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Afghanistan: Taleban attacks against civilians are increasing and are systematic

As the Taleban's spring offensive intensifies, civilians are increasingly facing suicide attacks, abductions and beheadings, according to an Amnesty International report released today (19 April), entitled ‘Afghanistan - All who are not friends, are enemies: Taleban abuses against civilians.’

According to the report, which focuses on Taleban abuses between January 2005 and March 2007, the attacks on civilians are widespread and systematic, and are used to instil fear and exert control over the local population.

Scores of civilians have been deliberately killed by Taleban insurgents in the past two years, apparently because they were branded “spies” or “collaborators”. Targets have included Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights's rights activists, election candidates, clerics, government and health workers, and teachers. At least 183 schools were burned in arson attacks across the country between 2005-2006.

In one brutal incident last week, an Afghan journalist was killed by the Taleban, reportedly by having his throat slit. Ajmal Naqshbandi, 25, had been taken hostage in March along with an Italian reporter, Daniele Mastrogiacomo, and their Afghan driver, Sayed Agha. While Daniele Mastrogiacomo was released in a prisoner exchange, Sayed Agha was beheaded.

The Taleban's military rulebook, or Laheya, explicitly sanctions targeting and killing civilians. Rule 25 states that a teacher who continues to teach after warnings from the Taleban must be beaten, and if they still continue to teach “contrary to the principles of Islam”, they must be killed. Similarly, a Taleban ‘fatwa’, or religious edict, orders the death of anyone who supports the US-led intervention.

The report documents how violent attacks directed against the country’s education system increased dramatically during 2006. As well as missile and bomb attacks and arson, the Taleban have issued threats in the form of “night letters” - notes or posters pinned to trees, mosques or schools during the night, warning of attacks against teachers or students. In one such attack, on 9 December 2006, suspected Taleban insurgents broke into a house in Kunar province killing two sisters who were teachers, along with their mother, grandmother and a male relative. Parents in various regions are now reluctant to send their Children's rights to school, and the climate of fear is undermining the right to education of thousands of Children's rights, particularly girls.

The Taleban's stance towards civilians is far removed from its obligations under international law, which clearly forbids armed groups targeting civilians. A Taleban spokesperson interviewed by Amnesty International said that, “there is no difference between the armed people who are fighting against us and civilians who are co-operating with foreigners.”

Claudio Cordone, Senior Director for Research at Amnesty International, said:

“Afghan civilians are bearing the brunt of this conflict. They are caught in the fighting between the Taleban, Afghan government forces, US forces and forces from other NATO countries.

“But it is the Taleban who have a deliberate policy of targeting civilians - they kill teachers, abduct aid workers and burn school buildings.”

As well as deliberately attacking civilians, the Taleban have also killed or injured hundreds of people in indiscriminate attacks. At least 756 civilians were killed in 2006 in attacks using improvised explosive devices such as roadside bombs and in suicide attacks, according to UN and NATO figures.

In addition Amnesty International has received reports that in areas of Afghanistan they control, the Taleban are employing quasi-judicial bodies charged with dispensing “justice”. Few details about the nature of proceedings are known. The majority of people who come before such courts have been charged with “spying”, others with “murder” and “prostitution”. Many of those brought before such bodies have been abducted by the Taleban. In many cases death sentences have been issued and carried out.

Claudio Cordone continued:

“By using indiscriminate attacks such as suicide bombings in public places and by deliberately targeting civilian workers, the Taleban are committing war crimes. The fact that such attacks are widespread and carried out as part of Taleban policy also makes them crimes against humanity.”

Amnesty International recommends:

  • that the Taleban cease all attacks which target civilians
  • that the government of Afghanistan and foreign forces observe international humanitarian law and human rights law in their operations
  • that the government of Pakistan condemns all abuses by Taleban and uses its influence to urge such groups to stop abuses
  • that religious, community and diaspora leaders use their influence to urge Taleban not to commit abuses

Read a copy of the report Afghanistan - All who are not friends, are enemies: Taleban abuses against civilians

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