U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Afghanistan
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1997|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Afghanistan, 30 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa5428.html [accessed 31 August 2015]|
Respect for Human Rights
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial KillingCombatants sought to assassinate rival commanders and their sympathizers. The perpetrators of these assassinations and their motives were difficult to identify, as political motives are often entwined with family and tribal feuds, battles over the drug trade, religious zealotry, and personal vendettas. In February Kabul authorities vowed to investigate the murder of the wife and children of Dr. Salem Mohammed Zeray, a former Communist government minister, who were found dead in their Kabul home. All had had their throats cut. In its 1995 report on Afghanistan, Amnesty International (AI) stated that official investigators appointed by President Rabbani reportedly confirmed that there had been no signs of other injuries or of a robbery. No further information or outcome of the investigation was known. In March Abdul Ali Mazari, the leader of an anti-Rabbani Shi'a faction, was killed while in the custody of the Taliban. The Taliban carried out public executions of purportedly corrupt officials in certain areas they controlled. In March a mass grave with 22 bodies was found south of Kabul; 20 of the deceased were Shi'a Muslims of the Hazara ethnic minority. They apparently were killed execution style with their hands tied behind their backs and bullets fired into their heads. It was unclear who was responsible for the Shi'a deaths. In October Syed Mohammad Yousaf, a top Rabbani commander, was reportedly murdered as a result of internal strife within the Kabul coalition. Also in that month, Mamoor Ghayyur, former governor of northern Baghlan Province and Hezb-I-Islami member, and 15 others were ambushed and killed while travelling in Baghlan Province. Local press accounts suggested that NIM-allied General Jaffar Naderi ordered the assassination. In November Abdul Hakim Katawazi, retired Afghan general and Secretary General of the Council for Understanding and National Unity (CUNUA), was murdered outside his Peshawar office. Some members of CUNUA, a moderate political organization, favor a role for the former King of Afghanistan in a future Afghan government. The next day, Wakil Wazir Mohammad, a tribal elder and CUNUA supporter was shot and killed at his home in a Peshawar suburb. No suspects have been apprehended by local authorities in either case, although some suspect that the Kabul regime or radical Islamist Hekmatyar's faction was involved.
b. DisappearanceHostage-taking for ransom or political reasons was common. There were persistent, credible allegations of hostage taking for ransom in Kabul, reportedly by troops loyal to de facto Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Masood. In August the Taliban forced a Russian aircraft enroute to Kabul to land in Kandahar and found it to be carrying AK-47 ammunition headed for the Kabul regime. They held the Russian crew of seven in detention, but allowed ICRC delegates to visit them regularly. The Russian Government appealed to the Taliban to free the crew on humanitarian grounds but to no avail. The Taliban demanded an accounting of 60,000 Afghans who purportedly disappeared between 1978 and 1989; they believed some were still in the former Soviet Union. The Taliban gave Russian officials a list of 6,700 names about whom the Russians promised to seek information. As of year's end, the Russian crew had not been released. Groups in Russia listed nearly 300 Soviet soldiers who had served in Afghanistan as missing in action or prisoners of war. Most were thought to be dead or to have voluntarily assimilated into Afghan society. Some allegedly continued to be held against their will by their Afghan captors. The Ukrainian Government maintained that there are Ukrainian prisoners of war held in Afghan camps. There were unconfirmed but persistent reports of girls and young women throughout Afghanistan being kidnapped by local commanders. Some of the women were then forced to marry their kidnappers. Others simply remained missing. To avoid this situation, some families sent their daughters to Pakistan. There were also reports that women have been killed by their male relatives to prevent forced marriages (see Section 5).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or PunishmentArmed factions reportedly employed torture frequently to extract information from prisoners or to break their will. Inmates have been tortured to death. Various factions maintained prisons in territories under their control and established torture cells in them. According to a press report, prisoners in a Panjshir prison in the north, which was controlled by de facto Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Masood, were routinely beaten, kept awake at night, and fed insufficient and bad food. The U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Afghanistan visited a prison in Jalalabad in August. He described prison conditions as difficult; the prisoners were given no food. It was the responsibility of prisoners' relatives to provide food once a week. Those who had no relatives had to petition the local Shura or rely on other inmates. Prisoners live in collective cells. The Taliban ruled strictly in the southern and eastern provinces they controlled, establishing ad hoc and rudimentary judicial systems. As there was no functioning national judicial system, the Taliban imposed their own form of justice based on traditional Islamic laws and punishments. Murderers were subjected to public executions (see Section 1.a.) and thieves had one hand and one foot severed. In February the Taliban imposed for the first time in Afghanistan the punishment of amputation. Three Afghans convicted of highway robbery by an Islamic court in Lashkargah, Helmand province, each had a hand and a foot publicly amputated under local anesthesia; the operations were reportedly performed by doctors. Public amputation under similar conditions for the crime of theft reportedly was imposed by the Taliban Shari'a court in Ghazni province after the accused were caught attempting to rob a truck driver of goods valued at $280. There were also reports that amputations as punishment for severe crimes were carried out in other non-Taliban controlled areas.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or ExileWith the breakdown of law and order, justice was not administered according to formal legal codes and procedures in many localities. Little is known about procedures employed during the year for taking persons into custody and bringing them to trial. Presumably, practices varied considerably among the localities.
e. Denial of Fair Public TrialWith the collapse of a nationwide judicial system, many municipal and provincial authorities relied on some form of Shari'a (Islamic) law and traditional tribal codes of justice. However, little is known about the implementation of these precepts. The administration and implementation of justice varied from area to area, and could depend on the whims of the local commanders. Reportedly, one northern commander summarily executed, tortured, and meted out punishments without reference to any other authority. According to AI, in the first months of the year, dozens of prisoners received punishments, including execution and amputation, ordered by recently established Islamic courts in areas controlled by the Taliban. These courts reportedly were hearing cases, at times in sessions that lasted only a few minutes. Reportedly one such court in Kandahar usually consisted of four judges who gathered in a room or courtyard. Both witnesses and the accused were brought before the judges to recount testimony and plead their cases. Prisoners were often brought forward in shackles. The court reportedly dealt with all complaints, using traditional Islamic laws and punishments as well as traditional tribal customs (see Section 1.c.). In cases involving murder, convicted prisoners were generally ordered executed by relatives of the victim (see Section 1.a.), who could instead choose to accept blood money. Decisions of the courts were reportedly final. In Kandahar the Taliban executed two persons convicted of murder in early 1995. The sentences were handed down by a four-member Islamic court headed by Maulawi Sayed Mohammed. The executions were performed by the victims' next-of-kin using rifles. In May a former army officer of the Communist regime was executed in Shaikhabad (Wardak Province) after being convicted by a Taliban Islamic court for murdering two men several days earlier. A relative of one of the murdered men performed the public beheading with a sword. Reportedly, northern Pashtun tribes residing in nominally Dostam-controlled areas punished severe crimes by amputating hands. No firm estimate was available on the number of political prisoners, but a Pakistan-based human rights group estimated that well over 1,000 people were held as political prisoners or hostages by armed factions or independent commanders. According to an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) document issued in September, ICRC delegates had access to 2,829 detainees during the first 7 months of the year, 2,309 of whom were seen for the first time. Delegates made 83 visits to 43 places of detention during the same period.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or CorrespondenceIntrafactional fighting often resulted in the homes and businesses of civilians being invaded by the opposing forces--whether victor or loser. Armed gunmen acted with impunity given the absence of any legal protection from the law or a responsive police force. In March after capturing the Karte Seh district in southwestern Kabul from the Taliban and anti-Rabbani Shi'a forces, Masood's troops went on a rampage, systematically looting whole streets and raping women. In one case reported by Reuters, government troops broke a man's arms with shovels and beat his wife when he tried to stop them from looting his home. In February, after General Dostam's forces took the northern city of Kunduz, they engaged in widespread, systematic looting of the city, including homes, stores, and offices.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal ConflictsFighting for power in Kabul and the provinces continued among the armed factions, causing widespread destruction and indiscriminate killing. Command and control of armed men was often haphazard and informal, a condition that obscured the relationship between the perpetrators of human rights violations and the political leaders with whom they were nominally affiliated. The civil war intensified in February when the Taliban, a loose movement of Afghan religious students and former commanders, advanced to the outskirts of Kabul. They drove former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's forces out of southern Kabul and disarmed Shi'a forces allied with Hekmatyar. Rabbani's forces, however, repulsed the Taliban advance and the Taliban retreated to positions about 30 miles south of Kabul. Some of the worst human rights abuses occurred in southwestern Kabul in the wake of the retreating Taliban and Shi'a fighters--looting, rape, and detention of citizens. Many of the abuses were committed by pro-Rabbani forces. In November Taliban aircraft bombed residential areas of central Kabul, reportedly killing 39 people and wounding 140. An estimated 1,500 people died in violence in Kabul primarily during the fighting in March when Masood's forces consolidated power over the capital. In many cases civilian deaths were incidental to the military actions of the belligerents, but in some cases combatants deliberately targeted civilian areas. In March Taliban commanders reportedly admitted having fired rockets at Kabul during the intense fighting for the capital's southwestern sector. In August the Karte Seh section of Kabul, with a largely Hazara Shi'a population, came under rocket fire in two separate attacks resulting in the deaths of 18 people. The Taliban subsequently denied responsibility. In November and December, more than 150 people died in Kabul due to repeated rocketing, shelling, and high-altitude bombing of the city, reportedly by Taliban forces. The Taliban denied responsibility for civilian casualties, stating they were aiming at military targets. Civilian casualties also resulted from government counterattacks, air raids, and shelling on Taliban positions, particularly around Charasyab. At the beginning of the year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that there were approximately 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDP's) in camps near Jalalabad and as many as 200,000 living independently in and around Jalalabad city. By September the number remaining in the camps had fallen to approximately 164,000. Between 25,000 and 27,000 IDPs were reported to be living in camps in the north in Pul-i-Khumri, Mazar-i-Sharif, Shibergan, and Hairaton. A large number of Kabulis were also displaced within the city, but there were no reliable estimates as to how many. The Afghan countryside remained plagued by an estimated 10 million land mines sown during and since the Soviet occupation. With funding from international donors, the United Nations (U.N.) has organized and trained mine detection and clearance teams which operated throughout Afghanistan, and supported mine awareness programs for civilians. Nevertheless, the mines will pose a threat for years to come. The laying of new minefields by pro-Rabbani forces of Ismael Khan in Herat, by Ahmad Shah Masood around Kabul, and to lesser degree by General Dostam, has compounded the mine problem.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and PressThere are no laws effectively providing for freedom of speech and press, and the nominal government lacked the authority to protect these rights. Senior officials of various warring factions allegedly attempted to intimidate reporters and influence their reporting. The few newspapers, all of which were published only sporadically, were largely affiliated with different factions. There was a pro-Rabbani radio and television service in Kabul. The various regions had their own radio and television stations: former Prime Minister Hekmatyar has his own radio and television service near Kabul, as does General Dostam in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. The media in Herat came under Taliban control when they captured the city in September. International journalists in Kabul report that they were routinely pressured by the authorities to slant their coverage in favor of the Rabbani regime. In September the Taliban expelled from Herat a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) journalist because they believed his reporting had a pro-Rabbani tilt.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and AssociationCivil war conditions in Kabul and the tenuous security situation in much of the country effectively limited Afghans' freedom of assembly and association. The prohibition against non-Islamic political parties was reinforced by President Rabbani's call for Jihad, or holy war, against General Dostam and his followers. The President's backers do not view Dostam's movement as Islamic.
c. Freedom of ReligionAfghanistan's official name, the Islamic State of Afghanistan, reflects the country's adherence to Islam as the state religion. Some 85 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, with Shi'a Muslims comprising most of the remainder. The Shi'a minority number among the most economically disadvantaged people in Afghanistan. Some armed groups have been particularly brutal in fighting the Shi'a factions. In October Sunni Taliban forces reportedly seized the possessions of Shi'a families in the Nimroz capital of Zaranj and forced them to leave the city. The small number of non-Muslim residents in Afghanistan may practice their faith, but may not proselytize, according to an official source. The country's small Hindu and Sikh population, which once numbered about 50,000, continued to shrink as its members emigrated or took refuge abroad.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and RepatriationAlthough in principle citizens have the right to travel freely both inside and outside the country, their ability to travel within the country was hampered by warfare, brigandage, millions of undetected land mines, a road network in a state of disrepair, and limited domestic air service (complicated by factional threats to air traffic). Despite these obstacles many people continued to travel relatively freely with buses plying routes in most parts of the country. However, due to intermittent fighting in various areas, international aid agencies often found that their ability to travel, work and distribute assistance was hampered. International travel continued to be difficult as both General Dostam and the Taliban threatened to shoot down any planes that overflew the areas of Afghanistan they controlled without their permission. Afghans continued to form one of the world's largest refugee populations. According to the UNHCR, about 2.25 million Afghans remain abroad. Of these, 1.3 million are in Iran, 865,000 are in Pakistan, and 28,000 are in Russia. Approximately 19,000 Afghans reside in parts of the former Soviet Union other than Russia. Pakistan claimed an additional 500,000 unregistered Afghan refugees in its territory. Over 3.8 million Afghan refugees have been repatriated since 1988, with over 1.5 million returning to Afghanistan in the peak year of 1992. According to the UNHCR, more than 391,000 Afghans repatriated in 1995, 153,000 from Pakistan and 238,000 from Iran. In November the UNHCR border facility at Islam Qaleh reopened after a month's closure as the border with Iran was sealed due to hostilities in the area. According to the UNHCR, of the 100,000 to 120,000 Tajik refugees who fled to northern Afghanistan, only 18,000 remained in January; most were repatriated in 1994. From January to October, an additional 523 were repatriated. Tajiks repatriating from Sakhi camp, in areas under the control of General Dostam, were able to repatriate freely. Those in and around Kunduz, in areas controlled by pro-Rabbani forces, were more restricted by local authorities and less accessible to the UNHCR. Pressures from the Tajik opposition limited repatriation as well.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their GovernmentThe continuing violent struggle for political power among the three major armed factions (including the nominal Government) precluded citizens from changing their government or form of government peacefully and democratically. The authorities in Kabul, nominally a coalition headed by President Burhanuddin Rabbani, remained in power with the military backing of de facto Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Masood. In March Nabi Mohammadi's Movement of the Islamic Revolution, one of the small coalition parties, resigned from the Government, leaving only 2 of the 9 original political parties of the coalition government which was established in 1993. The Kabul regime controlled only the capital and 4 or 5 of Afghanistan's 32 provinces. General Dostam's forces controlled several northern provinces, and the Taliban movement held sway in at least 16 provinces in southern, central, and western Afghanistan. Three eastern provinces were ruled by a neutral governor. In most areas, the local Shura or Council was the most influential governing body. In November President Rabbani told Mahmoud Mestiri, the U.N. Special Envoy for Afghanistan, that he was willing to transfer power to a 28- member interim council, comprised largely of pro-Rabbani elements--an offer rejected by the Taliban. Despite the determined efforts of the U.N. Special Mission to get the factions to agree to a cease-fire and an interim governing mechanism, no such agreement has emerged. The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) also tried to bring the Afghan factions together. After the fall of Herat to the Taliban in early September, the U.N. and the OIC renewed their separate efforts to unite the factions. Efforts were under way at year's end to promote greater cooperation--both military and political--among all the opposition factions to oust Rabbani from power, but these were not successful. Public response to Taliban rule in Herat was reserved. In other areas, the populace long-wearied by the disorder caused by unrelenting fighting, welcomed the Taliban, who disarmed the warlords, restored some law and order, and halted the practice of frequent road tolls. Some Afghans expressed support for the return of the former king, Zahir Shah in some transitional arrangement. Although women in Afghanistan tended to be denied significant roles in public life, greater freedom in Kabul and in northern and western Afghanistan provided some limited respite from these traditional strictures. For example, a few women served as desk officers in the Kabul regime's Foreign Ministry, in the Protocol Department, as doctors at hospitals, and as administrators at Kabul University. The U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Afghanistan noted a high level of female involvement, especially in areas of medical care and education.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human RightsThe Afghan League of Human Rights operated outside of the country in Pakistan; it produced its annual report there. The Cooperation Center for Afghanistan is an Afghan nongovernmental organization (NGO) which operated in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. It produced in Peshawar a monthly newsletter on the Afghan human rights situation. The civil war and lack of security made it difficult for human rights organizations to monitor the situation inside the country. In November two representatives from Human Rights Watch visited 4 Tajik refugee camps, 3 in Masood-controlled Takhar and Kunduz provinces and one near Mazar-I- Sharif in Dostam-controlled Balkh province. In May a new U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Afghanistan was appointed following the death of the previous rapporteur. In August Dr. Choong-Hyun Paik visited Kabul, Jalalabad, Mazur-I-Sharif, and Islamabad and Peshawar in Pakistan to discuss the human rights situation with officials, political leaders, NGO's, refugees, ordinary families, and others. In October he submitted his report to the U.N. Dr. Paik concluded that "human suffering of considerable gravity persists in the form of murder, disappearances, and infliction of conditions that cause physical destruction, thus depriving people of fundamental human rights such as the right to life, the right to be free from torture, and the right to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social StatusThere are no Constitutional provisions which prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, religion, disability, language, or social status. It is not known whether specific laws prohibit discrimination; local custom and practices generally prevail. Discrimination against women varies from area to area, depending on the local leadership's attitude towards work and education for women. Traditionally, the minority Shi'a faced discrimination from the majority Sunni population. There was more acceptance of the disabled as the number of people maimed by landmines increased.
WomenAs lawlessness and inter-factional fighting continued, beatings, rapes, and the killing of women continued to occur. In January 13 armed gunmen said to be affiliated with Hekmatyar's faction, reportedly attacked a Tajik refugee camp near the town of Kunduz in the north. They raped 13 Tajik women before killing them. In March when Masood's troops captured the Karte Seh district of Kabul, they reportedly engaged in widespread rape. Medical workers said that they knew of at least 6 rapes and 2 attempted rapes. Social taboos against revealing rapes are so strong that it is impossible to know how many rape victims there actually were. Afghan custom and tradition imposes limits on women's activities beyond the home. Under the Communist regime of the 1980's, a growing number of women, particularly in urban areas, worked outside the home in nontraditional roles. This trend was reversed when the Communists were ousted in 1992, and in 1995 women were increasingly precluded from public service, although some women continued to work as teachers and nurses in some areas. In conservative areas, many women appeared in public only if dressed in a burkha (an all-encompassing head-to-toe garment with a mesh veil for the face). In late 1994, when the Taliban movement began to take control of provinces in the southwest, they banned the employment of women and prohibited girls from attending school. A strict dress code for women was also enforced. In September, when the Taliban captured Herat, a key provincial capital in the west, the movement again banned female employment and female school attendance. UNICEF publicly called on the Taliban to rescind these decisions. A UNICEF spokesperson said that local authorities did not allow women to work in public positions, except for health care workers. Schools were reopened, but female teachers and girls were not allowed to enter the schools. An Afghan woman in Herat employed by UNICEF was not allowed to return to her job. UN programs for women and girls were also suspended. However, Taliban authorities in Kandahar assured a high ranking U.N. visitor that education for girls would be permitted within an (undefined) Islamic framework. The World Health Organization (WHO) was given permission to open a nursing school for women in Kandahar and was actively recruiting students. In April the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan (UNOCHA) canceled a donor visit to Kandahar province because the Taliban-controlled Shura (Governing Council) refused to meet with female diplomats and insisted that they wear a burkha to visit project sites. This was the first time that female diplomats encountered difficulties visiting Afghanistan based on their gender. Several weeks later, female diplomats were permitted to visit Kandahar, as long as their heads were covered, and they did meet with local authorities. In June the Nangarhar Shura reinforced its ban on women working in Jalalabad City, and ordered all female employees except girls' teachers and female health professionals sent home. Female employees of the provincial government, except teachers, have been at home since October 1994. A national women's conference was held in Kabul in July which discussed women's issues and planned for the Beijing Conference on Women. In August the Rabbani government canceled at the last minute its delegation's participation at the conference on the grounds that its agenda was anti-Islamic and a threat to Afghan religious and cultural traditions. However, about 10 Afghan women from Europe and elsewhere attended the NGO forum held concurrently with the Beijing conference.
ChildrenLocal administrative bodies and international assistance organizations undertook to look out for children's welfare to the extent possible. A nutritional survey by aid agencies showed that 40 percent of the children of Kabul suffered from malnutrition. The general disruption of health services countrywide due to the civil war put many young people at grave risk. Local authorities in all parts of Afghanistan have supported UNICEF/WHO mass vaccination campaigns. The disruption of education due to the fighting throughout Afghanistan has caused a generation of school children to miss all of their schooling, reportedly raising illiteracy levels above 75 percent.
People with DisabilitiesIt was not known whether the nominal Government took any measures to protect the rights of the mentally and physically disabled or to mandate accessibility for them. Victims of land mines were a major focus of international humanitarian relief organizations, which devoted resources to providing prostheses, medical treatment, and rehabilitation therapy to amputees. There was more public acceptance of people with disabilities because of the prevalence of the maimed due to landmines. The U.N. Development Program conducted a million dollar project to strengthen comprehensive community-based rehabilitation services for disabled Afghans. The ICRC and some NGO's were actively involved in programs for people with disabilities throughout Afghanistan.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of AssociationLittle was known about labor laws and practices in Afghanistan. There were no reports of labor rallies or strikes. Labor rights were not defined, in the context of the breakdown of governmental authority, and there was no effective central authority to enforce them. Many of Kabul's industrial workers were unemployed due to the destruction or abandonment of the city's minuscule manufacturing base.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain CollectivelyAfghanistan lacks a tradition of genuine labor-management bargaining. There were no known labor courts or other mechanisms for resolving labor disputes.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory LaborNo information was available on government edicts regarding forced or compulsory labor. There were no confirmed reports of alleged forced- work road projects.
d. Minimum Age or Employment of ChildrenThere was no evidence that the Government was able to enforce labor laws, if they existed, relating to the employment of children.
e. Acceptable Conditions of WorkThere was no available information regarding a statutory minimum wage or the enforcement of safe labor practices. Many workers were apparently allotted time off regularly for prayers and observance of religious holidays.
* The American Embassy in Kabul has been closed for security reasons since January, 1989. Information on the human rights situation is therefore limited.