U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Afghanistan

AFGHANISTAN[1]* Afghanistan in 1994 continued to experience civil war and widespread lawlessness. The nominal nine-party coalition Government failed to function effectively, and armed factions opposed or supported President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Several provincial administrations maintained limited functions, but banditry was prevalent in much of the country amid a general decline of law and order. In July pro-Rabbani forces met with some independent ones in Herat and called for a follow-up traditional gathering of notables to take up the peace effort. The Herat Conference suffered from a lack of broad participation owing in part to fears its outcome had been predetermined by pro-Rabbani elements. The U.N. Special Mission to Afghanistan made several efforts to reach a political solution to the crisis, including convening s conference of Afghan notables in Quetta. By year's end, the United Nations obtained agreement in principle from the major factions to participate in a broad-based interim government and began to negotate the details.       The simmering civil war intensified on January 1 when troops commanded by the leader of the National Islamic Movement (NIM), General Abdul Rashid Dostam, aided by forces loyal to Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, attempted a coup d'etat against President Rabbani. The attempt was foiled, but the protracted fighting caused heavy civilian casualties and the destruction of much of Kabul. By the end of 1994, an estimated 1 million Afghans remained displaced by fighting, and the number of killed or wounded during the year was estimated at over 34,000 in Kabul alone. The coalition Government has not established a national military and police force. The political instability and the presence of heavily armed party militias in Kabul have led to an array of regional security bodies, many of which operate independently of party and governmental authorities. They are responsible for many human rights abuses. Agriculture, including increased levels of opium poppy cultivation, remained the mainstay of the economy. The civil war impeded reconstruction of irrigation systems, repair of market roads, and clearance of some 10 million Soviet land mines. There was modest reconstruction in some areas, notably Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Nangarhar, where provincial authorities have reestablished a degree of order and civil administration. Large-scale human rights violations occurred in 1994. The U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan concluded that "as Afghanistan has no effective central government, the imputation of state responsibility in international law is problematic." The warring factions not only failed to protect the human rights of civilians, but often wantonly violated those rights by specifically targeting noncombatants. Gunmen affiliated with the 10 armed factions were often responsible for assassinations, looting, rapes, and kidnapings for ransom. Combatants from several factions blocked food and medical supplies desperately needed by displaced people in the Kabul, Kunduz, and Taloqan areas.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

In 1994 an estimated 8,000 Afghans died in Kabul alone as a result of the civil war. Most were civilian victims of artillery, rocket, or air strikes launched by forces aligned with Hekmatyar or Rabbani. In many cases civilian deaths were incidental to the military actions of the belligerents, but in some cases combatants purposefully targeted civilian areas. Combatants also 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 July a reporter for the British Broadcasting Corporation, Mirwais Jalil, was abducted and murdered by unidentified gunmen. His body, bearing over 20 stab and bullet wounds, was later found in a no man's land. In July Commander Naser of Laghman Province, who was affiliated with Hekmatyar's party, and 10 of his bodyguards were reportedly murdered as Naser traveled to meet with a rival. In September Commander Sadiq, also a follower of Hekmatyar, and his bodyguard were murdered in Nangarhar Province while returning from a visit to Pakistan. Sadiq was rumored to have been involved in narcotics trafficking, a Pashtun intratribal dispute, and the factional fighting in Kabul--any of which may have provided the motive for his murder. None of the perpetrators was apprehended. President Rabbani's forces apparently targeted Hekmatyar himself in an August 12 air raid that demolished his living quarters. Subsequent air attacks were made on a hospital facility where Hekmatyar was thought to be under treatment for injuries sustained in the August 12 air raid; in fact he had escaped serious injury. Two brothers who had murdered a rival were executed in Herat after an on-the-spot adjudication by an Islamic magistrate. Summary executions following Shari'a court trials were reported elsewhere in the country.

b. Disappearance

In April Amnesty International (AI) issued a report claiming that dozens of people had disappeared or were being held in incommunicado detention. It appealed to all sides to release their captives and stop taking hostages. AI reported that Zia Nassry, an American citizen, was allegedly arrested by pro-Rabbani forces in Kabul in 1992; Nassry's welfare and whereabouts remained unknown in 1994. Hostage taking for ransom or political reasons was common. In June unknown gunmen abducted an Afghan guard working at an inactive diplomatic mission in Kabul. The victim was tied, blindfolded, threatened with death, beaten, held for 16 days, and finally released when his family paid the ransom. The kidnapers were not apprehended. In July Mullah Rocketi, a commander of Abdul Rasul Sayyaf's Ittehad-i-Islami Party, released seven Pakistani and two Chinese hostages he had kidnaped to force the Government of Pakistan to release his brother from prison and return or pay for weapons allegedly taken from him. Rocketi had held some of the captives since 1992. 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 continued to be held against their will by their Afghan captors.

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

Armed factions reportedly employed torture and ill-treatment frequently to extract information from prisoners or break their will. Mullah Rocketi's forces hung some foreign captives (see Section 1.b.) upside down and beat them to force them to write letters urging that ransom be paid, according to media accounts. Due to the lack of a functioning national judicial system, the powers that be reportedly imposed traditional laws and punishments, such as the amputation of hands of those convicted of theft. Marauding militiamen abused many women in Mazar-i-Sharif in January and in Kunduz in March, according to international media and other sources. The U.N. Special Rapporteur reported that in 1994 there were innumerable cases of rape and that in some instances women had been "hunted down." In March armed men repeatedly raped a 15-year-old girl in Kabul after breaking into her family's house and killing her father for allowing her to attend school, according to an AI report issued in December. The report added that thousands of women and children had been raped in Afghanistan since April 1992, when the mujahedin groups took power in Kabul.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

With the breakdown of law and order, justice was not administered "by the book" in many localities. Little was known about procedures employed in 1994 for taking persons into custody and bringing them to trial. Presumably, practices varied considerably among the localities.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

With the collapse of a nationwide judicial system, many municipal and provincial authorities relied on some form of Shari'a, or Islamic, law and traditional tribal codes of justice. However, little is known about the implementation of these precepts. No firm estimate is 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.

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

Widespread forced entry into homes and looting occurred in the northern cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz early in the year during intense fighting there. There were fewer reports of looting in Kabul compared with 1993, probably because much of the city was in ruins and many items of value had already been carried off. A U.N. facility in Mazar-i-Sharif and the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul were ransacked in early 1994. The Afghanistan National Archives were looted in May.

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

Ten armed factions, aligned in two loose blocs, fought for power in Kabul and the provinces, 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. On January 1, General Dostam's troops in Kabul, theretofore aligned with President Rabbani, switched to Prime Minister Hekmatyar's side and attempted to oust the President in a coup d'etat. The President's forces quickly countered and the ensuing fighting engulfed much of Kabul and northern parts of the country. A significant number of civilians were killed in the northern cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz during heavy fighting. Fighting raged in Kabul's old business district, with both sides employing heavy weapons and air strikes which took a heavy toll of civilian life and wreaked destruction on much of Kabul. As intense fighting in Kabul continued for most of January, hundreds of thousands fled to safer areas of the country. Most of the belligerents received outside assistance, despite U.N. calls to halt the influx of materiel to the warring factions. In February Prime Minister Hekmatyar imposed a food blockade on northern Kabul, the area controlled by President Rabbani's troops. The U.N. Security Council and the United States Government condemned the food blockade and asked that it be lifted. In March General Dostam's militia briefly captured the northern city of Kunduz from the forces of Ahmed Shah Masood, President Rabbani's de facto Defense Minister. Amid widespread pillaging by the victorious troops, local people revolted and assisted Masood's fighters in retaking the city, according to a Western journalist who visited the area. Sharp clashes broke out in Kabul in late June, when Masood launched an attack against Dostam's and Hekmatyar's forces and drove them from key strongholds in central Kabul. They reacted by launching nearly daily rocket attacks on the city, which took a heavy civilian toll. In September the relatively quiet Shi'a quarter of Kabul erupted in intense fighting between rival Shi'a factions, which were quickly backed by other armed groups. In the last half of September alone, some 2,650 people, mostly civilians, were reportedly killed or wounded in this fighting. On September 27 a rocket hit a Kabul wedding party, killing 40 people and injuring 70, according to U.N. and media sources. In November armed religious students known as the "taliban" (disciples) movement took over Kandahar and neighboring areas in southern Afghanistan after defeating local commanders in battle. The taliban cleared roadblocks from the main highway and implemented a strict social code. According to media accounts, the taliban limited the use of videotapes, prohibited public music and dancing, and restricted other forms of public behavior. The Afghan countryside remained plagued by an estimated 10 million land mines sown during the Soviet occupation. The U.N. sponsored mine awareness, detection, and removal programs, but the mines will pose a threat for years to come.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

There are no laws effectively providing for freedom of speech and press, and the nominal Government lacks 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 political parties. There was a pro-Rabbani radio and television service in Kabul. Prime Minister Hekmatyar has his own radio and television service near Kabul, as does General Dostam in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Civil 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. One positive development was the establishment of numerous local councils, or shuras, at the provincial and sub-provincial levels to establish order and organize development efforts.

c. Freedom of Religion

Afghanistan's official name, the Islamic State of Afghanistan, reflected the country's adherence to Islam as the state religion. Some 85 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, with Shi'a Muslims comprising the bulk of the remainder. 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 Repatriation

Although 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, the disrepair of the road network, and the moribund state of the domestic air service. Despite these obstacles many people continued to travel relatively freely. International travel became more difficult in 1994, as the Government of Pakistan closed its border in January to new refugees from Afghanistan. Only Afghan travelers holding valid visas were officially allowed entry, but thousands of undocumented Afghans crossed into Pakistan, including some admitted on medical or humanitarian grounds. Kabul International Airport was closed due to the fighting, and most diplomatic missions moved out of Kabul in January. Afghans continued to form one of the world's largest refugee populations. Well over 3 million Afghans were refugees abroad, with 1.2 million in Pakistan, roughly 2 million in Iran, and 70,000 in Russia. The limited repatriation of 1993 slowed to a trickle in 1994, with 78,000 returning from Iran and 75,400 from Pakistan. However, an estimated 70,000 new refugees arrived in Pakistan in the first half of the year alone. According to the United Nations and other sources, Russia forcibly repatriated 21 Afghans in August, including 8 orphaned children of Afghan Communist Party members accepted for resettlement when the Soviet army departed from Afghanistan in 1989. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees protested the forced repatriation. Of the roughly 35,000 registered Tajikistan refugees in northern Afghanistan at the start of 1994, approximately half were repatriated, including nearly all of the 18,000 previously housed at a refugee camp across the border from Termez, Uzbekistan. Those in northeastern Afghanistan faced more difficult obstacles to repatriation, including irregular transport across the Amu Darya river, fighting along the Tajik-Afghan frontier, and explosions in June at the repatriation center at Shir Khan Bandar, presumably caused by militant extremists who wished to manipulate the Tajik refugees for purposes such as recruiting them into the armed movement seeking to overthrow the government of Tajikistan.

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

The continuing violent struggle for political power among the 10 armed factions effectively precluded the citizens from peacefully and democratically changing their government or form of government. The nine-party coalition Government, established in 1993 under the Islamabad and Jalalabad Accords, existed only in nominal terms. It failed to function as a cohesive governing structure, and by July President Rabbani's inner circle of advisors occupied most positions of influence in the President's limited sphere of control. Under the terms of these Accords, President Rabbani's term in office was to expire in late June. However, he announced that he would not be held to these widely ignored agreements, and referred back to a unilateral edict by a Grand Council, convoked by the President in late 1992, that provided for a 2-year presidential term. A group of clerics, deemed the Supreme Court by President Rabbani, upheld the President's decision to extend his tenure. In March U.N. Secretary General Boutros Ghali dispatched a Special Mission to Afghanistan to help mediate the conflict. The Mission, headed by former Tunisian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Mestiri, canvassed Afghans on how the United Nations could foster a peace process. It later attempted to bring representatives of the factions to preliminary discussions on a political solution, but the Rabbani faction refused to talk with General Dostam's representatives. In July Governor Ismail Khan of Herat convened a gathering of several hundred pro-Rabbani and some neutral representatives to discuss a possible peace process. U.N. officials attended as observers. The Herat conferees recommended that a loya jirga, or traditional grand assembly, be held by late October. Anti-Rabbani elements viewed the proceedings as biased in favor of Rabbani and largely ignored them. In September Mestiri again gathered a group of Afghan notables to advise the U.N. on mediating the conflict. The major factional leaders accepted the advisory group's framework for peace, which included a permanent cessation of hostilities, the creation of a national security force, and the establishment of an interim ruling authority.

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

In 1994 there were no known human rights groups in Afghanistan. At least one group operated outside the country; the Afghan League of Human Rights' annual report was produced in Pakistan. The civil war and lack of security made it difficult for human rights organizations to monitor the situation inside the country. In September the U.N. Special Rapporteur visited Afghanistan and met with senior Afghan leaders. Heavy fighting in Kabul prevented him from visiting the capital. He issued a preliminary report of his findings in November.

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


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 with the ouster of the Communist regime in 1992, and in 1994 women were increasingly precluded from public service. In conservative areas in 1994, many women appeared in public only if dressed in a complete head-to-toe garment with a mesh covered opening for the eyes. In Faryab Province the local warlord's forces reportedly directed unmarried women over age 12 to get married or face the prospect of rape by the warlord's gunmen. The U.N. Special Rapporteur noted a series of 21 ordinances governing the behavior of women in Afghanistan, reportedly issued by a nine-member committee of the High Court. These ordinances specified, inter alia, that a woman's veil must cover her whole body, that perfumed women are regarded as adulteresses, that a woman must not leave her house without her husband's permission, and that a woman must not look at strangers. There is no information available on how, or whether, these ordinances were enforced. After the taliban movement took control of Kandahar, it reportedly told women to venture outdoors only if accompanied by a male relative. Prime Minister Hekmatyar decreed that women must wear Islamic dress and refrain from "aimless wandering." In December the provincial council of Jalalabad reportedly prohibited women from working in offices except in the fields of health and education. In 1994 four women were stoned to death in Kunduz after being found guilty by Islamic judges of capital offenses, according to a local government authority.


Local administrative bodies and international assistance organizations undertook to look out for children's welfare to the extent possible. Malnourishment of children as a result of the food blockade was reported in Kabul, and the general disruption of health services countrywide due to the civil war put many young people at grave risk.

People with Disabilities

It is 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. In August the U.N. Development Program initiated a million-dollar project to strengthen comprehensive community-based rehabilitation services for disabled Afghans.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Little was known about labor laws and practices in Afghanistan in 1994. There were no reports of labor rallies or strikes. Labor rights were not clearly 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 Collectively

Afghanistan 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 of Compulsory Labor

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

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

There was no evidence that the Government was able to enforce labor laws relating to the employment of children.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There 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.

[1]* The American Embassy in Kabul has been closed for security reasons since January 1989.

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