Fact sheet: The Taliban's betrayal of the Afghan people

from US Department of State
Published on 06 Nov 2001
(Issued by the Office of International Information Programs)(2380)

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Nov. 6 Update

The Afghan people have been the primary victims of Taliban misrule, since the Taliban came to power in 1996. The Taliban militia was formed in 1994, in response to human rights abuses by other warring factions in Afghanistan. By 1996, the Taliban had captured Kabul, and, with claims to religious as well as political authority, began a reign of terror. The Taliban have made the Afghan people the unwilling hosts of foreign armed terrorists, who have exploited and endangered the Afghan people, and made Afghanistan a pariah in the world community.

This updated fact sheet outlines documented atrocities and human rights abuses committed by the Taliban against the Afghan people.


The Taliban have massacred hundreds of Afghan civilians, including women and children, in Yakaolang, Mazar-I-Sharif, Bamiyan, Qezelabad, and other towns. Many of the victims of these massacres were targeted because of their ethnic or religious identity.

Massacre at Yakaolang: January 2001

Taliban forces committed a massacre in Yakaolang in January 2001. The victims were primarily Hazaras. The massacre began on January 8, 2001, and continued for four days. The Taliban detained about 300 civilian adult males, including staff members of local humanitarian organizations. The men were herded to assembly points, and then shot by firing squad in public view. According to Human Rights Watch, about 170 men are confirmed to have been killed. According to Amnesty International, eyewitnesses reported the deliberate killing of dozens of civilians hiding in a mosque: Taliban soldiers fired rockets into a mosque where some 73 women, children and elderly men had taken shelter.

Massacre at Robatak Pass: May 2000

The May 2000 massacre took place near the Robatak pass. Thirty one bodies were found at one site; of these, 26 were positively identified as civilians. The victims were Hazara Shi'as.

Massacre in Bamiyan: 1999

When the Taliban recaptured Bamiyan in 1999, there were reports that Taliban forces carried out summary executions upon entering the city. According to Amnesty International, hundreds of men, and some instances women and children, were separated from their families, taken away, and killed. Human Rights Watch reports that besides executing civilians, the Taliban burned homes and used detainees for forced labor.

Massacre in the Shomaili Plains: July 1999

Human Rights Watch reports that a Taliban offensive here was marked by summary executions, the abduction and disappearance of women, the burning of homes, destruction of property, and the cutting down of fruit trees. According to a report by the U.N. Secretary General on November 16, 1999, "The Taliban forces, who allegedly carried out these acts, essentially treated the civilian population with hostility and made no distinction between combatants and non-combatants."

Massacre in Mazar-I-Sharif: August 1998

In August 1998, the Taliban captured Mazar-I-Sharif. There were reports that between 2,000 and 5,000 men, women and children -- mostly ethnic Hazara civilians -- were massacred by the Taliban after the takeover of Mazar-I-Sharif. During the massacre, the Taliban forces carried out a systematic search for male members for the ethnic Hazara, Tajik, and Uzbek communities in the city. Human Rights Watch estimates that scores, perhaps hundreds, of Hazara men and boys were summarily executed. There were also reports that women and girls were raped and abducted during the Taliban takeover of the city.

Massacre in Mazar-I-Sharif: September 1997

Retreating Taliban forces summarily executed Hazara villagers near Mazar-I-Sharif, after having failed to capture the city. Amnesty International reported that the Taliban massacred 70 Hazara civilians, including children, in Qezelabad, near Mazar-I-Sharif. There were also reports that the Taliban forces in Faryab province killed some 600 civilians in late 1997.

Other Massacres: On at least two occasions, according to Human Rights Watch, the Taliban killed delegations of Hazara elders who had attempted to intercede with them.

Human Rights Abuses Against Women and Girls

Taliban rule has been particularly harsh for Afghan women and girls. Taliban restrictions against women and girls are widespread, institutionally sanctioned, and systematic in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan.

-- Girls are formally prohibited from attending school.

-- Women are prohibited, with very few exceptions, from working outside the home, and are forbidden to leave their homes except in the company of a male relative. These restrictions are devastating for the thousands of Afghan war widows, who have reportedly been reduced to selling their possessions or begging to feed their families.

-- The Taliban have significantly reduced women's access to health care, by decreeing that women can only be treated by women doctors.

-- The Taliban threaten and beat women to enforce the Taliban's dress code for women.

The Taliban and the Humanitarian Situation

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is grim. Twenty years of internal armed conflict, and four years of devastating drought have contributed to this situation, but the Taliban have made an already grave situation much worse, holding the Afghan people hostage to their political agenda.

-- The Taliban do not share the hardships they have imposed on the Afghan people, and they have done nothing to alleviate these hardships.

-- The Taliban have not only failed to provide security, food, and shelter for the Afghan people, but they have disrupted the efforts of international relief agencies to deliver desperately needed food and medical supplies to the Afghan people.

-- The Taliban have harassed Afghan and international aid workers; have seized and looted humanitarian supplies; and have stolen vehicles belonging to humanitarian agencies, including UN humanitarian agencies. According to NGOs and press reports, these incidents are on the rise.

-- November 6: The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says the Taliban is hindering humanitarian efforts inside Afghanistan, while at the same time calling for more international help. Speaking on behalf of the UNHCR, Peter Kessler said the Taliban was failing to cooperate: "The UNHCR and our partner agencies have had our vehicles stolen, our offices taken over and our staff beaten." (Source: as reported by the BBC)

-- October 31: The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) offices in Spin Boldak were taken over by Taliban soldiers. (Source: UNHCR)

-- October 18: Taliban soldiers seized the Mercy Corps International Office in Kandahar, and remain in possession of the office and MCI vehicles. (Source: Mercy Corps)

-- October 17: The Taliban occupied the Kunduz office and warehouse of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The warehouse had been stocked with winter clothing, shoes and blankets to be distributed to internally displaced persons in the region. (Source: IOM)

-- October 16: The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan reported that its compound in Taliban-controlled Mazar-I-Sharif was seized on October 16, with fuel stores set ablaze by the Taliban. (Source: Human Rights Watch)

-- October 16: The Taliban seized control of two UN World Food Program (WFP) warehouses, one in Kabul, and one in Kandahar, containing more than half the World Food Program's wheat supply for Afghanistan. While the Kabul warehouse was returned to the WFP, the Taliban still control the Kandahar warehouse, and have prevented Afghan WFP staff from distributing food. The WFP in Kandahar had been feeding 150,000 Afghans a month before the Taliban seizure. The WFP reports that 1600 tons of food and several vehicles have since disappeared from the Kandahar WFP warehouse. (Source: World Food Program)

-- October 16: The UN Security Council demanded that the Taliban cease obstructing aid destined for the Afghan people.

-- September 16-October 15: A demining agency working in Kandahar told Human Rights Watch that they had 35 vehicles confiscated by the Taliban between September 26 and October 15. The Taliban looted the offices of the agency, taking spare parts, generators, radios and the personal assets of the demining workers. (Source: Human Rights Watch)

-- October 8: Armed Taliban entered the compound of a demining NGO in Kandahar and demanded vehicles. Staff who resisted were beaten. The Taliban left with several ambulances, seven pick-up trucks, and six cargo trucks from the compound. (Source: Human Rights Watch)

-- October 8: Armed Taliban entered the compound of the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs in Mazar-I-Sharif, and looted communications equipment. (Source: Human Rights Watch)

-- October 7: Armed Taliban entered the Kabul compound of an NGO engaged in demining operations. Staff members were beaten, and the Taliban broke some of the locks on the vehicles, but did not take them. (Source: Human Rights Watch) Taliban Hide Behind Afghan Civilians

The Taliban have put the Afghan civilian population in great danger by deliberately hiding their soldiers and equipment in civilian areas, including in mosques.

-- "Whole villages are being used as human shields by the Taliban to protect their large stockpiles of ammunition and weapons hidden in nearby caves," according to a senior U.S. military officer. (As reported in the Washington Post, November 6)

-- In the southern city of Kandahar, Taliban authorities who had worked for the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue have reportedly relocated to mosques. In Khost, Taliban troops have reportedly taken over NGO relief organization buildings. (Attributed to a senior U.S. military officer, as reported by the Washington Post, November 6)

-- According to a senior U.S. military officer, a truck in a convoy purportedly on a humanitarian mission to deliver food tipped over, and crates of tank and mortar shells could be seen spilling to the ground beneath a thin layer of flour. (As reported in the Washington Post, November 6)

-- An Afghan refugee recently arrived in Pakistan from Kabul said, "Now the Taliban are taking their guns to the residential areas, and when they fire at the [American] planes, the planes see them and drop bombs on them. That's when the innocent people die." (As reported in the Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 30)

-- The Taliban park their vehicles among the taxis at the central bus station in Kabul by day, and sleep in nearby hotels at night. (As reported in the New York Times, Oct. 26)

-- Refugees from Kabul report that some Taliban are taking over private homes in order to avoid their barracks and reduce the risk of being bombed. These refugees also say the Taliban are storing weapons in mosques and schools. (As reported in the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, Oct. 24)

-- The spokesman for the Department of Defense, Navy Rear Admiral Stufflebeem, said on October 24: "The Taliban regime has been moving troops and equipment and perhaps its leaders into civilian areas. The reports indicate that troops and equipment are being housed in mosques and schools to shield them from the U.S. bombardment...." Taliban Forcibly Conscript Young Afghans

Refugees from Afghanistan arriving in Pakistan in recent days report that the Taliban are forcibly conscripting young men and boys. Some refugees cite forced conscription as their reason for fleeing Afghanistan. In addition, there are reports that Taliban forced conscription is also taking place in refugee camps inside Afghan borders.

-- A 20-year old male refugee from Taloqan, newly arrived in a refugee camp in Pakistan, said: "We came three days ago... the Taliban came collecting young boys for the front line, after the American bombs. My mother was afraid. They are telling everyone, very young boys, that they must come to fight, defend our country against America. I did not want to fight against America." (As reported by the Washington Post, October 30)

-- There were reports from Mazar-I-Sharif that the Taliban were forcibly conscripting young men, setting a quota of two men per neighborhood, and heavily fining those who refused. (As reported by the Chicago Tribune, October 30)

-- Many of the refugees crossing into Pakistan at Chaman over the past few weeks have told the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) that they fear being forced to fight for the Taliban. There are consistent reports of forced conscription. (As reported by the UNHCR)

The Taliban and Islam

The Taliban have imposed their own interpretation of Islam on the Afghan people.

-- Taliban interpretations of Islam are not widely shared in the Muslim world.

-- Taliban words and actions misrepresent Islam.

-- The Taliban have used Islam as a cloak to practice ethnic cleansing in Afghanistan.

-- Warning against "converting our countries into another Afghanistan," Saudi writer Turki Al Hamad, writing in As-Sharq Al Awsat, put it this way:"...[under the Taliban], Islam would be relegated from a world religion with a global human and civilized mission to a Taliban-like dogma that bans pigeon breeding, long hair, kite flying, and listening to music.... That, at a time when the rest of the world is de-coding the genome, experimenting with cloning, inventing information chips, exploring outer space and tackling the wonders of laser beams and infra-red radiation. If we want to have an impact on today's world, the only way to do so is by interacting with it."

Destruction of Afghan Culture

The Taliban have perverted Afghan customs, tradition, and religious practice for their own narrow political interests.

-- The Taliban and their foreign armed militant "guests" have set about destroying traditional Afghan culture.

-- They have prohibited all forms of music, except for religious chants, and have banned traditional recreation, such as kite flying.

-- They have looted and destroyed the historical and cultural patrimony of the Afghan people -- the Kabul Museum, formerly one of the finest museums in the region, is largely empty; the centuries-old Buddhist statues in Bamiyan have been reduced to rubble.

-- They have deprived the people of Afghanistan both their history, and their future.

Documenting Taliban Abuses

-- Several non-government organizations maintain web sites documenting Taliban abuses.

-- The web site of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (www.rawa.fancymarketing.net) maintains a gallery of still photos and video clips documenting massacres, beatings, and executions by the Taliban. The documentary photos and videos were clandestinely made by Afghan women to provide evidence of Taliban atrocities.

-- Several human rights organizations maintain web sites documenting human rights abuses by the Taliban and other factions in the Afghan conflict. Human Rights Watch (www.hrw.org) and Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org) provide extensive documentation of these abuses.

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(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)