Taliban chief orders change in mode of executions (No more beheadings)

KABUL, 4 February 2008 (IRIN) - The fugitive leader of Afghan Taliban insurgents, Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid, has ordered his fighters to stop beheading people accused of spying for the government of President Karzai and international forces - and kill them, instead, by gunshots and/or hanging, a purported Taliban spokesman has told the media.

The move comes after strong condemnation of the Taliban at home and abroad for their beheadings.

Video clips showing horrific scenes of human decapitations and other forms of severe physical torture had been circulated by the insurgents, apparently in an effort to threaten people who support and/or work with the Afghan government and its international supporters.

Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and other international rights watchdogs have repeatedly accused Taliban insurgents of deliberately attacking civilians and systematically violating international humanitarian law.

?No more beheadings?

"Mullah Omar's order is effective immediately and there will be no more beheadings by the Taliban," Zabiullah Mujahid, who claims to be a spokesman for Taliban fighters, told IRIN on the phone from an unspecified location.

About 100 people have been beheaded by Taliban insurgents on charges of espionage in the past 12 months, a leading Afghan news agency, Pajwhok, reported on 4 February.

Four employees of a local construction company were reportedly kidnapped and then beheaded by gunmen associated with Taliban insurgents in Nooristan Province, eastern Afghanistan, in the last week of January, Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said in a press release on 30 January.

Thousands of people, including many civilians, lost their lives in suicide attacks, roadside explosions and other insurgency-related violence in 2007, the government of Afghanistan and the UN reported.

War crime

The deliberate killing of noncombatants on charges of spying and/or disloyalty, without a fair and just trial, is a war crime and cannot be justified by a change in mode of execution, said Farid Hamidi, a member of the AIHRC in Kabul.

"The right to life is enshrined in the constitution of Afghanistan and no one can deny that without a legitimate and lawful reason," said Hamidi. "Islamic Sharia also prohibits illegal and extra-judicial killings of civilians," he said.