lives to speak out, and in those who are working towards to a peaceful and just solution to the conflict.
For those voices to be heard, they need the support of the international community. They need the backing of those who share responsibility for the current human rights disaster. It is not that the voices of Afghans are silent. It is just that the world has stopped listening.
International responsibility for the legacy of war: Since 1979 the governments of the Soviet Union and its successor states, the USA, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have sought to increase their influence in the region regardless of the consequences for Afghan civilians. They have extended political, financial and military support to all sides in the civil war in the full knowledge that their allies were committing gross and widespread human rights abuses.
The arms glut is supplemented on a daily basis from the arms markets in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province. On offer are arms from China, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Weapons have also been sent through Pakistan from countries in Europe and the Middle East.
India, Iran, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tadzhikistan and Uzbekistan are all reported to be supplying the warring factions in Afghanistan with arms and ammunition to this day.
AI takes no position as such on the civil war or on the possession or trade of weapons. It does, however, oppose the transfer of military, security or police equipment from one country to another or the provision of personnel, training or logistical support whenever there is reason to believe that such transfers directly result in human rights abuses.
To all parties to the conflict:
l Respect human rights and humanitarian law l Reveal the truth about human rights abuses l Exercise control to prevent abuses l End deliberate and arbitrary killings l Prevent torture and ill-treatment of detainees
l Prevent hostage-taking, the holding of prisoners of conscience and unacknowledged detention l Clarify the fate of unacknowledged detainees l Allow unimpeded access to international organizations
To the international community:
l Express concern to the governments of those countries which have supplied arms to Afghanistan over the past decade without taking any measures to ensure they were not used to commit human rights abuses.
l Ensure that these arms are not used to commit or facilitate human rights abuses.l Initiate education and training programs in Afghanistan to promote awareness of human rights.
To intergovernmental bodies:
l The UN must ensure that the UN Special Mission to Afghanistan and the UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan are provided with the means to work effectively together to address the human rights violations and abuses in the country.
l The UN should take appropriate steps, including preventative measures, to address reported violations and abuses. l Intergovernmental organizations such as the Organization of Islamic Conference should condemn the human rights situation in Afghanistan and become actively involved in trying to end the abuses.
December ‘95 news
On 22 September 1995 Wang’ondu Kariuki, a lawyer and former prisoner of conscience, was arrested and held incommunicado for seven days. He was reportedly stripped naked, beaten and, for the first three days, denied food. When his case came to court the magistrate refused to investigate the allegation of torture.
His experience follows a pattern common to many criminal suspects and political detainees in Kenya, where torture and ill-treatment by the security forces are widespread. Prison conditions are harsh. Over 800 prisoners have died in Kenyan prisons since the beginning of the year. Prisoners appear to be routinely tortured to obtain confessions. Many suffer serious injuries as a result but are often refused medical treatment or receive it late. Doctors who attempt to treat torture victims are harassed by police and prison officers. Investigations into allegations of torture by the police are rare — prosecutions rarer still — and many police officers appear to act with impunity.
Torture, which usually happens shortly after arrest, usually consists of brutal beatings with sticks, fists, handles of hoes or gun butts. Detainees are often tortured by being suspended upside–down on a stick passed behind their knees and in front of their elbows and then beaten on the soles of their feet. Some prisoners are held for several days in cells filled with two inches of water. Some have their finger-nails and toe-nails pulled out, or are taken to a forest at night, suspended from trees and then beaten.
Both men and women have been subjected to severe forms of sexual abuse. Men have been tortured by having their genitals pricked with large pins or tied with string and pulled. Women have had objects inserted into their vaginas. In January 1995 a woman police inspector had reportedly pushed a bottle containing pepper into Alice Mariga Ashioya’s vagina. The evidence that her confession had been extracted under torture led to her acquittal. AI is not aware of any investigation into her alleged torture.
In December 1994, four young men were permanently disabled by Special Branch officers who tied them to trees in Dundori Forest, near Nakuru, and beat them. Despite their injuries, they were not taken to hospital for six days. Two days later, one of the four had his arm amputated after it developed gangrene.
AI medical delegates who examined three of these men found that they all “suffered permanent damage to their bodies, mainly their arms...which could not have been self-inflicted”. In an apparent effort to avoid evidence of police brutality in open court, these four men were never charged. They were released after being held in hospital under police guard for seven months. The four were part of a group of 67 men who were accused of holding an illegal meeting. At least 17 of them were reportedly tortured. The case of the other 63, who remain in custody, is ongoing.
AI is extremely concerned that despite the evidence, the Kenyan authorities have refused to acknowledge that a pattern of torture exists. It is urging the government to take effective steps to prevent torture and ill-treatment in custody.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)
The Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is claiming that most prisoners of conscience and political prisoners in the country have never been detained, or that they have died. AI is urging the North Korean Government to clarify the fate of around 50 prisoners.
Kim Duk Hwan is among the prisoners of conscience whose fate remains unclear. Kim Duk Hwan studied in the former Soviet Union in the 1950s, where he married a Russian woman. After he returned to North Korea with his wife, Valentina Kurashova, in the late 1950s, relations between the former Soviet Union and North Korea deteriorated and Kim’s wife was forced to leave North Korea with their son.
Some months later Valentina Kurashova received a letter from her husband saying that he had been sent to a “re-education” camp because he had refused to divorce her and because he had studied in the former Soviet Union. The couple continued to correspond until 1966, when Kim Duk Hwan suddenly stopped answering his wife’s letters. Inquiries about his fate led only to short messages from the North Korean authorities claiming that he could not be located.
The North Korean authorities have told AI that Kim Duk Hwan has never been detained. They claim he worked at a construction institute and at the Ministry of Construction as an engineer, and died in 1985 of lung cancer.
AI believes there is convincing evidence that Kim Duk Hwan has been detained and continues to try to find out what has happened to him. The organization also remains concerned about the fate of other prisoners in North Korea and continues to seek further information.
Between April and September 1995, 139 men, almost all of them ethnic Albanian former police employees from the province of Kosovo, were convicted during five trials. They were found guilty of preparing to set up a clandestine police force with the aim of obtaining the secession of the province (predominantly inhabited by ethnic Albanians) from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). They received sentences of up to eight years’ imprisonment. Most were released pending appeal, but 22 remained in detention.
The defendants were among some 4,000 ethnic Albanian police employees who have been dismissed from their posts after refusing to recognize and accept measures introduced by the Serbian Government in 1990, which effectively abolished the province’s autonomy.
At trial, the defendants denied the charges against them and argued that their activities had consisted of trade union work on behalf of the union of (former) police employees. Almost all of them alleged that following arrest (in November and December 1994), police officers tortured or otherwise ill-treated them in order to extract from them false “confessions”. Several had to be admitted to hospital for treatment of severe injuries.
In July a court in Pri tina convicted 69 defendants. Among them was Avdi Mehmedoviqi, a former police chief, who told the court that police beat him until he lost consciousness five or six times and also beat his father, whom they brought, bleeding, to see him in detention. Another, Sheremet Ahmeti alleged he had been tortured with electric shocks. Forensic specialists have confirmed the injuries of some of the victims.
In September 38 defendants were convicted at a trial in Prizren. Proceedings were repeatedly adjourned because of the ill-health of defendants, which their lawyers said had been caused, or severely aggravated, by torture. Thirty two others were convicted at three other trials in Pe and Grijilane.
At the trials, defence lawyers repeatedly complained of breaches of procedure, which they said had seriously undermined the defendants’ right to defence. AI has called for an investigation into the allegations of torture and ill-treatment and expressed its concern that the defendants were denied a fair trial.
KHALIL BRAYEZ has spent 25 years in detention since his abduction in Beirut, Lebanon, by the Syrian security forces on 1 November 1970.
He was initially held in al-Mezza military prison and was reportedly tortured. In 1973 he was informed that he had been sentenced in absentia, in March 1972, to 15 years’ hard labour on charges of, among others, “incitement to murder and terrorism” and “revealing state secrets”.
Khalil Brayez was not allowed access to a lawyer and was kept in his cell throughout the trial. He has remained in custody since the expiry of his sentence in October 1985. AI considers him to be a prisoner of conscience, and is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
Khalil Brayez was formerly detained in the intelligence wing of the Syrian army. He was reportedly briefly detained in 1962 and 1963 and then fled to Lebanon in 1964, where he published two books critical of the Syrian army: Fall of the Golan and From the Golan Files.
Now aged 62, Khalil Brayez is married with four children. His family have been allowed only sporadic visits to him throughout his years of detention in various jails. He is currently believed to be held in al-Mezza military prison in Damascus.
+ Please write, asking for the immediate and unconditional release of Khalil Brayez, to: His Excellency President Hafez al-Asad/ President of the Republic/ Presidential Palace/ Abu Rumanah/ al-Rashid Street/ Damascus/ Syrian Arab Republic.
Prisoner of conscience Myriam Guadalupe Galvez Vargas, a student and 30-year-old mother of two, is serving a 20-year prison term in Peru for “crimes of terrorism”.
She was charged in April 1993 and sentenced by a high court a year later. The basis for the charges was a claim by the police that she had attended a university course with an alleged member of the Partido Comunista del Perú (Sendero Luminoso, — PCP), Communist Party of Peru (Shining Path), and that a note pad belonging to her had been found, which they alleged contained handwritten notes about “low intensity warfare”.
Myriam Guadalupe Galvez has claimed that the note pad did not belong to her and has consistently denounced political violence. On 26 May 1994 a prosecutor attached to the Supreme Court of Justice claimed that there was no evidence to prove that Myriam Guadalupe Galvez had links with the PCP.
In spite of this, on 8 November 1994 the Supreme Court of Justice confirmed the sentence imposed on her by the high court. The lawyer representing her has filed a petition before the Supreme Court of Justice asking it to review its decision to confirm the 20-year sentence.
Myriam Guadalupe Galvez is being held in the Chorrillos High Security Prison for Women in the capital, Lima. + Please write, asking for the immediate and unconditional release of Myriam Guadalupe Galvez Vargas, to: President Alberto Fujimori/ Palacio de Gobierno/ Plaza de Armas/ Lima 1/ Peru.
Republic of Korea (South Korea)
Eun Su-mI, a 31-year-old prisoner of conscience, is serving a five-year prison sentence under South Korea’s National Security Law. She has been in poor health since her arrest in April 1992. She was imprisoned on charges of belonging to Sanomaeng (Socialist Workers League), defined by the authorities as an “anti-state” organization which had plotted to overthrow the government. Since 1990 many members of Sanomaeng who have not used or advocated violence, have been imprisoned on these charges.
The National Security Law has often been used to imprison people for the non-violent exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association. For many years AI has called for the law to be amended in accordance with international human rights standards. The South Korean Government, however, refuses to amend the law, arguing that it is needed to counter the perceived threat from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).
Eun Su-mi became seriously ill in April 1995 and was admitted to a hospital in Kangnung city where she underwent major bowel surgery. Doctors recommended that she be transferred to a larger hospital, but in May she was returned to Kangnung Prison.
+Please write, calling for Eun Su-mi to be immediately and unconditionally released and, pending her release, to be given adequate medical attention, to: Mr Ahn Woo-man/ Minister of Justice/ Ministry of Justice/ 1 Chungang-dong/ Kwachon-myon/ Shihung-gun/
Kyonggi-do/ Republic of Korea.
A report by the Human Rights Commission of the Bolivian Chamber of Deputies has documented human rights violations allegedly committed by the Bolivian security forces between June 1989 and April 1993. The violations took place during a police offensive against armed opposition groups which appeared in 1989 and which were accused of violent activities.
The report, entitled “Denunciation of Torture of Citizens Accused of Armed Uprising”, was presented in July 1995. It includes testimonies of torture and ill-treatment suffered by 35 political detainees. Evidence is also provided by their relatives, members of the judiciary, in legal and forensic documentation, and also in reports by local organizations and AI. The report questions the fairness of the trials of the prisoners, most of whom are still being held in detention.
The report also provides information on the apparent extrajudicial execution of five people killed during security forces operations related to the rescue of a hostage taken by one of the armed opposition groups.
AI welcomes the Commission’s strong stand against torture and impunity. The report now awaits full endorsement by the Chamber of Deputies. AI believes that full congressional backing for the report’s recommendations that perpetrators be brought to justice would carry the clear message that those who violate human rights should be brought to justice.
Education is becoming a battle-ground in the struggle for political supremacy taking place between Hutu and Tutsi in Burundi. Students, teachers and church officials have been blown up, burned, stabbed and shot. Students have also been recruited into armed political groups and have themselves incited and perpetrated deliberate and arbitrary killings.
Education has always been recognized as a foundation for creating a ruling elite in Burundi and the educated have been targeted in most of the periodic massacres that have taken place there in the last 30 years. This has been even more evident during the armed conflict which began in October 1993 with a coup attempt by the Tutsi-dominated armed forces against the first government led by a President from the Hutu majority.
Since then killings have been rife. On 11 June 1995, four people, including at least two students, one Hutu and one Tutsi, attending a party at Holy Spirit secondary school in Bujumbura, were shot dead and five injured when a gunman forced his way into the college compound. The party had been organized to demonstrate that Hutu and Tutsi could and should live together.
The same day, the violence at the Holy Spirit secondary school sparked off the killing of at least 15 unarmed Hutu students by their Tutsi colleagues at the nearby University of Burundi, in Bujumbura. In July, the university was the scene of more violence when a gang believed to comprise Hutu former students killed four Tutsi students and two employees.
Roman Catholic priests, bishops and other church leaders, particularly Hutu, have been targeted, apparently because of their influential role within the Hutu community. On 7 July 1995 Father Anastase Bivugire, the parish priest of Cibitoke, in Bubanza diocese, and five other people were killed by a Tutsi armed gang near a military post. Later the same month, one priest was severely injured and two others and a nun were hurt when gunmen opened fire on their vehicle on their way to Kanyosha seminary, on the outskirts of Bujumbura.
The Burundi authorities have failed to order independent investigations into these and other killings. AI is calling on the international community to help bring an end to the abuses in Burundi, and for the perpetrators of human rights violations to be brought to justice.