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Afghanistan: Taliban's 'collective punishment' of civilians in Panjshir province is a war crime - new investigation

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Video and eyewitness evidence shows widespread human rights abuses against civilians in Panjshir

Taliban’s crackdown - including mass arrests, torture and extra-judicial executions - comes after routed former Government forces fled to Panjshir

‘Thousands of people are being swept up in the Taliban’s continued oppression’ - Agnès Callamard

The Taliban have committed the war crime of collective punishment against civilians in Afghanistan’s Panjshir province, Amnesty International said in a major new report published today (8 June).

In its 40-page report - Your Sons Are In The Mountains’: The Collective Punishment of Civilians In Panjshir by the Taliban - Amnesty has documented serious international human rights and humanitarian law violations from the Taliban, including extrajudicial executions, torture, and mass arbitrary arrest and detention.

Based on interviews with 29 people from Panjshir Province as well as open-source investigations of social media material and detailed analysis of 61 photos and videos - some of which appeared online and some of which were privately provided to Amnesty by witnesses - Amnesty has been able to build up a chilling picture of the Taliban’s widespread human rights violations in the province. In some cases, the videos were likely to have been filmed by members of the Taliban themselves.

After the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August 2021, some members of the former Afghan government’s security forces fled to Panjshir with equipment and arms, joining the National Resistance Front. In response, the Taliban have retaliated against captured fighters and targeted the civilian population of Panjshir to force compliance and submission. During the ongoing crackdown, the Taliban have conducted village-wide arbitrary arrests of adult men and older boys, detaining them without charge and subjecting them to beatings and other abuse. They have also imposed a night-time curfew, seized civilian hom and restricted shepherds’ access to their traditional grazing lands.

While many of the Taliban’s individual actions constitute war crimes, the entirety of these - plus the additional arbitrary detentions and restrictions on the civilian population - also constitute the war crime of collective punishment.

Amnesty is calling on the Taliban authorities to fully investigate these abuses and, where warranted, to hold fair trials of the alleged perpetrators before ordinary civilian courts. However, as the Taliban have proven themselves neither willing nor able to conduct genuine investigations or fairly hold members of their forces to account, Amnesty is renewing its call on the United Nations Human Rights Council to create an independent international accountability mechanism with a focus on preserving evidence for future justice processes, including prosecutions.

On 25 May, Amnesty requested an official response from the Taliban to the cases documented in its report but at the time of publication the Taliban had not responded.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:

“In Panjshir, the Taliban’s cruel tactic of targeting civilians due to suspicion of their affiliation with the National Resistance Front is causing widespread misery and fear.

“The list of war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law committed by the Taliban in Panjshir is extensive: extrajudicial executions, torture, hostage-taking, unlawful detention and the torching of civilian homes. Each individual act is abhorrent, and this conduct in sum amounts to collective punishment - in itself, a war crime.

“Thousands of people are being swept up in the Taliban’s continued oppression, which is clearly intended to intimidate and punish. The Taliban’s deliberate targeting of civilians in Panjshir must stop immediately.

“Those who have faced atrocities in Panjshir - and indeed all victims of Taliban crimes committed in Afghanistan - deserve an end to impunity and a clear road to justice, truth and reparations.”

Mass extrajudicial executions caught on video

The report documents several cases of the Taliban carrying out mass extrajudicial executions of National Resistance Front fighters. In one case, at least six people - and possibly nine - were executed last September on a mountainside near Darea Hazara, which is part of Pochava village of Darah district. Amnesty’s Crisis Evidence Lab analysed and verified five videos depicting parts of the execution process. The first video shows members of the Taliban escorting six men with their hands bound behind their backs up a steep hillside. Interviewees identified all six as captured National Resistance Front fighters: Mohammad-u Din, Ishaq, Daniyar, Modir Ahmad, Amir Hatam and Mohammad Yar.

In subsequent videos, the detainees are blindfolded and armed members of the Taliban are positioned uphill, behind the detainees. The videos show several Taliban members firing their weapons for 19 seconds, killing five men and causing several of their bodies to fall downhill. At least five gunmen participate, using a combination of bolt-action rifles and fully-automatic Kalashnikovs, making the exact number of shots fired difficult to determine.

Based on the direction of the sunlight and shadows in the videos, the killings are likely to have happened in the hours soon after sunrise (5.30 am). While five people were clearly shot and killed on camera, a witness told Amnesty that a total of nine people were killed in this mass execution. Witnesses later named the three other victims as Feroz, Torabaz and Shah Faisal.

Unlawful detention, torture and other ill-treatment

In at least three cases, the Taliban tortured to death civilians they had arrested in the Bazarak and Rokha districts of Panjshir province. The men were farmers and cattle ranchers who were operating under traditional practices allowing for animals to be sent to the mountains during the summer, and believed they had permission from local Taliban officials to access areas set aside for this.

Two of the victims, Noor Mohammad and Ghulam Ishan, were residents of Darah district, and were tortured in Rokha district while in search of their cattle last October. The third man, Abdull Muneer Amini, was detained in his home district of Bazarak in June last year. Videos and photos taken after the three men’s bodies were recovered were shared on social media and privately with Amnesty. All three bodies showed extensive signs of torture, including severe bruising likely to have been caused by heavy beatings, according to an analysis of a forensic pathologist consulted by Amnesty.

The Taliban have also repeatedly arbitrarily arrested and detained civilian men and older boys in relation to their suspected affiliation with the National Resistance Front, with as many as 200 people detained at a time. These arrests largely occurred in Darah, Abshar and Khenj districts between last May and August, either during village-wide mass arrests or in the targeting of specific households where the Taliban suspected family members had joined the National Resistance Front.

The detention of family members to induce surrender by fighters amounts to hostage-taking and is a war crime. In some cases, those detained by the Taliban were held for months.

Need for accountability

The people of Afghanistan have endured crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations with little accountability, both before and after August 2021, and a lack of credible domestic infrastructure for accountability means that evidence of such crimes is at a serious risk of disappearing or being destroyed. Amnesty is calling on the UN Human Rights Council to establish an independent international accountability mechanism for Afghanistan, with a mandate to monitor and publicly report on the situation, and to collect and preserve evidence for future international justice procedures. Amnesty is also calling for the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan to be fully resourced, and for UN member states and the International Criminal Court to use such evidence to conduct full investigations into all parties to the conflict.

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