Afghanistan: UN Human Rights Council must address Taliban’s ongoing ‘relentless abuses’

  • Wave of arrests of women’s rights defenders, academics, and activists
  • New evidence of attacks against civilians in Panjshir
  • Preservation of evidence is key to pursue international justice

Amnesty International is urging UN member states to act towards ending impunity and ensuring justice for victims of Taliban abuses, as the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan presents a new report at the 52nd Human Rights Council session today.

In recent months, the Taliban have been targeting women’s rights defenders, academics and activists for unlawful detention. Many have been arbitrarily arrested, with no legal remedy or access to their families. They are believed to have been detained for publicly criticizing the Taliban’s policies.

Amnesty International is calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigative mechanism in Afghanistan at the earliest opportunity, with a focus on evidence preservation to pursue international justice.

The human rights situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating rapidly, and the Taliban’s relentless abuses continue every single day.

Agnès Callamard, Secretary General, Amnesty International

“The human rights situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating rapidly, and the Taliban’s relentless abuses continue every single day,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“Recently, people publicly critical of the Taliban’s abusive rules have been arrested without any reasons given, while the suffocating crackdown on the rights of women and girls, and targeted executions of ethnic Hazara people also continue unchecked. It is clear that the Taliban are not willing nor able to investigate actions by their members that grossly violate the human rights of Afghanistan’s population.

“While the Special Rapporteur continues to do valuable work under extremely difficult conditions, more is now required to meet the enormous challenge of documenting and recording human rights abuses in Afghanistan. The creation of a fact-finding mission is essential, with a focus on the collection and preservation of evidence to ensure justice is delivered.”

In a new public statement, Amnesty International is calling for the creation of a Fact-Finding Mission, or similar independent investigative mechanism, similar to those already in place in countries such as Ethiopia, Iran, and Myanmar. Such a mechanism should have a multi-year mandate and resources to investigate, collect and preserve evidence of human rights violations and abuses committed across the country.

While the UN Special Rapporteur has an essential mission to document ongoing abuses, a key contribution of the mechanism would be to establish the facts and circumstances of serious violations, identify potential perpetrators and secure and preserve evidence for future prosecution under international justice. Such a mechanism is crucial to ensure that crimes under international law and human rights violations in Afghanistan do not escape scrutiny, and to ensure that all those suspected of criminal responsibility are held accountable in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts or international criminal courts.

Recent wave of arrests

After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021, they claimed they were committed to upholding and respecting human rights in the country. However, Amnesty International has repeatedly documented crimes under international law and violations of human rights carried out by their members since then.

Those arrested recently include: Narges Sadat, a women’s rights defender; Professor Ismail Mashal, a campaigner for women’s education; Fardin Fedayee, a civil society activist; Zekria Asoli, an author and activist; Mortaza Behboudi, an Afghan-French journalist; former senator Qais Khan Wakili; and Afghan journalist Muhammad Yar Majroh.

To date, Amnesty International understands only Professor Ismail Mashal has been released. In many cases of detention, no information is provided regarding the reason for the individual’s arrest and their whereabouts often remain unknown, which amounts to enforced disappearance.

Newly-verified evidence of crimes in Panjshir

Attacks against civilians in Panjshir – including abductions and enforced disappearances – are still being committed as the Taliban’s conflict with the National Resistance Front (NRF) continues.

Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab has authenticated photos and videos of at least eight incidents posted to social media between May and August 2022, where large groups of men were arbitrarily arrested and detained without trial by the Taliban in Panjshir. In total, these videos show at least 87 people at various points in the detention process, mostly with their hands bound. In one video, a Taliban fighter says: “If it was up to me, I would kill them here.”

Witnesses reported how the Taliban detained civilians after clashes with the NRF in Panjshir.

One witness told Amnesty International: “From the mosque, they called via loudspeakers that they have a meeting. When they [the men] had gathered, they had bound their hands with their handkerchiefs. They were beating people with the backside of the weapon. They arrested people who even did not have a knife. The Taliban had collected their weapons a month before. The Dan-i-Rivat village has about 50 houses. All of these men [who had gathered] were arrested or taken.”

Crackdown on women and girls, and attacks on ethnic minorities

Amnesty International has conducted three investigations on mass killings of Hazaras by Taliban forces – in Ghazni province, Ghor province, and Daykundi province – which may amount to war crimes. In all three cases, the Taliban, the de facto authorities in Afghanistan, have failed to investigate and bring the suspected perpetrators to justice.

In a report published in July 2022, Amnesty International documented how women and girls’ lives in Afghanistan are being devastated by the Taliban’s crackdown on their human rights. Since they took control of the country in August 2021, the Taliban have violated women’s and girls’ rights to education, work and free movement; decimated the system of protection and support for those fleeing domestic violence; detained women and girls for minor violations of discriminatory rules; and contributed to a surge in the rates of child, early and forced marriage in Afghanistan.

In November 2022, the Taliban arbitrarily arrested three prominent women human rights defenders – Zarifa Yaqoobi, Farhat Popalzai and Humaira Yusuf – as well as their colleagues for their peaceful activism. In December 2022, the Taliban prevented women from attending universities “until further notice”, and ordered all local and foreign NGOs to stop their female staff from working “until further notice”. According to the UN and humanitarian aid organizations, millions of women and children will be deprived of humanitarian support if the ban on NGOs is not reversed immediately.

“It is time for the international community to follow up their repeated public statements with concrete action,” said Agnès Callamard.

“The international community should act soon to establish a UN-mandated international fact-finding and evidence preservation mechanism to ensure independent investigations and prosecutions are possible. The current accountability gap is allowing grave violations and abuses in Afghanistan to continue unabated, and it must be urgently closed.”