Covering events from January-December 2001

Chairman of the Interim Administration:
Hamid Karzai (replaced President Burhanuddin Rabbani and the Taleban, headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar, in December)
Capital: Kabul
Population: 22.5 million
Official languages: Dari, Pushtu
Death penalty: retentionist

There were grave, systematic and widespread human rights abuses throughout the year. Violations of international humanitarian law were committed in the context of armed conflict between the Taleban and the National Islamic United Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (United Front, commonly referred to as the Northern Alliance). Torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment were inflicted by the Taleban. Women were denied basic rights including access to education and employment, and were subjected to systematic ill-treatment, such as beatings. The death penalty continued to be imposed. Forces of the United Front reportedly tortured, ill-treated, and executed some captured Taleban and al-Qa'ida fighters. Drought and internal conflict swelled the number of refugees and internally displaced people. The number of people fleeing their homes increased further in anticipation of, and during, the international conflict between Taleban and al-Qa'ida forces, and the US-led coalition. An unknown number of Afghan civilians were killed or injured during the bombing campaign by the USA and its coalition allies.


For most of the year fighting continued between the Taleban, which had controlled over 90 per cent of the country, and the United Front, an armed alliance which supported the UN-recognized government headed by Burhanuddin Rabbani and opposed the Taleban. Ahmad Shah Masood, a key leader of the United Front was assassinated on 9 September.

Following the attacks in the USA on 11 September, a US-led coalition undertook action against Osama bin Laden and his al-Qa'ida forces, which the US government claimed were being sheltered by the Taleban.

On 7 October, US-led forces launched air strikes on Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad. Ground forces entered Afghanistan 13 days later. The US-led forces coordinated air strikes with the United Front and provided other assistance. By 11 November, the United Front had captured much of northern Afghanistan and on 13 November, defying international pressure to wait, United Front forces entered Kabul.

On 5 December, UN-brokered talks on Afghanistan culminated in the Bonn Agreement, which outlined the establishment of a six-month interim authority, established on 22 December, in preparation for the institution of an Emergency Loya Jirga (General Assembly) followed by a Constitutional Loya Jirga within 18 months. The Constitution of 1964 was made applicable pending the adoption of a new Constitution.

The population of Afghanistan faced severe food shortages, largely owing to a three-year drought. The World Food Programme estimated that four to five million people were at risk of starvation.


While in power, the Taleban continued to impose restrictions on women's movement, employment and education, which were frequently enforced with cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. Women were reportedly beaten if they were found outside their homes without a close male relative or clothed in a way that did not meet strict dress regulations.

After the collapse of the Taleban, there were concerns for the safety of the families of non-Afghan fighters in Afghanistan.

Following the Bonn Agreement, two female ministers were appointed to to the interim administration, and women's rights to education and employment were recognized.

Abuses against ethnic and religious minorities

Taleban forces targeted particular religious and ethnic minorities in mass killings and other attacks against civilians during military campaigns in central Afghanistan.

  • In early January, following their recapture of Yakaolang district, Taleban forces reportedly detained and then killed at least 170 men from the Hazara ethnic minority, a predominantly Shia Muslim group. According to reports, this was a collective punishment against local residents whom the Taleban suspected of cooperating with United Front forces.
  • In January, a Taleban edict declared that any Muslim converting to Judaism or Christianity and any non-Muslim trying to convert Muslims faced the death penalty. On 4 August, 24 Shelter Now International aid workers, including 16 Afghans and eight foreign nationals, were arrested. The foreign nationals were charged with proselytizing Christianity. The 16 Afghan aid workers escaped from Pul-e Charkhi prison near Kabul on 12 November. The foreign aid workers were released on 15 November following an anti-Taleban uprising.
Torture and ill-treatment

Torture was reported to be endemic in Taleban detention facilities. Thousands of people were reportedly held without charge or trial; many were subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Prison conditions continued to be poor, with concerns about the quality and quantity of food, inadequate medical treatment and overcrowding. Following the Taleban's defeat in major cities, some prisoners broke out of Taleban-controlled prisons; others were released.

Men whose beard or hair length was found not to conform with Taleban regulations were beaten, often with metal cables. Other social regulations, such as prohibitions on playing cards and listening to music, were similarly enforced.

Unfair trials, the death penalty and other cruel judicial punishments

Under the Taleban, Shari'a (Islamic) Courts imposed cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments after trials that did not conform to international fair trial standards. The death penalty continued to be imposed. At least 51 people were executed, most of them publicly. At least 30 people were flogged, including 20 women. The majority were accused of committing adultery. At least three people had limbs amputated as punishment for theft; the true figure may have been much higher. Often these punishments were carried out in public.
  • On 26 October, Abdul Haq, a former member of the Mujahideen, was captured by Taleban forces south of Kabul while reportedly on a mission to generate support for the return of the exiled King. He was summarily tried and executed on the day of his capture. His deputy, Sayed Hamid, was also executed.
  • Child soldiers

    Both the Taleban and the United Front were responsible for the recruitment, including forced recruitment, of boys.
  • A Hazara man from Kandahar reported that in November his 15-year-old son was turned back at the border with Pakistan by members of the Taleban who said that he should be fighting alongside Taleban forces. The whereabouts of the boy remained unknown at the end of the year.
  • Possible violations of international humanitarian law by US and allied forces

    An as yet unknown number of Afghan civilians were killed or injured or had their homes or property destroyed during the bombing by the USA and its coalition allies. US officials admitted that a number of civilian targets were hit in error, but there was a lack of public information about whether necessary precautions had been taken to avoid civilian casualties. By the end of the year impartial observers had not been able to verify the circumstances in which civilians were reportedly killed, but reports from UN officials, humanitarian agencies and refugees raised serious concerns. AI requested information about specific attacks in which civilians had been killed or in which civilian objects had been damaged and called for an immediate and full investigation into possible violations of international humanitarian law. No response had been received from US officials by the end of the year. AI also called for a moratorium on the use of cluster weapons, which present a high risk of violating the prohibition of indiscriminate attack because of the wide area covered by the numerous bomblets released.
    • On 8 October, four Afghan workers of the UN-funded de-mining agency Afghan Technical Consultants were killed when their offices in Kabul collapsed. The building had been hit during bombardment of the city by US forces.
    • On 10 October US planes bombed what appeared to be a civilian radio station near Kabul. When asked about the attack, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld replied that radio and television "were vehicles for the Taleban leadership and for al-Qa'ida to manage their affairs and that therefore they were certainly appropriate targets."
    • On 29 December, it was reported that civilians were killed in two waves of US bombing of Qala-i-Niazi village near the eastern town of Gardez. A UN spokesperson reported that relatives identified 52 bodies, including 25 children. Although a US military spokesperson said that members of the al-Qa'ida and Taleban leadership were in the village, a UN spokesperson said that there was no evidence that either Taleban or al-Qa'ida fighters had been in the village when it was hit. Two of the houses hit had contained stored old ammunition, while three had been civilian residences. The ammunition dumps were reportedly unlocked and unguarded and it was unclear if actions other than bombing were considered as a way of addressing the situation.There were serious concerns about the treatment and conditions of detention of thousands of captured Taleban and al-Qa'ida fighters who had been wounded or had surrendered and were being held by the United Front. There were reports that some of these soldiers, particularly non-Afghans, were summarily executed when they were captured, attempted to surrender, or were otherwise rendered hors de combat. There were also concerns about the treatment of Taleban and al-Qa'ida fighters who were held by the US forces on the ship USS Bataan and in detention facilities inside Afghanistan.
    • Hundreds of Taleban fighters were reportedly killed, in unclear circumstances, during a United Front siege of the Sultan Raziya school in Mazar-e Sharif in November. According to some accounts, some of the Taleban troops who had sought refuge in the school were shot when they attempted to surrender. Subsequently, unarmed religious leaders attempting to persuade Taleban troops to surrender were reportedly shot dead by the Taleban troops.
    • In November, hundreds of fighters were reportedly killed during clashes within Qala-i-Jhangi fort on the outskirts of Mazar-e Sharif where captured Taleban forces were held. In circumstances that remained unclear, fighting broke out between United Front forces and the detained Taleban fighters. US warplanes and United Front artillery then bombed the area. The United Front, the United Kingdom and the USA claimed that they had used the degree of force necessary to quell a prisoners' rebellion. Amid reports that some prisoners were found dead with their hands tied, AI called for an inquiry into what triggered the violence and the proportionality of the response.
    • In December, General Jurabek, the commander-in-charge of a prison in Shibarghan in northern Afghanistan, told reporters that 43 prisoners had died from injuries or asphyxiation while they were being transported in shipping containers from Kunduz to Shibarghan. Others reported that the number of deaths was much higher.
    Refugees and internally displaced people

    The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that 3.5 million Afghan refugees were living in Iran and Pakistan prior to the US-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan. Since late 2000, the borders of Pakistan and Tajikistan had effectively been closed to fleeing Afghans. Iran also took measures to restrict the influx of new refugees during this period.

    Throughout the year, there were serious concerns that the authorities in Pakistan were planning to forcibly return refugees to Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghan men living in Pakistan were reportedly detained by police; many were intimidated, beaten, and forcibly returned without access to any procedures. (See Pakistan entry.) In August, the government of Pakistan and the UNHCR agreed to a joint screening program for refugees in Jalozai and Nasir Bagh camps near Peshawar. This screening process was suspended after 11 September.

    Approximately 10,000 refugees reportedly continued to remain on promontories in the Panj river, which forms the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, without adequate shelter, food or drinking water.

    After the events of 11 September, all neighbouring countries announced that they had closed their borders with Afghanistan in anticipation of a massive exodus of refugees. On 8 October, Pakistan announced that only the sick and infirm would be allowed to enter. There were serious concerns about the screening process used by Pakistan border guards as family members were separated from one another and many men were forcibly returned. Despite the official closure of the border, approximately 200,000 Afghan refugees entered Pakistan after 11 September. Many had fled because of the feared or actual consequences of the US-led bombing. Existing refugee camps did not adequately support the new arrivals and the UNHCR transferred many new refugees to eight newly established camps along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border where there were major security concerns.

    At least 1.1 million Afghans were internally displaced prior to the US-led bombing as a result of the continuing drought and armed conflict. Following the events of 11 September, international assistance programs were severely reduced at the same time as the number of internally displaced people increased.
    • The World Health Organization announced that 164 people, mostly children, reportedly died of cold and hunger in a four-week period from November to December in a camp for internally displaced people near Kunduz.In October, the Iranian Red Crescent established two camps for displaced people – Mahkaki and Mile-46 – inside Afghanistan along the Iranian border, raising serious concerns about inadequate protection and security for those in the camps. By mid-November, these camps were militarized and controlled by the United Front. Approximately 10,000 people were afforded scant shelter in these overcrowded camps. Mahkaki camp was reported to have serious sanitation problems. In December, at least six people died because of the cold. (See Iran entry.)

    AI country reports/visits

    • Afghanistan: Protect Afghan civilians and refugees (AI Index: ASA 11/012/2001)
    • Afghanistan: Making human rights the Agenda (AI Index: ASA 11/023/2001)

    AI delegates visited Pakistan in October, November and December to interview newly arrived Afghan refugees. In December, AI's Secretary General visited Pakistan and met President Pervez Musharraf to discuss concerns about the situation in Afghanistan.

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