"Regrettably, both the conflict and the people seem to have become

a `forgotten war' and a `forgotten people.'"

("Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan," Report to the U.N. General Assembly, Felix Ermacora, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, October 30, 1990.)


This report was written by Patricia Gossman, research associate for Asia Watch, on the basis of research undertaken during fact-finding missions to Afghanistan and Pakistan from June to August 1990. The other participants in the Afghanistan mission were Harry G. Barnes, Jr., former U.S. Ambassador to India, Chile and Romania, and Andrew Whitley, executive director of Middle East Watch. The delegation to Pakistan included Sidney Jones, executive director of Asia Watch, and Patricia Gossman.

This report was edited by Sidney Jones and Aryeh Neier, executive director of Human Rights Watch. Professor Barnett R. Rubin, member of the Asia Watch Committee and co-author (with Jeri Laber) of previous Helsinki Watch and Asia Watch reports on Afghanistan, provided substantial assistance in the research and editing of this report, and the writing of chapter 2. Professor Robert K. Goldman and Human Rights Watch Counsel Jemera Rone also provided invaluable expert advice. Columbia University law students Evan Gottesman and Charlotte Oldham-Moore assisted with research in Pakistan. Mary McCoy, Asia Watch associate, assisted in the preparation of this manuscript.

Asia Watch thanks the Government of the Republic of Afghanistan for the assistance it extended to us during the Asia Watch mission. We are also grateful to the staff at the embassy in Washington, in particular Chargé d'Affaires Miagol, and to Ali Ahmad Joushan and Emand Moman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who assisted the Asia Watch delegation in arranging meetings in Kabul and Herat.

Asia Watch is grateful also for the assistance provided by the Commissionerate of Afghan Refugees in Pakistan, which provided us with access to refugee camps in the Northwest Frontier Province and in Baluchistan.

Many others in Pakistan and Afghanistan assisted us in our work, including representatives of relief organizations, members of the resistance parties, members of the diplomatic community, and Pakistani and Afghan lawyers, doctors and other professionals. Most of thesepeople gave us their information in confidence, and we respect their wishes to remain anonymous.

Above all, we are grateful to the Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Afghanistan, those in exile in Europe and in the United States, and the Afghan citizens we met in Kabul and Herat, who were willing to share with us their stories.


Since 1984, Asia Watch, together with Helsinki Watch, has published five reports on human rights in Afghanistan.1 These reports were among the first to document systematic human rights violations by the Afghan government and by Soviet forces after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. The reports were based primarily on fact-finding missions to the border cities of Peshawar, Parachinar and Quetta, Pakistan, where Asia Watch and Helsinki Watch representatives interviewed refugees who provided testimony about the indiscriminate bombings, massacres, summary arrests and torture that had driven them into exile.

The accumulated testimony of the victims of the war in Afghanistan describes a pattern of human rights violations that is among the worst in recent history. Over one million Afghan civilians are believed to have been killed since the war began, most in aerial bombardments. Tens of thousands have disappeared -- many of them the victims of summary executions and massacres in the countryside. Most of Afghanistan's villages have been reduced to rubble, and the countryside turned into a live mine field, with perhaps millions of mines of every description scattered throughout its grazing fields, highways and mountain passes. Asia Watch and Helsinki Watch also documented abuses by the resistance forces, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians and summary executions of prisoners of war.

The final withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan in February 1989 marked the beginning of a new phase in the conflict. No longer a war against a foreign aggressor, the conflict became a civil war pitting the Soviet-backed government of President Najibullah against the mujahidin: a complex resistance movement composed of different ethnic, tribal and political factions all fighting in the name of Islam. By late1990, global developments promised further change, as the U.S. and the Soviet Union neared agreement on a political settlement that would end their support for their respective clients. But in the Afghan countryside and in the cities, the war continues, as forces on all sides continue to launch indiscriminate attacks on each other at the cost of civilian lives.

Across the border in Peshawar, Pakistan, where most of the mujahidin parties have their headquarters, uncertainty about the future has contributed to rising tensions among different factions of the mujahidin. Afghan intellectuals and relief workers have been murdered, imprisoned and tortured, and refugees attempting to return to Afghanistan have been attacked. Although these abuses have occurred inside Pakistan, the Pakistani authorities refuse to investigate them, and in fact encourage some abuses, including indiscriminate attacks which cause heavy civilian casualties.2

In Kabul, meanwhile, President Najibullah's government has embarked on a program of reform intended to win the support of Afghans in the cities and the approval of the West. While there has been some relaxation of state controls on civil and political rights and some amelioration in prison conditions, it is still too early to tell whether the reforms undertaken will lead to real improvements in human rights. Genuine improvements will depend not only on the government's commitment to change, but also on its ability to implement reforms outside the limited territory it now controls.

In mid-1990, two Asia Watch delegations3 traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to examine violations of the laws of war, or international humanitarian law, by all parties to the conflict, and to evaluate the human rights reforms undertaken by the government of President Najibullah. This was the first time the current government of Afghanistan had permitted a private human rights organization to visit the country.4 In Afghanistan, the delegation conducted an extensiveinterview with President Najibullah to discuss the government's new commitment to political pluralism and new amendments to the Constitution that may offer some protection for civil liberties. The delegation also raised with President Najibullah Asia Watch's concerns about the war, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

The delegation also interviewed senior ministers in the government, among them Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdul Wakil; Minister of Defense Mohammad Aslam Watanjar; Minister of State Security Ghulam Faruq Yaqubi; and Minister of Justice Ghulam Muhayuddin Dareez. The delegation also visited Pol-e Charkhi Prison in Kabul and was permitted an unprecedented visit to the Sedarat detention center in Kabul. Members of the delegation traveled to Herat, where we visited the Herat provincial jail, and to Islam Qala on the Iranian border, where the government has established a refugee repatriation center. In both Kabul and Herat, we interviewed representatives of international organizations and private relief agencies, diplomats, journalists, academics, and ordinary Afghan citizens.

Access to independent sources was limited, however, in part because war conditions have made it difficult for many international organizations to operate in Afghanistan. There were few foreign correspondents, and the diplomatic community was significantly reduced after the Soviet withdrawal. While we were able to meet with a number of Afghans outside the government who provided us with their views, most Afghans remain understandably cautious about speaking openly with foreigners.

The Asia Watch mission to Pakistan interviewed refugees, foreign diplomats, representatives of international relief organizations, journalists, academics, and lawyers. Both delegations documented abuses and discussed preliminary findings with those concerned. The findings are contained in this report, along with policy recommendations for all of the parties to the conflict and for the outside powers which have supported them, including the United States, the Soviet Union, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Summary of Concerns

This report is divided into three sections. The first (chapter 3) describes violations of the laws of war by Afghan government forces and by certain mujahidin forces.5 This section documents indiscriminate missile and rocket attacks on civilian areas by Afghan government forces and resistance guerrillas, the use of land mines by all parties to the conflict, the government practice of forced conscription, and abuses by paramilitary militia in government security operations. The second part (chapter 4) discusses the reforms undertaken by the Najibullah government in the context of the continuing war, the protections provided by these reforms, and the measures which still need to be taken to guarantee full freedom of expression and association and the rights to due process and fair trial. The third part (chapter 5) discusses human rights abuses by the resistance forces in areas controlled by the mujahidin in Afghanistan and in areas inside Pakistan where they have operated with impunity.

In summary, our concerns are as follows:

Violations of Humanitarian Law

    · Although indiscriminate bombing of civilian-populated areas has declined significantly since the Soviet withdrawal, government offensives against mujahidin strongholds continue to rely on methods of warfare, including Scud missiles, that cannot be targeted with sufficient accuracy to ensure that civilians are not placed at undue risk.

    · The practice of summary execution of captured prisoners that was widespread in earlier years of the war has also declined. However, Asia Watch obtained evidence of a number of incidents of such abuses since the Soviet withdrawal. The execution without trial of prisoners is impermissible under any circumstances, andthe government should promptly investigate all reports of such killings and prosecute those responsible. The reduction in the number of reported incidents does not diminish the government's obligation to make every effort to investigate such abuses and make the findings public, and bring to justice those responsible as a way of preventing similar abuses in the future.

    · Reports of reprisal killings of ordinary civilians suspected of supporting the mujahidin have also decreased. Asia Watch was told, however, about a number of incidents in which such killings took place, including one near Jalalabad in which civilians taken into custody after a government bombing raid were accused of providing food to the mujahidin and burned alive. The government should promptly investigate this and all such reports, and prosecute those responsible for abuses.

    · Militia operating in alliance with the government have also engaged in abuses against civilians, including indiscriminate attacks on civilian-populated areas, summary executions of mujahidin prisoners, and looting of civilian property. The government must exercise stricter control over the recruitment, training and supervision of such forces, and prosecute members of such forces that engage in abuses.

    · Certain mujahidin commanders, some of whom have been recruited by the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI),6 have launched indiscriminate rocket attacks on cities inside Afghanistan, killing hundreds of civilians. The Pakistan ISI and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency have encouraged these attacks, with the ISI supplying weapons to commanders who undertake them.

    · Certain mujahidin forces have summarily executed government soldiers captured in combat, as well as members of rival mujahidin forces.

    · All parties to the conflict have laid and continue to lay mines without adequate marking or mapping and without taking precautions to ensure that civilians are warned of minefields. Such precautions are required under international humanitarian law,7 which provides for the protection of civilians against weapons, such as land mines, which may have indiscriminate effects.

Violations of International Human Rights Law

    · The practice of arbitrary arrest common while the Soviets were in Afghanistan appears to have decreased in government-controlled areas, although such arrests have occurred since the Soviet withdrawal. Detainees have been held for periods of several weeks before being produced before any judicial authority; they rarely have access to defense counsel or to family members. Trials, which are often summary proceedings, fall short of international standards of due process.

    · While prison conditions for sentenced prisoners have improved markedly, conditions for detainees do not meet the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners, and Asia Watch has received credible reports of torture and mistreatment of detainees during interrogation. Access to these detainees bythe International Committee of the Red Cross would be an important safeguard against such abuses.

    · Freedom of association and freedom of speech, while protected in the law, are still subject to some restrictions which have hindered the formation of genuine opposition political parties and an opposition press. For example, no party may call for the president to resign. While limited criticism of the government is permitted, editors routinely practice self-censorship and are prohibited from publishing material that could be considered "un-Islamic" or "war propaganda." Although there has been some relaxation of state controls at Kabul University, Ministry of State Security forces maintain surveillance of students and professors on campus and in the classroom.

    · Certain mujahidin parties -- particularly those supported by the Pakistan ISI, which have also received the largest share of U.S.-supplied weapons -- have kidnapped and murdered or imprisoned members of rival Afghan political organizations and Afghan intellectuals and relief workers in Pakistan and in areas under their control in Afghanistan. International humanitarian organizations do not have access to mujahidin prisons in Pakistan; torture in these prisons is reported to be routine.

    · Under the Pakistan Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) Act, Afghan refugees deemed to be "security risks" may be detained without trial or charge for up to six years. Pakistani authorities have used this legislation to detain Afghan refugees because of their political views.

* * * * * * * *

The withdrawal of the last Soviet forces from Afghanistan in February 1989 had raised hopes for an end to the war and a chance for the refugees to return and rebuild their country in peace. By early 1991,

that optimism had vanished as Afghanistan's bloody war wore on, still funded by foreign powers but largely forgotten by the outside world.

It is a war in which the many parties to the conflict continue to engage in grave violations of humanitarian and human rights law. Mostof the victims of these abuses are Afghan civilians: those in the cities who have been killed or injured in rocket attacks, and those in the countryside killed or driven into exile by indiscriminate shelling and missile attacks by government forces. Prospects for ending these abuses remain slim as long as the parties involved, and their foreign sponsors, encourage such attacks.

Twelve years of war have also destroyed Afghanistan's civil and social institutions. In this vacuum, political authority remains highly fragmented, posing a serious obstacle to genuine improvements in human rights protection. In much of the country, the government has abdicated its authority to ethnic militia who are accountable to no one. Elsewhere, mujahidin commanders have established their own power bases, where they too rule by the authority of the gun. The ongoing efforts by foreign powers, particularly Pakistan, to impose their designs on the war have contributed to the fragmentation of authority and have aggravated conditions of insecurity and fear for refugees returning to Afghanistan and those remaining in Pakistan.

The reform measures undertaken by the Najibullah government represent only a partial step toward the protection of human rights. Until there is an end to the supply of arms to parties that have used those weapons to perpetrate serious human abuses, Afghans will have little opportunity to test the civil liberties now promised to them and little reason to hope for an end to the bloodshed. The mass destruction that characterized the war before the Soviet withdrawal has ended, but for the Afghans, human rights abuses, like the war itself, have not.

1 Tears, Blood and Cries: Human Rights in Afghanistan Since the Invasion, 1979-1984, 1984; To Die in Afghanistan, 1985; To Win the Children, 1986; By All Parties to the Conflict, 1988; Jeri Laber and Barnett R. Rubin, A Nation is Dying, (Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988).

2 See chapter 5.

3 For listing of participants see Acknowledgments, p. i.

4 Requests from Asia Watch and Helsinki Watch to send missions in 1984, 1985 and 1988 were not granted. A delegation from Amnesty International visited Kabul in February 1980.

5 The mujahidin are far from homogeneous; thus, we have tried to indicate when the abuses are characteristic of all mujahidin and when they are characteristic only of certain elements.

6 Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, is the country's military intelligence organization. Under President Zia-ul-Haq the organization was granted control over all external assistance to the Afghan resistance, which gave the organization significant influence over the conduct of the war.

7 In particular, the 1981 Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby Traps and Other Devices (Protocol II), annexed to the 1981 UN Convention on Prohibition or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious and to Have Indiscriminate Effects: Final Act, app. C, opened for signature April 10, 1981, U.S. Doc. A/CONF.95/15 (1980), reprinted in 19 I.L.M. 1523, 1529 (1980), hereafter referred to as the Land Mines Protocol. The Republic of Afghanistan has not signed the Land Mines Protocol, which is described on p. 56.