I apologize for the satanic music in this video. Turn your volume down. This was recorded by the filthy pigs themselves.
Afghanistan: Massacres of Hazaras in Afghanistan by Taliban
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
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
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
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.
investigation to relevant authorities in Afghanistan, and urge them to
prosecute persons identified as responsible for crimes.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
21 Interview with a worker who assisted in the burial, Islamabad, Pakistan, December 2000.
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,
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.
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.
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