- Civilians targeted with torture and unlawful killings; detainees subjected to extrajudicial executions
- Mass arbitrary arrests and detention intended to intimidate local population
- “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 new report published today.
The report, ‘Your Sons Are In The Mountains’: The Collective Punishment of Civilians In Panjshir by the Taliban, documents serious international human rights and humanitarian law violations, including extrajudicial executions, torture, and mass arbitrary arrest and detention.
After the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August 2021, members of the security forces of the former Afghan government fled to Panjshir with equipment and arms, and joined the National Resistance Front (NRF). In response, the Taliban have retaliated against captured fighters, and targeted the civilian population in Panjshir to force compliance and submission.
“In Panjshir, the Taliban’s cruel tactic of targeting civilians due to suspicion of their affiliation with the NRF is causing widespread misery and fear,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“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.”
During the ongoing crackdown, the Taliban have conducted village-wide arbitrary arrests of all adult men and older boys, detained them without charge, and subjected them to beatings and other abuse. They have also imposed the only night-time curfew in all of Afghanistan, seized civilian homes, and restricted shepherds’ access to their traditional grazing lands.
While many of the acts taken by Taliban forces individually constitute war crimes, the entirety of those acts – plus the additional arbitrary detentions and restrictions on the civilian population – also constitute the war crime of collective punishment.
Amnesty International is calling on the Taliban authorities to investigate the cases documented, and hold fair trials before ordinary civilian courts where warranted. However, as the Taliban have been neither willing nor able to conduct genuine investigations or hold any members of their forces to account in fair trials, Amnesty International is renewing its call for 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 as well as public reporting and monitoring.
Mass extrajudicial executions
The report documents several cases of mass extrajudicial executions of NRF fighters by the Taliban. In one case, at least six people – and possibly nine – were executed in September 2022 on a mountainside near Darea Hazara, which is part of Pochava village of Darah district.
Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab analyzed 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 fighters in the NRF: Mohammad-u Din, Ishaq, Daniyar, Modir Ahmad, Amir Hatam, and Mohammad Yar.
In the subsequent videos, the detainees’ eyes are covered with blindfolds, 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 likely happened in the hours soon after the 5.30am sunrise. While five people were visibly shot and killed on camera, a witness told Amnesty International 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 rules that allowed for animals to be sent to the mountains in summer. They 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 in October 2022. The third man, Abdull Muneer Amini, was detained in his home district of Bazarak in June 2022. Videos and photos taken after their bodies were recovered were shared on social media and privately with Amnesty International. All three bodies showed extensive signs of torture, including severe bruising likely caused by heavy beatings, according to the analysis of a forensic pathologist consulted by Amnesty International.
The Taliban have also repeatedly arbitrarily arrested and detained civilian men and older boys over their suspected affiliation with the NRF. As many as 200 people have been detained at a time. These arrests largely occurred in Darah, Abshar, and Khenj districts between May and August 2022, either during village-wide mass arrests in certain locations, or in targeting specific households where the Taliban suspect family members have joined the NRF.
The detention of family members to induce surrender by fighters amounts to hostage-taking, and is a war crime. Detainees remained in Taliban custody for various lengths of time, ranging from hours to months.
In one case in Darah district, a man said the Taliban arrested his father from his village in June 2022, in an attempt to find the man and his brothers, whom the Taliban suspected had joined the NRF.
The man told Amnesty International: “[The Taliban] had taken my father by 1pm… He was taken to the mosque, and there they unbound his blindfold… They made him sit on a mattress… There they began questioning [him], ‘Where are your sons? It is said that your sons are in the mountains’.”
Arresting family members of suspected NRF fighters, the mass arrest and detention of civilians, and the torture and unlawful killings of the shepherds are further examples of the Taliban’s campaign of collective punishment against civilians in Panjshir. Other Taliban tactics of intimidation documented in the report include the destruction and long-term seizure of civilian property, and placing restrictions on civilian movements.
Need for accountability
The people of Afghanistan have endured crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations and abuses with little accountability, both before and after August 2021. The lack of credible domestic infrastructure for accountability means that evidence of such crimes is at a serious risk of disappearing or being destroyed.
Amnesty International is again 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. Amnesty International 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.
“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,” said Agnès Callamard.
“The creation of an independent international accountability mechanism is essential, with a focus on the collection and preservation of evidence to hold all those suspected of criminal responsibility accountable.”
Amnesty International interviewed 29 people from Panjshir for the report. In all cases, interviewees requested that their names were not used, amid fear of reprisals from the Taliban.
Amnesty International completed open-source investigations of available social media material, and analysed 61 photos and videos, some of which appeared online and some of which were privately provided by witnesses via secure transfer. Many of the videos were likely filmed by members of the Taliban.
On 25 May 2023, Amnesty International requested an official response from the Taliban to the cases documented in the report. At the time of publication, the Taliban had not responded.