Taleban's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar, recognized as a government by three countries.
Anti-Taleban alliance's Islamic State of Afghanistan, headed by Burhanuddin Rabbani, recognized as a government by other governments and the UN
Capital: Kabul
Population: 23.7 million
Official languages: Dari, Pushtu
Death penalty: retentionist

Human rights abuses by the warring factions against members of rival ethnic groups occurred throughout 1999. Taleban forces burned homes, destroyed orchards, wheat fields and irrigation systems and forcibly displaced more than 100,000 mainly Tajik people. The UN imposed financial and aviation sanctions on the Taleban for not surrendering Osama bin Laden to stand trial for his alleged involvement in US embassy bombings in August 1998. Women, children, human rights defenders, members of ethnic groups, people accused of homosexual activity, and refugees were systematically targeted by the Taleban and other warring factions on the basis of their identity. Taleban courts imposed sentences of death, amputation and flogging after apparently unfair trials.


Hopes for a peaceful settlement of the conflict were dashed when military action by the Taleban escalated in August. In October, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy, suspended his activities saying the new fighting had undermined his peace efforts. Neighbouring countries continued to support their favoured warring factions, promoting shared ethnic or religious interests, but denied reports of military involvement in, or transfer of weapons to, Afghanistan.

UN sanctions

In October a UN Security Council resolution called on the Taleban to "cease the provision of sanctuary and training for international terrorists and cooperate with efforts to bring indicted terrorists to justice". It gave the Taleban one month to "turn over Osama bin Laden without further delay to appropriate authorities in a country where he has been indicted, or to appropriate authorities in a country where he will be returned to such a country, or to appropriate authorities in a country where he will be arrested and effectively brought to justice". The Taleban did not comply and on 14 November the Security Council imposed sanctions requiring all states to "deny permission for any aircraft to take off from or land in their territory if it is owned, leased or operated by or on behalf of the Taliban... unless the particular flight has been approved in advance by [a monitoring] Committee on the grounds of humanitarian need, including religious obligation such as the performance of the Hajj", and to "freeze funds and other financial resources, including funds derived or generated from property owned or controlled directly or indirectly by the Taliban except as may be authorized by the Committee on a case-by-case basis on the grounds of humanitarian need".

Ethnic tension and forced displacement

Some minority groups continued to face harassment. According to reports, at Taleban checkpoints, non-Pushtun travellers could frequently only proceed at the behest of fellow Pushtun travellers or on payment of a bribe.

In August the Taleban systematically burned the houses and crops and destroyed the agricultural infrastructure of Tajik civilians living in areas north of Kabul as part of a policy of forcible displacement. Hundreds of children and young men were reportedly recruited by the Taleban from destitute families in Kabul and elsewhere to cut Tajik-owned vine trees and to seal their irrigation tunnels.

Among the tens of thousands of Tajiks from the Shamali plains forcibly displaced in August were some 8,000 children, women and elderly men reportedly separated by the Taleban from their male relatives and sent to the deserted Sarshahi camp near Jalalabad where they were effectively held prisoner by Taleban guards. Following international concern about their situation, the Taleban moved them to the bombed-out former Russian embassy in Kabul.

Tens of thousands of Tajik families who fled to the Panjshir valley received meagre assistance from the international community until late November when the Taleban agreed to the despatch of UN humanitarian aid from Kabul.

Systematic killings and house burnings in Bamiyan

As the Taleban moved into Bamiyan in April to capture the area from Hezb-e Wahdat – a party which draws its support from the Hazara minority – many who did not, or could not, flee were deliberately killed. Estimates varied widely, but hundreds of men, and some young women and children, who were separated from their families and taken away, remained unaccounted for at the end of 1999.

In addition, the Taleban burned more than 200 homes in villages along the road between Shiber and Bamiyan. Verbal condemnation of these house burnings by the Taleban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, did not prevent similar abuses by Taleban guards later in the year.

Abuses by other groups

Dozens of civilians suspected of collaborating with the Taleban on account of their ethnic origin were arbitrarily detained by factions opposing the Taleban . Abuses reported included severe beatings and the ill-treatment of other family members.

Women and children

As in previous years, women were forced to comply with the discriminatory policies of the Taleban who imposed severe restrictions on their education, employment and freedom of movement. Tens of thousands of women effectively remained prisoners in their homes, with no scope to seek the removal of these restrictions. Women who defied them were subjected to systematic ill-treatment. Reports that a number of local Taleban officials had agreed to education for young girls based on a strict religious curriculum, or to employment for a small number of women, were not backed by official statements from the Taleban leader.

The Taleban reportedly recruited Afghan children and deployed them as guards at checkpoints, as patrols in the streets, and as security guards in stadiums during the execution of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments. Eyewitnesses testified to the presence of child combatants in Taleban military ranks.


Fear of a new crack-down on non-Taleban educated Afghans in the country was heightened by a decree from the Taleban leader on 12 December ordering his supporters to identify government employees who won awards during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. Hundreds of Afghan personalities were detained by the Taleban on account of their opposition to the continued war. Many were tortured, and more than a dozen were reportedly killed after arrest. Several Afghan personalities living as refugees in Pakistan were killed by gunmen believed to be close to the warring factions, especially the Taleban .

  • Abdul Ahad Karzai, a prominent Afghan politician engaged in efforts to bring about a negotiated peace, was gunned down by two assailants on 15 July during a visit to Pakistan.


Asylum-seekers continued to flee Afghanistan, bringing the total number of Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran to around three million. Scores of Afghan refugees in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan reported receiving death threats on account of their opposition to Taleban policies.

In Iran, hundreds of Afghan men were arrested by the Iranian security guards and forcibly deported to Afghanistan. Their families, who were often left with no other means of support, were given no news about their fate.

Unfair trials, cruel punishments and the death penalty

Taleban Shari'a courts, whose procedures fall short of international standards for fair trial, continued to impose cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments. At least a dozen people convicted of murder were executed by shooting – usually carried out by the victims' families. More than a dozen people were subjected to amputations and at least six were flogged. Thousands of people, among them children as young as five years old, were either encouraged or forced to attend the public execution of these punishments in former sports stadiums. Children as young as 14 were assigned the task of displaying the severed limbs of victims to the spectators.

AI country reports

  • Afghanistan: Detention and killing of political personalities (AI Index: ASA 11/005/99)
  • Women in Afghanistan: Pawns in men's power struggle (AI Index: ASA 11/011/99)
  • Human rights defenders in Afghanistan: Civil society destroyed (AI Index: ASA 11/012/99)
  • Children devastated by war: Afghanistan's lost generations (AI Index: ASA 11/013/99)
  • Afghanistan: The human rights of minorities (AI Index: ASA 11/014/99)
  • Afghanistan: Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (AI Index: ASA 11/015/99)
  • Refugees from Afghanistan: The world's largest single refugee group (AI Index: ASA 11/016/99)

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