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Human Rights Watch Accuses Afghan Taliban of Forcibly Displacing Civilians

by Newsweek Pakistan

File Photo of Taliban militants. Aref Karimi—AFP

In statement, global rights watchdog says attacks targeting those who supported Afghan government in Kunduz are ‘ominous’ warning of future atrocities

Taliban militants in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province are forcibly displacing residents and burning homes in apparent retaliation for their cooperation with the Afghan government, Human Rights Watch warned on Wednesday, stressing this is an “ominous” warning for potential future atrocities.

“The Taliban’s retaliatory attacks against civilians deemed to have supported the government are an ominous warning about the risk of future atrocities,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Taliban leadership has the power to stop these abuses by their forces but haven’t shown that they are willing to do so,” she added.

Since May, the Taliban have captured scores of district centers across Afghanistan, including an estimated 150 districts in Kunduz and other northern provinces. According to HRW, residents of Bagh-e Sherkat in Kunduz said that Taliban forces—from June 21-25—ordered residents of the area to evacuate, threatening those they accused of supporting the Afghan government. “Taliban fighters looted and burned down homes,” it said, adding that the Taliban had defended their actions by claiming they had ordered people to leave “for their own safety.”

According to HRW, former residents of Bagh-e Sherkat told the watchdog that Taliban forces had entered their town and ordered all residents to vacate their homes within two hours. It said around 400 families had ended up fleeing. Among them was Sirajuddin, a 43-year-old elder, who claimed he was a target because he had helped feed the Afghan National Army in 2015. “We collected food and money for the soldiers. Now the Taliban say I have to leave because I helped the ANA,” he told the organization.

Sirajuddin claimed that shortly after the Taliban announcement in Bagh-e-Sherkat, some fighters had started searching homes and looting property. Other villagers claimed the Taliban had shot and killed two civilians over associations with the government, but this could not be independently verified.

Quoting another refugee, HRW said the 45-year-old woman had claimed she was told to leave her home for helping “the infidels” despite having lived in the same village for 20 years. “Now I am in Faizabad living in a tent,” she said.

Another victim, a 24-year-old woman, slammed the government for abandoning them to the Taliban. “The Taliban have burned our houses. We are so scared—both sides force us to help them. We are poor people—we don’t have any choice,” she said.

HRW has stressed that international humanitarian law “prohibits attacks on civilians and civilian property, including looting and burning,” adding that any deliberate attacks on civilians are war crimes. “The forced displacement of civilians is unlawful unless required for the security of the affected civilians or is absolutely necessary for military reasons,” it said. “Retaliatory attacks are a form of collective punishment and are also prohibited,” it said, adding that any Taliban commanders who were aware of abuses by their forces—or should have known about them—and took no action to prevent or stop them are culpable as a matter of command responsibility.

“Cycles of revenge have fueled atrocity killings in the past, particularly in northern Afghanistan,” Gossman said. “The Taliban should cease all attacks on civilians, and the United Nations and governments pushing for a resumption of peace negotiations should press them to do so,” she said.

The International Criminal Court is currently weighing whether to move forward on an investigation into war crimes and serious human rights abuses in Afghanistan by all parties to the conflict, including the Taliban. Last month, the Taliban published an order on Twitter calling all its “officials” to safeguard public property and “behave well with the general public.” Since then, they have retaken dozens of embattled districts, ramping up their efforts in the wake of the U.S. withdrawing the bulk of its forces from the country.

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