Afghanistan

"No Forgiveness for People Like You": Executions and Enforced Disappearances in Afghanistan under the Taliban [EN/PS/Dari]

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The Taliban have told my family that my brothers are on a list…. They searched our house and arrested my older brother. He was released after two days, but during those days my younger brother was arrested and till now we don't know where he is, how he is, if he is alive.
Former Afghan government official in hiding, October 9, 2021

This report documents the summary execution or enforced disappearance of 47 former members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)—military personnel, police, intelligence service members, and paramilitary militia—who had surrendered to or were apprehended by Taliban forces between August 15 and October 31, 2021. The report focuses on Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, and Kunduz provinces, but the cases reflect a broader pattern of abuses reported in Khost, Paktiya, Paktika, and other provinces.

This report is based on a total of 67 interviews, including 40 in-person interviews conducted in Ghazni, Helmand, Kunduz, and Kandahar provinces. Human Rights Watch’s research indicates that Taliban forces have killed or forcibly disappeared more than 100 former security force members in just these four provinces in the three months since their takeover of Kabul, the Afghan capital, on August 15. They have also targeted family members of former security force members.

Summary killings and enforced disappearances have taken place despite the Taliban’s announced amnesty for former government civilian and military officials and reassurances from the Taliban leadership that they would hold their forces accountable for violations of the amnesty order.

In the weeks before the Taliban overran Kabul, revenge killings, including the targeting of government officials, were already on the increase in major cities and along key highways. This was evident in July, when Taliban forces escalated their operations around Kandahar city and carried out summary executions of surrendered and captured members of the security forces. Similar patterns have emerged in many other provinces, including since August 15.

The Taliban, through their intelligence operations and access to employment records that the former government left behind, have identified new targets for arrest and execution. Baz Muhammad, originally from Paktika province, had been employed in Kandahar by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the former state intelligence agency. Around September 30, Taliban forces came to his house in Kandahar city and arrested him; relatives later found his body. The murder, about 45 days after the Taliban had taken over the country, suggests that senior officials ordered or were at least aware of the killing. These continuing executions have generated fear among former government officials and others who might have believed that the Taliban takeover would bring an end to the violence characteristic of the armed conflict.

The Taliban leadership has directed members of surrendering ANSF units to register with them to receive a letter guaranteeing their safety. Under this amnesty program, individuals who have registered have been screened for ties to particular military, police, militia, and special forces units, or to commanders or former provincial authorities, in addition to being required to surrender weapons. However, the Taliban have used these screenings to detain and summarily execute or forcibly disappear individuals within days of their registration, leaving their bodies for their relatives or communities to find.

Many Afghans interviewed expressed fear that if they register with the Taliban to receive the amnesty letter, they might be identified or recognized and face violent retaliation. At the same time, the Taliban have also searched for and detained people who failed to register. Some former government and security force officials have relied on their personal connections to get letters from the Taliban via third persons. Others, including some former civil servants in key government posts, such as the judiciary, have been unaware that they could obtain this “forgiveness” letter and have faced punishments—including beatings and detention—for not having done so. Even if aware of the letters, many have not been sure how to obtain them where the Taliban have not announced specific registration centers.

In smaller Afghan towns and villages, residents tend to know each other within communities and established neighborhoods. Because of these relationships, the Taliban, even when not from the area, have been able to obtain information as well as identify individuals who have worked for the previous government. These people have been singled out for questioning or further investigation and some have been summarily executed or forcibly disappeared. Those executed on the spot often included lower-lever security force members who were less well-known or lacked the protection of tribal leaders, especially in the south.

The Taliban have also searched for known former security force members, often threatening and abusing family members to reveal the whereabouts of those in hiding. Some of those eventually apprehended have been executed or taken into custody without acknowledgment of their detention or their location, the crime of enforced disappearance.

Enforced disappearances are defined under international human rights law as the arrest or detention of a person by the authorities followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. Enforced disappearances violate a range of fundamental rights protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,[1] which Afghanistan has ratified, including prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and other ill-treatment; and extrajudicial execution.

Previous Afghan governments, including that of President Ashraf Ghani, extensively used enforced disappearances against their opponents. The Taliban have also engaged in abusive search operations, including night raids, to apprehend and, at times, forcibly disappear suspected former civilian and security force officials. Said a civil society activist from Helmand province:

Taliban night raids are terrifying. They are conducted on the pretext of disarming ex-security forces who have not surrendered weapons. Those that “disappear” are [victims] of night raids. The family can’t report or confirm. The families can’t even ask where [the person has been taken].

These killings and disappearances have occurred amid other violence in the country. The Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), an affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS), has continued to carry out targeted killings and bombings to which the Taliban have responded with intensified search operations and detentions in districts where it is operating. The collapse of the former administration has resulted in a rise in criminal activity and score-settling, including violence against prominent local officials.

Taliban officials have repeatedly denied that their forces have carried out killings and disappearances. However, as Taliban forces consolidate control over the country, they are obligated to hold to account all members of their forces responsible for human rights abuses. Increasing evidence suggests that summary executions and disappearances, among other abuses, are being carried out by senior Taliban leadership at the district or provincial level.

Following the Taliban takeover of Helmand and Kandahar provinces, senior commanders from the Taliban’s intelligence unit sought to apprehend prominent former ANSF commanders and fighters for detention and questioning; some of them are among those forcibly disappeared. Qudratullah, a well-known police commander in Kandahar city, was arrested by Taliban intelligence officers shortly after the city’s takeover—his family has been unable to obtain any information from the Taliban as to his whereabouts. Human Rights Watch is increasingly concerned that revenge killings condoned by senior Taliban leaders are now becoming the basis for a deliberate policy to seek out and execute targeted former government’s security officials and others.

On September 21, the Taliban announced the establishment of a commission to investigate reports of human rights abuses, corruption, theft, and other crimes. As of November 22, the commission had not announced any investigations into any reported killings, although it did report on the arrest of several Taliban members for stealing and the dismissal of others for corruption.

Human Rights Watch, on November 7, provided its findings on executions and disappearances to Taliban officials and sought information about any investigations into these cases. The Taliban responded to say that all detentions and punishments follow a judicial process, and that no one is punished without a court [ruling]. They said individuals have been detained not for “past deeds, but [because] they are engaged in new criminal activities… [and] create problems and plots against the new administration, [and] keep contacts with notorious individuals who fled the country…. It is not our policy to kill someone without trial, whether he is from ISIS or from another group.” Their full response, including some additional details on the investigation commission, is included as an appendix to this report.

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