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Afghanistan: Massacres of Hazaras in Afghanistan by Taliban
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Afghanistan: Massacres of Hazaras in Afghanistan by Taliban


I. SUMMARY

This report documents two massacres committed by Taliban forces in
the central highlands of Afghanistan, in January 2001 and May 2000. In
both cases the victims were primarily Hazaras, a Shia Muslim ethnic
group that has been the target of previous massacres and other serious
human rights violations by Taliban forces. These massacres took place in
the context of the six-year war between the Taliban and parties now
grouped in the United National Islamic Front for the Salvation of
Afghanistan (the "United Front"), in which international human rights
and humanitarian law have been repeatedly violated by the warring
factions. Ethnic and religious minorities, and the Hazaras in
particular, have been especially vulnerable in areas of conflict, and
Taliban forces have committed large-scale abuses against Hazara
civilians with impunity. In this report Human Rights Watch calls upon
the United Nations to investigate both massacres and to systematically
monitor human rights and humanitarian law violations by all parties to
Afghanistan's civil war.

The massacre in Yakaolang district began on January 8, 2001 and
continued for four days. In the course of conducting search operations
following the recapture of the district from two Hazara-based parties in
the United Front, the Taliban detained about 300 civilian adult males,
including staff members of local humanitarian organizations. The men
were herded to assembly points in the center of the district and several
outlying areas, and then shot by firing squad in public view. About 170
men are confirmed to have been killed. The killings were apparently
intended as a collective punishment for local residents whom the Taliban
suspected of cooperating with United Front forces, and to deter the
local population from doing so in the future. The findings concerning
events in Yakaolang are based on the record of interviews with
eyewitnesses that were made available to Human Rights Watch and other
corroborating evidence.

The May 2000 massacre took place near the Robatak pass on the border
between Baghlan and Samangan provinces. Thirty-one bodies were found at
one site to the northwest of the pass. Twenty-six of the dead were
positively identified as civilians from Baghlan province. Of the latter,
all were unlawfully detained for four months and some were tortured
before they were killed. Human Rights Watch's findings in this case are
based in large part on interviews with a worker who participated in the
burials and with a relative of a detainee who was executed at Robatak.
These accounts have been further corroborated by other independent
sources. With respect to both massacres, all names of sources,
witnesses, and survivors have been withheld.

Mullah Mohammad Omar, the head of the Taliban movement, has stated
that there is no evidence of a civilian massacre in Yakaolang and
blocked journalists from visiting the district, until recently
accessible only by crossing Taliban-held territory. On the night of
February 13-14, 2001, however, United Front forces recaptured Bamiyan
city, the provincial capital. The offensive secured an airport and a
road link to Yakaolang.

On January 19, 2001, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan
issued a statement expressing concern about "numerous credible reports"
that civilians were deliberately targeted and killed in Yakaolang. The
secretary-general called on the Taliban to take "immediate steps to
control their forces," adding that the reports required "prompt
investigation" and that those responsible should "be brought to
justice."1

On February 16, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson
called for the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry
into human rights violations in Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch is
concerned that such a commission would take too long to establish; the
need is for a small team of experts that could be deployed immediately.

The Taliban's denial of responsibility for the Yakaolang massacre,
and its failure to hold its commanders accountable for these and other
abuses against civilians by its forces, make it critical that the U.N.
itself investigate both cases. There have been preliminary discussions
within the U.N. on the feasibility of investigating the Yakaolang
massacre; a similar discussion also took place after the Robatak
massacre, although no further action was taken. These discussions should
be resumed. In doing so, however, the U.N. should not repeat the
missteps that resulted in an inconclusive 1999 field investigation by
the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, into the 1997
killing of Taliban prisoners by United Front forces in Mazar-i Sharif
and the reprisal massacre of Hazara civilians by Taliban forces the
following year. To allow an effective investigation into the cases
documented in this report, the U.N. should adopt the measures outlined
below.

II. RECOMMENDATIONS

To the United Nations, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and the Islamic State of Afghanistan:



Human Rights Watch urges the United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights and other relevant U.N. agencies to undertake an immediate
investigation into the massacres in question, and urges the Islamic
Emirate of Afghanistan (the administration established by the Taliban
movement) and the Islamic State of Afghanistan (the administration
established by the United Front) to cooperate fully with her office to
ensure that an impartial inquiry is carried out speedily.

Any U.N. investigation should include the following measures:



  • The investigation into the Yakaolang massacre in
    particular should begin promptly while there is still an opportunity to
    collect physical evidence.
  • The investigation team should include persons qualified to
    conduct human rights investigations in the field under the constraints
    likely to obtain at both sites, and should include a forensic expert
    with experience in exhumations of graves and analysis of remains.
  • The terms of reference should provide clear guidelines for
    the work of the investigation team and the scope of its report,
    including in particular:
  • [list=1]
  • Identification of individuals, including senior military
    officers and government officials, responsible for giving orders or
    otherwise directing actions of their subordinates that violate human
    rights and humanitarian law.
  • Identification of patterns of abuses, including ethnicity or
    other characteristics of persons targeted for arrest or killing,
    neighborhoods targeted, and so on.
[/list]
  • The High Commissioner should communicate the findings of the
    investigation to relevant authorities in Afghanistan, and urge them to
    prosecute persons identified as responsible for crimes.
  • The High Commissioner should use the findings to determine to
    what extent there have been violations of international human rights
    and humanitarian law, including grave breaches that would be subject to
    possible war crimes prosecutions.


  • The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan should then prosecute those
    commanders found responsible for the arbitrary killings before a
    tribunal in hearings that are fully open to the public and conducted in
    accordance with international standards on fair trials.

    Human Rights Watch does not underestimate the difficulty of
    undertaking an investigation, given the logistical, security, and
    political difficulties involved. The area where the most recent massacre
    took place has changed hands several times. It has been difficult for
    U.N. agencies to get access to the area, and no one has been stationed
    there permanently because of security concerns. The sanctions threatened
    by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1333 (2000), including closing the
    Taliban offices in New York, have led to increased tension with the U.N.
    The U.N. should nevertheless make a credible request to investigate and
    be prepared for an immediate response to take advantage of any
    opportunities offered by changing political and military circumstances.
    This means having the necessary expertise and resources lined up, with
    fallback options for each contingency.

    To the European Community



    The Common Position of the Council of the European Union on
    Afghanistan, adopted in January 24, 2000, states that it is an objective
    of the European Union to "promote respect for international
    humanitarian law and human rights, including the rights of women and
    children." E.U. members should further this objective by adopting
    measures that include investigating human rights and humanitarian law
    violations in Afghanistan through coordinated initiatives by member
    states' embassies in neighboring countries, such as Pakistan and
    Tajikistan, where they can gain access to refugees.

    III. BACKGROUND

    Hazaras form a majority of the population in the central highland
    region of Afghanistan known as Hazarajat, and are a significant minority
    in the cities of Kabul and Mazar-i Sharif.2
    Most are Imami Shia Muslims, recognizing the leadership of a succession
    of twelve Imams beginning with the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law Ali. A
    minority are Ismaili Shia, who look for leadership to the lineal
    descendants of the sixth Shia Imam, represented today by the Aga Khan.
    In either case, the religious identity of the Hazaras sharply
    distinguishes them from the Sunni Muslims who predominate in most other
    regions of the country and has contributed to their political and
    economic marginalization by successive regimes in Kabul.

    The emergence in 1994 of the Taliban, militant Sunni Muslims who tend to regard Shia as not being true Muslims,3
    threatened to further undermine the Hazaras' position. This fear
    appeared to be realized in August 1998, when Taliban forces in the
    multiethnic northern city of Mazar-i Sharif killed at least 2,000
    civilians – most of whom were Hazaras. The
    killings were partly in reprisal for the summary execution in May 1997
    of some 2,000 Taliban prisoners by ethnic Hazara and Uzbek forces, but
    there was also a sectarian component to the Taliban's actions. In the
    immediate aftermath of the city's occupation by the Taliban, the newly
    installed governor, Mullah Manon Niazi, delivered public speeches in
    which he termed the Hazaras infidels and threatened them with death if
    they did not convert to Sunni Islam or leave Afghanistan.4
    Hundreds of civilians fled south toward Hazarajat, accompanied by
    retreating forces of the Shia party, Hizb-i Wahdat, amid rocket fire and
    aerial bombardment.

    Most of Hazarajat, which had been governed by various factions of the
    Shia party Hizb-i Wahdat since 1989, fell to the Taliban in September
    1998 after a crippling year-long blockade. Despite the apprehensions of
    many local residents, the transition involved far fewer civilian
    casualties than had been the case in Mazar-i Sharif. Some observers
    attributed this to an alliance that was forged with the Taliban by
    Hujjat-al-Islam Sayyid Mohammad Akbari, a Hizb-i Wahdat faction leader,
    shortly after the Taliban seized Bamiyan, the major city in Hazarajat
    and the capital of a district and province of the same name. The Taliban
    subsequently withdrew most non-local forces from several districts of
    Hazarajat, leaving them under the nominal control of Akbari appointees
    or other Shia commanders. Bamiyan, Yakaolang, and a few other districts
    were directly administered by the Taliban.5

    As of February 2001, several enclaves within Hazarajat remained under
    the control of a Hizb-i Wahdat faction led by Karim Khalili, a leading
    Shia mullah. In some areas, Hizb-i Wahdat governed with the support of
    an allied Shia party, Harakat-i Islami. Both Hizb-i Wahdat and Harakat-i
    Islami are members of the United Front, a loose and often fractious
    coalition of mainly Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara parties, which in early
    2001 together controlled about 10 percent of Afghanistan's territory.
    Two of these enclaves, the districts of Balkhob and Dar-i Suf, sustained
    aerial bombardment by the Taliban during 1999 and 2000, prompting a
    renewed exodus of Hazara refugees to Iran.

    Yakaolang district continued to be contested after its occupation by
    the Taliban in September 1998. Khalili's Hizb-i Wahdat faction and
    Harakat-i Islami briefly retook control of Yakaolang at the end of 1998
    and Bamiyan district in April 1999. However, they lost both districts in
    May of that year, after heavy fighting in Bamiyan. On December 28,
    2000, Hizb-i Wahdat and Harakat-i Islami forces again occupied
    Yakaolang. The few Taliban defenders fled.6

    IV. MASSACRE IN YAKAOLANG, JANUARY 2001

    On January 7, Taliban forces began advancing on Yakaolang from
    Bamiyan in a bid to recapture the district. Moving westwards, they
    established their rear base at Feroz Bahar, east of the center of town,
    from which they launched three main thrusts. The first attack met with
    stiff resistance on the hill to the east of Dar-i Ali, a valley in which
    a number of villages are clustered. The Taliban forces were compelled
    to retreat and call for reinforcements after losing some thirty of their
    men. The second attack, which contained the main column of troops, was
    held up at Surkh Kotal, near Zulflucht, for about four hours until the
    Hizb-i Wahdat forces retreated. After breaking through the defensive
    line at Surkh Kotal, the Taliban proceeded to Nayak, the district
    center, without further resistance, reaching it on the morning of
    January 8. A witness described the Taliban advance:7

    On the evening of the January 7, a friend told me
    that a helicopter had been heard flying into Feroz Bahar. Initially
    people thought that it was supplying the United Front troops, but it
    turned out that it had been flying in Taliban troops. That night there
    were sounds of heavy fighting. In the morning again, we heard intense
    firing, and there was clearly a battle going on in Nayak. Later that
    morning Nayak fell and the fighting was over.... From 2:00 p.m. on
    January 8 we watched United Front troops retreating, walking past us and
    with their mounted column, heading west towards lower Yakaolang. There
    were so many of them that it took the rest of the day for them to pass
    us – they were trooping past us until late evening. They were heading for Deh Surkh and Daga.

    Upon reaching the district center, the Taliban organized eleven
    search parties. They were each allocated a sector of central Yakaolang
    and moved from house to house within their respective sectors, rounding
    up male occupants. The search party allocated to Dar-i Ali commandeered
    twelve horses and so was able to travel extensively through the valley,
    only part of which is accessible by road.

    Another witness described the Taliban's capture of the district and
    the search operations in Dar-i Ali. He first learned of the Taliban
    advance when Hizb-i Wahdat troops stationed near his office informed him
    that a helicopter had landed at Feroz Bahar, and that they believed a
    Taliban attack was imminent. Between midnight and 3:00 a.m. there was
    heavy fighting all around the area. When there was a lull in the
    fighting at 3:00 a.m., the witness fled to Dar-i Ali. After about 8:00
    a.m., the fighting stopped. At approximately 3:00 p.m., he went to a
    friend's house that was nearby and asked if he could wait there. The
    family told him that the Taliban were conducting searches and that it
    would not be safe. After leaving his friend's house, the witness
    encountered a group of Taliban troops who ordered him to join a crowd of
    men who were being herded towards a local aid agency.

    The witness saw three bodies lying in front of the aid agency. The
    Taliban soldiers said that they were men who had tried to run away.8 The witness described what happened next:

    A group of about one hundred men was gathered at the
    [aid] center. After some time the Taliban ordered us to move, and we
    were herded down towards Nayak [the district center]. At first the pace
    was slow, but after some time we were met by a group of mounted Taliban
    and the soldiers started to whip the detainees and ordered us to move
    more quickly. When we got to Nayak, another group of Taliban was waiting
    there at the entrance to the bazaar, armed with sticks. They beat us
    and told the Taliban in charge of the group to "take them to the
    Mullah."9

    According to other witnesses, the detainees were herded to the office
    of a relief agency located in Nayak, where most were later executed.

    As reports of detentions and killings began to circulate through the
    district, groups of village elders sought meetings with Taliban
    commanders to ensure the security of their communities. According to a
    witness:

    The same day [January 10] news came that the Taliban
    were searching houses as far as Girdbayd, some five kilometers from
    Nayak. People coming from there said that the Taliban had killed some of
    the people there. We all discussed among ourselves whether this could
    be true or not. After a couple of days [January 11 or 12], eight or ten
    of the village elders decided that they must go to Nayak to discuss the
    security of the area with the Taliban. They set off on foot towards
    Nayak.

    The following is his account of what the elders told him:



    On the way there, near Qala Issa Khan [a hamlet about
    500 meters west of Nayak, also known as Qala Arbab Hassan], the elders
    saw Jan Agha, a local Tajik commander, sitting in a Taliban "Datsun" (a
    pickup truck).10
    Jan Agha was gesticulating at the elders, pointing to something in the
    village, but they could not work out what it was, and so they proceeded.
    The elders walked into Nayak unchallenged and went straight to the
    Taliban command post. They asked to see Commander Mullah Abdul Sattar,
    but he refused to see him. Then they managed to find Commander Haji
    Faqoori and after some persuasion, he managed to get Commander Sattar to
    see them. Sattar told the elders that he had just received orders from
    Kandahar, from Mullah [Mohammad] Omar [the head of the Taliban
    movement], declaring a general amnesty. He instructed the elders to go
    and meet with [Hizb-i Wahdat commander] Khalili and tell him not to
    fight any more, or there would be more killing.
    On their return, Jan Agha told the elders what he had been pointing
    to and they saw a pile of bodies at the edge of Qala Issa Khan.

    According to the same witness, the elders subsequently met with
    Khalili, but he refused to stop fighting. Fearful of further conflict,
    the witness said, many local residents started to leave the area.

    On at least two occasions, the Taliban killed delegations of Hazara
    elders who had attempted to intercede with them. On January 9, elders of
    Kata Khana gathered to meet with the Taliban. The Taliban arrested the
    entire group and killed everyone except two neighborhood leaders. In
    another case, the elders of Bed Mushkin village met with the Taliban to
    discuss security for the area. All were killed except one.11

    The main execution site in Yakaolang appears to have been outside the
    relief agency in Nayak where the detainees from Dar-i Ali were killed.
    Witnesses also reported seeing piles of bodies in four other locations
    in and around Nayak: outside the district hospital, in the ravine behind
    the mosque in the old bazaar area, outside the prayer hall of Mindayak
    village, and at Qala Arbab Hassan. Of these, the largest pile of bodies
    was at Qala Arbab Hassan. Other killings were reported from
    neighborhoods in areas surrounding the district center, including
    outside the leprosy and tuberculosis clinics. A witness who visited
    Yakaolang district four weeks after the incident inspected one of the
    mass graves at Bed Mushkin village, in which twenty-six bodies had been
    found. One of the bodies was that of a seventeen-year-old boy, Mir Ali,
    much of whose skin had been removed either prior to or after his death.12 In a separate case, seven men were shot dead at the Zarin crossroad near the leprosy clinic in Yakaolang.13

    Eyewitnesses reported that personnel of the Center for Cooperation on Afghanistan (CCA), a local aid agency – identified as Sayyid Sarwar and Sayyid Talib –
    were among the civilians rounded up in Dar-i Ali and executed outside
    the relief agency office. Other staff members of relief agencies were
    identified among those killed. These included a driver named Daoud who
    was working for a international humanitarian agency; a man named Qasim
    who worked as an assistant in the leprosy clinic; and Sayyid Ibrahim and
    a man named Tahsili, both of whom worked in the district hospital and
    were staff members of a local assistance organization. Witnesses
    reported seeing a Land Cruiser and a Russian-made jeep in the possession
    of the Taliban, both of which belonged to the Yakaolang offices of
    humanitarian aid organizations.14

    Several staff members of another local leprosy clinic were also
    identified among those killed: Sayyid Yakut, a gardener from the village
    of Kata Khana, near the center of Yakaolang district; a man named Taqi,
    a carpenter, from Akhundan village; Gul Agha, son of Mahmood, of
    Sarasiab village; and Sayyid Mahdi, son of Burki, a watchman, also from
    Sarasiab. One of the center's leprosy patients, Sayyid Amir of Panj-o-ak
    village, was also reported killed.

    Taliban forces were only able to remain in Yakaolang for two weeks,
    before being driven out of the district again on January 23. While
    retreating north through the Dar-i Shikari valley, on or about January
    20, a convoy of Taliban forces encountered a group of Hazara herders at
    Tala Burfak. Apparently frustrated that their path was blocked by the
    Hazaras' herds, some of the Taliban fired gunshots at the group, killing
    three of them on the spot.15

    The armed conflict in Yakaolang and the abuses committed in the
    district by the Taliban resulted in massive internal displacement.
    Humanitarian aid workers estimate that thousands of persons from
    Yakaolang took refuge in Panjao and Lal districts, the Tarpuch
    sub-district of Balkhob district, the Kashan valley in Kohistanat
    district, and Dar-i Chasht in Lower Yakaolang district.

    V. MASSACRE AT ROBATAK PASS, MAY 2000

    The massacre in Yakaolang follows previous attacks by the Taliban on
    Hazaras and members of other ethnic minorities in north central
    Afghanistan. The provinces of Baghlan and Samangan, which lie north of
    Bamiyan, have seen intermittent fighting between Taliban and United
    Front forces since 1998. As a means of controlling the civilian
    population and ensuring that it does not give assistance to the United
    Front, Taliban forces have frequently resorted to detaining men from
    villages in the area and holding them for prolonged periods as virtual
    hostages.16

    In May 2000, Taliban forces summarily executed a group of civilian
    detainees near the Robatak pass, which lies along the road connecting
    the towns of Tashkurgan and Pul-i Khumri. Until a systematic forensic
    investigation is carried out, the precise number of those killed cannot
    be known, but Human Rights Watch has obtained confirmation of thirty-one
    bodies at the execution site, twenty-six of which have been identified
    as the bodies of Ismaili Shia Hazara civilians from Baghlan province.
    Their remains were found to the northeast of the Robatak pass, in an
    area known as Hazara Mazari, on the border between Baghlan and Samangan
    provinces. The area was controlled by the Taliban at the time of the
    executions. There are reported to be as many as three other gravesites
    near the pass.

    All of those who have been identified were detained for four months
    before being killed; many of them were tortured before they were killed.
    The men were taken from their homes by Taliban troops between January 5
    and January 14, 2000. The facilities at which the men were detained
    were under the command of Commander Mullah Shahzad Kandahari, who was
    the Taliban commander of the Khinjan front north of Kabul and who was
    also reportedly present in Yakaolang when it was held by the Taliban in
    January 2001.

    On January 5, 2000, a Taliban force raided the village cluster of
    Naikpai, in Doshi district of Baghlan province. The Taliban soldiers
    came in a convoy of pickup trucks at dawn. They started to round up men
    from Bakas, Zaighola, and other hamlets in Naikpai, seizing many of them
    in their houses. A number of those who were arrested were village
    elders. There were many other people present and virtually the entire
    population of the village witnessed the arrests. Local residents assumed
    that the arrests were a warning to deter them from having contacts with
    United Front forces.17

    The house-to-house searches and arrests continued for nine days.
    While they were underway, the detainees were held at Mullah Shahzad's
    operational military base at Khinjan. Relatives of the detainees were
    allowed to visit the base, and were informed of conditions in the
    facility by the detainees.18
    The men who were detained between approximately January 5 and 10 were
    subjected to severe beatings with electric cables and were forced to
    stand outside in sub-zero temperatures and snow. One of those who was
    later killed near the Robatak pass, Sayyid Tajuddin, who was
    thirty-eight, suffered frostbite as a result of the exposure following
    his beating. When the detainees were transferred to Pul-i Khumri, he was
    admitted to the Textile Factory hospital. Both feet were amputated
    there, and he was provided with a pair of locally fabricated crutches.19

    At the end of the operation, around January 14, all of the detainees
    were transferred to Pul-i Khumri, where Shahzad maintained his rear
    base. The detainees were held in the residential quarters attached to
    the Pul-i Khumri Textile Mill. On or around May 8, the detainees were
    removed from the facility. When relatives inquired as to their
    whereabouts they were ordered by the authorities to leave the area.
    However, a staff member of the facility informed them that the men had
    been loaded onto a single truck, thought to be a "kalafil" truck of
    Soviet manufacture, during the evening. The truck was reportedly
    escorted by a Taliban Toyota pickup.20
    The prisoners were later found dead at Hazara Mazari, a journey of
    approximately one-and-a-half hours from the detention facility. The men
    are believed to have been shot the same night that they were taken from
    the facility.

    On or around May 18, shepherds from the Robatak pass area reported
    the presence of bodies to the provincial authorities in Samangan. The
    mayor of Samangan detailed a party of ten workmen, with an escort of
    Taliban troops, to locate and bury the bodies at the Hazara Mazari site.

    It was apparent from the appearance of the bodies that the detainees
    had been brought to the execution site with their hands bound behind
    their backs, and tied together by their forearms in groups of three,
    according to a worker who assisted in the burials. Twenty-eight of the
    victims were found lying where had been were shot, face down on the
    ground. The execution party had made no attempt to remove or cover the
    bodies.21
    The body of another man, identified as Sahib Dad, was found tied to a
    tree, his arms and legs each tied separately with a length of rope in
    such a way that his captors would have been able to manipulate them
    while he was immobilized.22

    The workmen buried the twenty-nine bodies at the Hazara Mazari site.
    The burial was perfunctory. The bodies were covered with at most thirty
    centimeters of earth, inadequate to protect them from wild animals. The
    worker who assisted in the burials described what he saw:

    The bodies were lying on the ground face down. All of
    their hands were bound behind their backs.... The bullet wounds could
    not be made out on the backs but there was blood on the ground beneath
    the chests. I saw the bodies about four days after they had been killed.
    Their backs had not been blown up but the blood had obviously poured
    out of the chests and I understood that they had been killed by firing
    into the back because there was no visible wound on any other part of
    the bodies and they were lying in pools of blood that had poured out of
    their chests. They were tied together in groups of three using their
    turbans and scarves which had been wound together to make ropes. They
    were tied together one to the other, using their own turbans.... To tell
    you the truth we were so terrified and upset that we barely dared look
    at the ground. You could hardly stand there.23

    Soon after the workmen returned, word reached Naikpai that some of
    its people were among the dead. A group of residents went to inspect the
    gravesites, where they found shallow graves and recognized bits of
    clothing belonging to their missing relatives. They also found two more
    bodies at a short distance from the others; the two men had been shot
    and their bodies were left where they fell.

    Since the massacre, the Robatak area has remained under Taliban
    control. Local human rights researchers visited the site at Hazara
    Mazari in November 2000 and photographed the remains that were visible
    from the surface. Some of those photographs are appended to this report.

    The actual number of persons killed at Robatak may be much higher
    that the thirty-one that Human Rights Watch has been able to confirm.
    Other gravesites have been reported at different locations near the
    pass. However, the researchers believe that if there were bodies at
    these sites, they may have been disturbed or moved by Taliban
    authorities as no remains were visible from the surface.

    The motive for the prisoners' killing remains unclear. The killings
    took place just after the Taliban and the United Front had negotiated an
    agreement on a prisoner exchange during a summit meeting in Jeddah,
    Saudi Arabia, held under the auspices of the Organization of the Islamic
    Conference.24
    And during the same time period, United Front forces appear to have
    attacked and killed Taliban troops in ambushes along the road that runs
    through the Robatak pass.25

    VI. ACCOUNTABILITY

    Mullah Mohammad Omar, the head of the Taliban movement, stated in
    late January 2001 that there was no evidence of a civilian massacre in
    Yakaolang, but in the same interview retracted an earlier offer to allow
    journalists to visit the area.26

    The identity of those Taliban soldiers who actually carried out the
    killings in each case has yet to be established. However, eyewitness
    testimony and Taliban radio broadcasts have helped to identify some of
    the Taliban commanders who were present in Yakaolang, while information
    about the Taliban command structure points to the commanders with
    responsibility for the conduct of Taliban forces in Baghlan at the time
    of the Robatak detentions and killings. One commander, Mullah Shahzad
    Kandahari, appears to have been involved in both operations.

    As general commander of the Khinjan front in Baghlan province during
    the first half of 2000, Mullah Shahzad had authority over the detention
    facilities in Khinjan and Pul-i Khumri, where the Robatak prisoners were
    held, and was in command of the troops stationed in the area. The
    Taliban Chief Military Commander for the Northern Zone (Fifth Corps,
    based in Mazar-i Sharif), Mullah Abdul Razak Nawfiz, was the immediate
    superior officer of Mullah Shahzad, and was responsible for directing
    his operations and briefing him on Taliban strategy and policy. He was
    also the official who would have had primary responsibility for
    investigating crimes by the commander and preventing further abuses.

    Witnesses have testified that Mullah Shahzad was also in command of
    some of the Taliban troops in Yakaolang. Others Taliban commanders in
    Yakaolang included Qari Ahmadullah of Ghazni, the minister of
    intelligence, who reportedly issued a statement from Yakaolang on the
    Taliban-operated Radio Shariat.27
    Also present were Mullah Abdul Sattar, at the time the regional
    military commander for Hazarajat; Mullah Abdullah Sarhadi, the former
    regional military commander for Hazarajat; and Mullah Abdul Salam
    "Rocketi," a former commander with the Ittihad-i Islami party.28 Further investigation is necessary to determine what role, if any, they may have played in the massacres.

    VII. CONCLUSION

    The two massacres of civilians described in this report constitute
    serious violations of international humanitarian law. They raise grave
    concerns about the security of civilian populations in
    Taliban-administered areas, particularly Hazaras and members of other
    ethnic or religious minorities. What has emerged from these cases, as
    well as prior events in Hazarajat and northern Afghanistan, is a pattern
    of efforts to intimidate minority populations and to deter them from
    cooperating with the United Front, through the arbitrary detention and
    summary execution of male civilians. These abuses, including the
    massacre at Yakaolang and the detention of civilians prior to their
    execution at Robatak, have frequently been of such a scale and duration
    that they could not have been carried out without the knowledge and
    consent of senior Taliban commanders.

    Impartially amassing an exhaustive record of the events in both cases
    and identifying the commanders responsible will require an independent
    investigation under the auspices of the United Nations. Such an
    investigation could have a significant impact in deterring further
    abuses by all of the warring factions in Afghanistan.

    However, the United Nations has failed to systematically monitor and
    document abuses in Afghanistan. The only field investigation undertaken
    by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – into the killings in Mazar-i Sharif in 1997 and 1998 –
    failed to make use of existing evidence to establish responsibility for
    extrajudicial executions and other abuses committed by United Front
    forces in 1997 and by the Taliban in 1998. It also neglected to make use
    of extensive testimony from refugees, or of detailed information
    gathered by U.N. staff and offices. Other monitoring mechanisms have
    been impeded by a lack of access or adequate security. The U.N. Special
    Rapporteur on Afghanistan, Dr. Kamal Hossain, has issued periodic
    reports that have noted serious abuses, but has not been granted
    permission to visit Taliban-controlled Afghanistan since 1999.

    In undertaking an investigation of the Yakaolang and Robatak
    massacres, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should
    carefully avoid the shortcomings that characterized its 1999 Mazar-i
    Sharif investigation. It is vitally important that the work of the High
    Commissioner's Office and that of other United Nations agencies also
    address other violations of international human rights and humanitarian
    law in Afghanistan by all parties, by significantly increasing its
    monitoring presence in Afghanistan.

    Other intergovernmental organizations can also play an important role
    in ensuring that the warring parties in Afghanistan uphold
    international humanitarian law and human rights. In its Common Position
    on Afghanistan, adopted on January 24, 2000, the Council of the European
    Union stated that the objectives of the E.U. were, among others, to
    "promote respect for international humanitarian law and human rights,
    including the rights of women and children."29
    The arbitrary detention and summary execution of civilians documented
    in this report, and the attendant population displacement, represent a
    challenge to the principles articulated in the Common Position, and
    merit an affirmative response on the part of the European Union. E.U.
    members should obtain information about human rights and humanitarian
    law violations in Afghanistan through coordinated initiatives by E.U.
    member states' embassies in neighboring countries where they can have
    direct contact with refugees.


    1
    Secretary-General, United Nations, "Secretary-General very concerned
    about reports of civilians deliberately targeted and killed in
    Afghanistan," January 19, 2001, as posted on Relief Web, – TRANSIT – HYPERLINK – >– .http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf. – >http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf (accessed February 16, 2001).

    2
    The term Hazara, as used in this report, includes Sayyids, who account
    for about 5 percent of Hazarajat's population. Sayyids form a distinct
    caste within Hazara communities, based on their tradition of descent
    from the Prophet Muhammad, and are regarded by some in Hazarajat as a
    separate ethnic group. Chris Johnson, "Hazarajat Baseline Study – Interim Report (Part I)," for the U.N. Co-Ordinator's Office, March 2000, pp. 8-10.

    3 Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 69.



    4
    In his speeches, Niazi also held the Hazaras collectively responsible
    for the summary executions of the Taliban prisoners. Human Rights Watch,
    "Afghanistan: the Massacre in Mazar-i Sharif," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 10, no. 7(C), November 1998, p. 11.

    5 Johnson, "Hazarajat Baseline Study," p. 5 and Appendix D.



    6
    After Hizb-i Wahdat and Harakat-i Islami forces took control of
    Yakaolang, troops led by Harakat-i Islami Commander Moalim Aziz of
    Topchi village, in central Bamiyan, entered a local hospital and
    summarily executed a wounded nineteen-year-old Taliban soldier who was
    receiving treatment there. The Taliban soldier was identified as
    Amanullah, son of Ubaidullah, of Maroof district, in Kandahar province.
    Aziz then established his base in the hospital, which his troops looted
    of equipment and medicines. Although local staff hid some of the
    equipment in their houses, when the Taliban retook the area they looted
    all the remaining heavy equipment remaining in the hospital, as well as a
    six-month supply of medicines in the central store. Interview with
    witness, Kabul, January 2001.

    7 Interview with witness, Kabul, January 2001.



    8
    Interview with witness, Kabul, January 2001. The three men were later
    identified as Eid Mohammad and two other shopkeepers from Ab-i Sherum
    village of neighbouring Behsud district, who had traveled to Yakaolang
    to purchase hides. All three were reportedly stopped and shot dead on
    the road outside the aid agency. Interviews with witnesses, Yakaolang,
    February 2001.

    9 Interview with witness, Kabul, January 2001.



    10 Jan Agha was one of the few Sunni, non-Hazara, residents in Nayak.



    11 Interviews with witnesses, Kabul, January 2001.



    12 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with a witness, February 2001.



    13 Interviews with witnesses to the shooting, Yakaolang, February 2001.



    14 Interviews with witnesses, Kabul, January 21-27, 2001.



    15
    According to one report, a local commander who had recently allied with
    the Taliban stopped the convoy at his checkpost in Tala Burfak and
    detained seven of the Taliban soldiers on murder charges. Human Rights
    Watch has been unable to ascertain whether the soldiers are still being
    held and whether action has been taken against them.

    16 Human Rights Watch interviews with researchers who have visited the area, October-December 2000.



    17
    Such detentions have been common in areas of conflict in the north.
    Civilians have been detained for extended periods to deter others in the
    area from supporting the opposition.

    18
    The detainees also sent letters out in which they expressed their
    belief that they would be released soon. Interview with a family member
    of a detainee, Peshawar, Pakistan, January 2001.

    19 Ibid.



    20 Ibid.



    21 Interview with a worker who assisted in the burial, Islamabad, Pakistan, December 2000.



    22
    It appeared that the captors had tried to manipulate Sahib Dad's limbs
    as if he were a marionette, either before or after he was executed.
    Interview with a worker who assisted in the burial, Islamabad, Pakistan,
    December 2000.

    23 Ibid.



    24
    See "Afghanistan's warring parties agree to prisoner exchange at
    UN-attended talks," United Nations Department of Public Information
    (UNDPI), May 10, 2000. The International Committee of the Red Cross was
    to have overseen the exchange.

    25 Interviews conducted in Baghlan and Samagan provinces, July 2000.



    26
    Mullah Omar said that journalists were biased against the Taliban and
    should instead visit Kandahar to see the graves of Taliban prisoners
    killed by United Front forces in Mazar-i Sharif during 1997. Kate Clark,
    "Taleban bar press from `massacre' site," BBC World Service, January
    28, 2001, – TRANSIT – HYPERLINK – >– .http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/south_asia/newsid_1140000/1140942.stm. – >http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/south_asia/newsid_1140000/1140942.stm (accessed February 16, 2001).

    27 Interviews with witnesses, Yakaolang, February 2001.



    28 Ittihad-i Islami is now part of the United Front.


    Added: Apr-2-2012 Occurred On: Apr-2-2012
    By: Kafirindareelharb
    In:
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