Human rights in afghanistan: the legacy of impunity

A new Human Rights Watch report documents human rights abuses. The new generation of actors is under Western protection.

Afghan police: representatives of the rule of law or stooges of brutal local rulers? Image: ap

In a report released Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) details how Afghan rulers, who are supposed to be democratic, continue to commit massive human rights violations and war crimes after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. According to HRW, this is a new generation of actors.

Unlike the warlords of the 1990s and the communist generals of the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, some of today’s rulers acted in direct collusion with Western military and intelligence services.

The report sees a main cause for this in the "legacy of impunity." Crimes committed in earlier phases of the 35-year war were never prosecuted. Instead, many of those responsible became allies of the West and the Karzai government, which was in power until 2014, in the fight against the Taliban. In 2008, ex-warlords, ex-communists, and even some ex-Taliban had passed a self-amnesty in the Kabul parliament. According to HRW, Western governments have favored "short-term military solutions" over human rights considerations.

The examples in the report show a cross-section of the range of regular and irregular forces that have been built up under U.S. leadership to counter the Taliban.

Arbitrary shootings

For example, Commander Azizullah from the southeastern province of Paktika, who is accused of arbitrary shootings of civilians, including children, started his career as the head of an irregular militia. That, along with CIA forces, hunted insurgents. An Afghan analyst who knows Azizullah’s region well described the actions of such forces to the site: "They are not controlled by anyone, don’t hand over prisoners, but make them disappear."

Assadullah Chalid became intelligence chief in 2012, despite testimony by Canadian diplomats in Ottawa’s parliament in 2009 that he personally tortured Taliban suspects. He is also accused of sexual violence in several cases. Two of those implicated by HRW also cooperated with German actors.

Mir Alam, an ex-mujahideen commander from northern Afghanistan, controls an entire network of police and militia units, although he has not held an official position since 2007. Militias affiliated with him are said to have received help from the Bundeswehr, although the latter denies this. In 2012, one of them perpetrated a massacre of civilians in the village of Konam-i-Kalan in Kunduz province.

Even more prominent is provincial governor Atta Mohammad in northern Mazar-i-Sharif, where the headquarters of the German-led regional command of the new NATO mission Resolute Support is located. Commanders under his command are said to have maintained kidnapping rings within the police force and to be responsible for a number of murders.

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