World Report 2018 - Afghanistan: Events of 2017

from Human Rights Watch
Published on 26 Jan 2018 View Original

Fighting between Afghan government and Taliban forces intensified through 2017, causing high numbers of civilian casualties. Principally in Nangarhar province, government forces also battled the Islamic State of Khorason Province (ISKP), the Afghan branch of the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS). A number of particularly deadly suicide attacks in urban areas, some claimed by ISKP, killed and wounded more than 2,000 people across the country. A growing number of these attacks targeted Afghanistan’s Shia Hazara minority. Civilian casualties caused by government forces during ground fighting declined; however, US forces expanded their use of airstrikes, including drones, in military operations, causing increased civilian casualties.

Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) continued to rely on irregular militia forces, some of which killed and assaulted civilians. War crimes suspect Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of several political figures accused of shelling Kabul during the 1990s, returned to Kabul as part of a 2016 peace deal with the government; clashes between his militia forces and rivals killed at least 20 civilians. Both the Taliban and ANSF used schools for military purposes, which, together with countrywide insecurity, deprived many children, especially girls, of access to education.

The government made some progress in adopting legislation to curb torture, but failed to prosecute serious offenders. Promised reforms to end the use of unscientific and abusive “virginity examinations” for women taken into custody, and the imprisonment of women for so-called morality crimes, did not materialize. Only a fraction of the reported cases of violence against women resulted in prosecutions. The government announced that district council and parliamentary elections would be held in July 2018, three years behind schedule. However, political infighting and security concerns threatened to delay the vote.

Armed Conflict

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented 2,640 war-related civilian deaths and 5,379 injuries in the first nine months of 2017, a slight decrease over the same period in 2016. The Taliban and groups claiming allegiance to ISKP were responsible for two-thirds of these. Civilian deaths and injuries by pro-government forces and their allies during ground engagements declined; however, those from aerial operations by government and international forces increased by 52 percent to 205 deaths and 261 injured.

Insurgent attacks in major cities caused hundreds of civilian deaths and injuries. ISKP claimed responsibility for the March 8 attack on Kabul’s Daud Khan hospital, the main treatment center for wounded Afghan soldiers, that killed at least 30 and wounded dozens. In that attack, insurgents reportedly dressed as doctors shot dead patients in their beds. The May 31 truck bomb that killed at least 92 and wounded more than 500 was the deadliest such attack ever in Kabul. Suicide attackers targeted Shia mosques in Kabul and Herat, killing more than 100.

On August 3-5, local Taliban forces in Sar-i Pul province launched an assault on the village of Mirza Olang, following weeks of fighting between insurgents and Afghan Local Police (ALP) forces. According to UNAMA, the Taliban separated women and children from men, and shot dead at least nine ALP and other pro-government militia members, along with 27 male civilians; among them were four boys ages 13 to 17, and 13 men over 60. They also killed one woman as she was trying to flee. The commander responsible, a relative of the Taliban “shadow governor,” had self-identified as being affiliated with ISKP.

The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled from their homes due to the conflict surged as fighting intensified. More than 250,000 were displaced in the first 10 months of 2017, bringing the nationwide total to at least 1.7 million people. Among the displaced were hundreds of thousands of refugees coerced out of Pakistan with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2016. Attacks on civilians contributed to depression and other mental disabilities; Afghanistan has few community-based mental health services to provide treatment.

Women’s and Girls’ Rights

On March 12, the Attorney General’s Office issued a report on prosecutions under the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law revealing that mediation remains the preferred route for most prosecutors, which women are often compelled to accept due to pressure from family and justice officials. Registered cases represent only a fraction of the actual crimes of violence against women. In late 2016, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) investigated 5,575 cases, noting that most cases of violence against women go unreported. A long-standing effort to reform family law, including divorce provisions, remained stalled.

On March 4, the revised penal code was adopted by presidential decree. It incorporated all the provisions of the EVAW law, while strengthening the definition of rape. However, because a number of conservative members of parliament have opposed the EVAW law, some activists campaigned to preserve the law in its stand-alone form decreed in 2009. In response to their efforts, in August President Ghani ordered the Ministry of Justice to remove the EVAW chapter from the new penal code. The controversial reversal has left the status of the law in limbo.

A long-promised plan by the Afghan government to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which calls for women’s equal participation in issues surrounding peace and security, was further delayed during the year. The Kabul Process peace talks in June included only two women among 47 government and international representatives.

Deaths and injuries among women in the conflict increased sharply in 2017, with 298 deaths and 709 injured in the first nine months of the year. Most occurred as a result of suicide bombings and aerial attacks.

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