Afghanistan: Deliberate killing of civilians must be investigated following deadly attacks

The Afghan authorities must investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of a brutal series of attacks amounting to war crimes that have killed at least 24 civilians in little over a week, said Amnesty International.

On 15 June, five health workers were killed and four others injured after gunmen opened fire at various polio vaccination centres across the city of Jalalabad in Nangarhar province. The incident comes shortly after two car bombs killed at least seven civilians and injured at least six others in a district of Western Kabul largely populated by members of the persecuted Hazara minority on 12 June.

“The targeting of civilians with near total impunity continues unabated. While peace talks falter and preparations for the full withdrawal of international forces gathers pace, it’s Afghanistan’s civilians who are paying the brutal price of this conflict,” said Samira Hamidi, Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner.

“The Afghan authorities must end this cycle of impunity by launching independent and effective investigations into these and other attacks on civilians and bring those responsible to justice. We urge all parties to the conflict to take all measures necessary to protect civilians and respect international humanitarian law. And we call on the international community to make the protection of civilians and of minorities a central component of their ongoing support of the peace process.”

The targeting of civilians with near total impunity

Samira Hamidi, Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner

The incidents this week follow the killing of 10 mine clearers, many of whom were Hazara, working for the international humanitarian organization The Halo Trust in Baghlan province on 8 June, in an attack that injured 16 others.

Health workers, humanitarians, human rights defenders and journalists have been particularly targeted in a wave of assassinations since the start of peace talks in Doha last year. At least 24 have been killed since January 2021, including two doctors in separate attacks in Parwan and Farah provinces in the past week. With the exception of one of the killings, no other investigations have taken place, and nobody has been brought to justice in any of the cases.

This week’s attack on the polio vaccination centres in Jalalabad, which caused the vaccination drive to be suspended in Eastern Afghanistan, follows a similar attack in March which left three health workers in Nangarhar dead. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries in the world where polio remains endemic. 

“In recent months we have seen appalling attacks on schoolchildren, health workers, humanitarians and other civilians in busy streets and markets. Deliberately attacking medical personnel, humanitarian workers and other civilians are war crimes,” said Samira Hamidi.