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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Afghanistan

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Afghanistan, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 1 June 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The political situation in Afghanistan in 1993 was characterized by the absence of effective central authority and an ongoing civil war among contending political factions. Governmental functions, where they were performed at all, were split between a fragmented central Government and several warring factions and regional councils which attempted – with mixed success – to establish some local civil administration. In March leaders of nine major political groups met in Islamabad, Pakistan and agreed, under the terms of the Islamabad Accords, to participate in a transitional grand coalition until elections could be held. Fighting among various groups continued, however, and in May the factional leaders reconvened in Jalalabad and agreed on how the transition was to be implemented. The terms of these Accords have not been fully met and, despite the drafting of an interim set of constitutional principles and inconclusive discussions about elections, intermittent fighting and a general political stalemate continued in Kabul.

No formal internal security apparatus has been established by the coalition Government. The unstable political situation, exacerbated by the presence of well-armed party militias in the capital, has produced an array of regional security bodies, many of which frequently operate independently of both party authorities and the fractious central Government.

The Afghan economy is based on agriculture, with land tenure in the hands of individuals or family/tribal groups and with some land remaining under feudal control of the traditional Khans. The collapse of irrigation systems, deterioration of market roads, and the danger of millions of unmarked land mines have seriously impeded agricultural production. Small-scale commerce, manufacturing, and mining activities also exist.

In the volatile and tense political environment of 1993, human rights were routinely violated on a large scale. The country had no constitution, national judicial system, or effective central government. Observance of human rights varied greatly from place to place, depending on the character of the local commander and his relationship with the local populace.

Throughout much of the country, there was a continued absence of the rule of law. While conditions approaching near normalcy returned to parts of the north, central, and western regions, Kabul was wracked by intermittently heavy fighting and widespread human rights abuses. Forces loyal to various factions represented in the coalition Government rocketed and shelled the capital in battles that left an estimated 18,000 people, mostly civilians, dead or wounded. Gunmen are said to have engaged in looting, rape, and murder of civilians in the ongoing struggle to control the capital.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Thousands of Afghans, including specific individuals targeted for assassination, died in 1993 during the course of the civil conflict. Perpetrators and motives were difficult to identify in most cases, as political motives were often entwined with family and tribal feuds, battles over drug turf, religious zealotry, and personal vendettas.

Intense factional fighting in Kabul in February was marked by reported excesses, even atrocities, attributed to both Hezb-i-Wahdat fighters and the Ittehad-i-Islami/Shura-i-Nazar alliance. These reports included incidents of mass rape, abduction, and the torture and murder of both combatant prisoners and civilians. In February, according to press reports, approximately 60 women were seized by armed men, held in the Institute of Social Sciences in Kabul, raped, and killed. Also in February, four U.N. employees were murdered near the city of Jalalabad. Neither the motive nor identity of the killers was discovered. In July in Nangarhar province, a local group, calling itself "The Oppressed" and supported by members of the former Communist regime, was attacked by other factions, including men loyal to Shomali Khan, a member of the Nangarhar Provincial Council. At least a dozen members of The Oppressed were captured and summarily executed. In September Shomali Khan was himself killed, along with four bodyguards and some 20 bystanders, in a hail of bullets and rockets in Jalalabad. Shortly afterward, Nasir Khan, Shomali Khan's brother, was detained by a rival faction commander, allegedly tortured, and killed while in custody. Also in September, Mansur Nadiri, a leader of the minority Ismaili sect, reportedly escaped an assassination attempt in Kabul that killed a number of his bodyguards, and Yunis Qanuni, political director in the Ministry of Defense, was seriously wounded when a bomb concealed in a vendor's cart exploded as his car passed nearby. None of the perpetrators was apprehended.

Convicted murderers were summarily shot after Shari'a court trials in Kunar, Kabul, and Nangarhar provinces. There were also reports of instances in which relatives of a murder victim were allowed by local commanders to "slaughter" the convicted murderer, using a knife, in a so-called "qisas" (revenge) ritual. In one well-publicized case in northern Helmand province, the wife of a murder victim carried out the sentence; this was believed to be the first case of a "qisas" killing by a woman.

b. Disappearance

Hostage taking was again common in 1993, particularly during the outbursts of heavy fighting in Kabul in January, February, and May. The Government was unable or unwilling to bring an end to this practice. An American citizen of Afghan origin and several dozen Soviet prisoners of war who disappeared during the Soviet-Afghan conflict remained unaccounted for.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There were numerous unconfirmed reports that ill-treatment and torture were used to extract information from prisoners being held by feuding political factions.

Traditional laws and punishments were often invoked in the absence of a functioning judicial system. These punishments traditionally include the amputation of hands and feet for those convicted of theft. International press reports suggest that women were frequently abused and often raped by fighters from the various warring factions, especially in Kabul.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Informed observers agree that the rule of law has broken down in most of Afghanistan. Justice is administered locally without reference to any clear central legal system. Little is known about legal protection under current conditions, and it is doubtful that any uniform procedures exist for taking persons into custody and bringing them to trial.

The factions that form the coalition Government and independent local commanders are believed to hold up to 1,300 opponents or hostages in private prisons.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

With the widespread breakdown of the judicial system, little was known about the administration of justice in 1993, although some municipalities and provincial authorities were known to have held public trials. Various leaders of the national political parties strongly back the imposition of Shari'a, or Islamic law, and it appeared that many local and provincial legal procedures were based on Islamic juridical precepts. Traditional tribal procedures also play a prominent role in the judicial process in some parts of Afghanistan; in many instances it is likely that these procedures do not accord with the protection of a fair public trial envisioned by international human rights standards.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

During periods of intense fighting in Kabul, there were many instances of looting, forced entry of homes, and other forms of arbitrary interference by members of factions contending for control of the capital.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

Five major factions, aligned in two loose coalitions, fought over Kabul, wreaking widespread destruction and causing many deaths.

Despite Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's denials, credible reports indicate his Hezb-i-Islami faction fired numerous rockets at the capital, frequently demolishing residential or commercial districts of no discernible military value. Artillery, tank cannon fire, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and automatic weapons were employed regularly and indiscriminately in Kabul in the low-intensity fighting.

In February gunmen affiliated with Abdul Rasul Sayyaf's Ittehad-i Islami group and those of former Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Masood's Shura-i-Nazar seized the largely Shi'a neighborhood of Afshar from the rival Shi'a Wahdat militia. On February 11th and 12th, armed men rampaged through the quarter, raping, looting, and killing civilians. One eyewitness reported to an Afghan media source that he had seen an elderly Shi'a man nailed to a tree and then shot in the head. An Afghan human rights organization reported that marauding militiamen chopped off limbs and slit the throats of civilians with bayonets. Estimates of civilians mutilated, killed, or raped in Afshar ranged from several dozen to over a thousand.

There were indications that armed factions were dragooning civilians to serve as porters or trench-diggers. In Baghlan Province, one organization allegedly forcibly conscripted a member from each family in the area to serve in its militia.

Millions of land mines sown by Soviet, regime, or resistance forces remain scattered around fortifications and roads and in the countryside. There is a U.N.-sponsored program to detect and remove mines, but the devices will pose a significant hazard to civilians for years to come.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedoms of speech and press are not guaranteed, and in practice the Government lacks the authority to protect them.

A number of daily and weekly newspapers are published in Afghanistan; they are generally under the control of the central or regional government or are organs of one of the political parties. The government-owned radio and television services were under the control of President Burhanuddin Rabbani's Jamiat-i-Islami party, but air time was occasionally granted to other groups. Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and National Islamic Movement leader General Abdul Rashid Dostam periodically broadcast radio and television programs from their own facilities.

In August AfghaNews reported that Prime Minister Hekmatyar sought to dissuade Kabul Radio from reporting rocket attacks on the city and sought reprisals against local journalists who wrote unflattering articles about him.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

In the current unsettled conditions, Afghans have a bewildering array of political groups with which they are free to associate. However, the prohibition against non-Islamic political parties remains in effect. Peaceful assembly was limited in practical terms by the dangerous security conditions in Kabul but was practiced elsewhere. Public mass demonstrations were occasionally held; in August several thousand people affiliated with a number of Afghan parties reportedly demonstrated without interference in the northern city of Taloqan against alleged Russian and Tajikistani bombardment of Afghan villages in reprisal for cross-border raids by insurgents opposed to the Government of Tajikistan.

c. Freedom of Religion

Approximately 85 percent of Afghanistan's population is Sunni Muslim. Islam is the state religion, as enshrined in the official name of the country, the Islamic State of Afghanistan. In September the draft constitutional principles prepared under the auspices of President Rabbani declared the Hanafi (Sunni) rite as the basis of the State's Islamic foundation. The minority Shi'a community strongly objected, and the Shi'a Wahdat militia reportedly responded by attacking Abdul Rasul Sayyaf's religiously conservative Sunni forces.

Non-Muslims resident in Afghanistan may practice their faith, but may not proselytize, according to an official Afghan source. The country's small Sikh and Hindu communities, once totaling some 50,000, continued to dwindle as their members emigrated or became refugees in the wake of the intense religious violence to which they were subjected in some urban areas following the destruction of the Ayodya mosque in India in December 1992. There were scattered reports that zairats, shrines of Sufi Muslim orders, and some pre-Islamic funereal totems in Nuristan were also being vandalized.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Afghans were able to travel with relative freedom, both within and across the country's borders. However, travel was restricted by the deterioration of the national road network, the millions of undetected land mines, brigandage, and the unsettled political situation. Quasi-authorized checkpoints extracted tolls in cash or kind from travelers. Ethnic tensions limited the ability of some groups to travel safely through areas controlled by other groups. This made repatriation of Afghans who had fled to Pakistan and Iran difficult or, for some, impossible.

As a result of 15 years of fighting, Afghans form the world's largest refugee population, comprised predominantly of women and children. The high rates of return in 1992, when 1.4 million Afghans repatriated from Pakistan and Iran, fell sharply in 1993. Approximately 600,000 refugees returned to Afghanistan in 1993, two-thirds of them from Iran. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Government of Pakistan, in late 1993 there were 1.46 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. In addition, roughly 2 million Afghan refugees remained in Iran.

During 1993 approximately 60,000 Tajiks, fleeing civil conflict in Tajikistan, sought refuge in Afghanistan. In December some 40,000 Tajik refugees remained encamped in northern Afghanistan. Threats from militant extremist groups, who wished to manipulate both the refugees and international organizations for their own ends, kept the UNHCR and other international organizations from working with about half of this large refugee population.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

In the absence of a functioning central authority, citizens did not, in 1993, have the ability to change their government through peaceful, democratic means. The Grand Council convoked by President Rabbani in late 1992, which unilaterally extended his tenure for 2 years, was not regarded as legitimate by other political factions. After severe fighting broke out in January and February, the leaders of nine rival factions met in Islamabad, Pakistan, in March and agreed to form a transitional grand coalition until elections could be held. The Islamabad Accords were derailed in May by another outburst of fighting among the signatory groups over details of their implementation. The faction leaders reconvened in Jalalabad, where in late May they signed the Jalalabad Accords, agreeing to a mechanism for forming a transitional government. The two key elements of the Jalalabad Accords were an agreement to hold a council of commanders to choose Ministers of Defense and Interior, and the collection of heavy weapons by these authorities prior to national elections. However, these key stipulations had not been implemented by the end of the year.

In September President Rabbani appointed a 44-member commission to draft an interim set of constitutional principles. This document was rejected by two Shi'a parties and other leaders who objected to its contents on religious grounds or viewed the process itself as illegitimate. Prime Minister Hekmatyar and others pressed for early national elections to overcome the political stalemate, but political infighting prevented progress on this issue as well.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are no known local human rights groups in Afghanistan, and the unsettled conditions in Kabul made it difficult for any human rights organizations to effectively monitor human rights issues.

The U.N.'s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Afghanistan visited Kabul in September. He met with senior Afghan officials and others and issued a report of his findings in November. The International Committee of the Red Cross was allowed to begin prison visits late in the year, in addition to continuing to provide medical services in Kabul and several provincial capitals. The Afghan League of Human Rights, based in Peshawar, Pakistan, issued a report in July condemning human rights abuses in Afghanistan. The organizer of the League reported that he subsequently became the target of threats from parties criticized in the report.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status


The participation of women in activities beyond the home and fields is limited by longstanding customs and religious beliefs. The Communist regime in the 1980's officially sanctioned a wider public role for women, whose status improved, particularly in urban areas, as they began to move, particularly in urban areas, into nontraditional occupations. However, the Mujaheddin victory over the Communist regime prompted a return to more traditional roles for women, largely restricted to the home or to all-female environments such as teaching in girls schools or working in female health clinics. Reports by travelers to Kabul in late 1993 indicated that some female newscasters had returned to Afghan television, although they were apparently subject to a strict, conservative Islamic dress code.


In the absence of an effective central authority in Kabul, it is not possible to assess the Government's commitment to the human rights and welfare of children. Various provincial and national governmental agencies, frequently in conjunction with international voluntary organizations, the United Nations, and bilateral donors made some efforts to address the most pressing social welfare needs of children, particularly in education and health care.

People with Disabilities

The mentally and physically disabled suffered as a result of the anarchic situation existing in much of the country. The international media reported that residents of Kabul's 600-bed Marastun home for the blind, destitute, and mentally ill were abandoned by the staff in January as the security situation deteriorated. Many of the patients wandered away amid the fighting, other stayed and lived unattended and largely unfed, more than a dozen were killed in crossfire or rocket attacks, and a number of mentally ill women were reportedly raped by gunmen who repeatedly broke into the home.

There is no information indicating whether the Government has enacted legislation mandating provision of accessibility for the disabled. Available evidence indicates a large portion of health care activity of international humanitarian relief organizations focused on providing prostheses and therapy to victims of land mines.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

There was little reliable reporting on labor laws and practices. No labor rallies or strikes were reported. The Government does not have the means to enforce worker rights at present, nor is there a functional constitutional or legal framework that defines and protects them.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

There is no tradition of genuine labor-management bargaining in Afghanistan. There is no information on any progress in establishing labor courts and other mechanisms for the resolution of disputes.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

No information is available on government edicts regarding forced or compulsory labor.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

There is no evidence that the Government enforces a labor law relating to the employment of children.

e.Acceptable Conditions of Work

No information on any statutory minimum wage is available. Provision appears to be made for time off for prayers and observance of religious holidays. There appear to be no effective enforcement mechanisms to ensure fair and safe labor practices.

[1]* Since the staff of the American Embassy in Kabul was withdrawn for security reasons in 1989, the United States has no official presence in Afghanistan. This report therefore draws to a large extent on non-U.S. government sources.

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