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The two massacres of civilians described in this report constitute serious violations of international humanitarian law. They raise grave concerns about the security of civilian populations in Taliban-administered areas, particularly Hazaras and members of other ethnic or religious minorities. What has emerged from these cases, as well as prior events in Hazarajat and northern Afghanistan, is a pattern of efforts to intimidate minority populations and to deter them from cooperating with the United Front, through the arbitrary detention and summary execution of male civilians. These abuses, including the massacre at Yakaolang and the detention of civilians prior to their execution at Robatak, have frequently been of such a scale and duration that they could not have been carried out without the knowledge and consent of senior Taliban commanders.

Impartially amassing an exhaustive record of the events in both cases and identifying the commanders responsible will require an independent investigation under the auspices of the United Nations. Such an investigation could have a significant impact in deterring further abuses by all of the warring factions in Afghanistan.

However, the United Nations has failed to systematically monitor and document abuses in Afghanistan. The only field investigation undertaken by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights-into the killings in Mazar-i Sharif in 1997 and 1998-failed to make use of existing evidence to establish responsibility for extrajudicial executions and other abuses committed by United Front forces in 1997 and by the Taliban in 1998. It also neglected to make use of extensive testimony from refugees, or of detailed information gathered by U.N. staff and offices. Other monitoring mechanisms have been impeded by a lack of access or adequate security. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, Dr. Kamal Hossain, has issued periodic reports that have noted serious abuses, but has not been granted permission to visit Taliban-controlled Afghanistan since 1999.

In undertaking an investigation of the Yakaolang and Robatak massacres, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should carefully avoid the shortcomings that characterized its 1999 Mazar-i Sharif investigation. It is vitally important that the work of the High Commissioner's Office and that of other United Nations agencies also address other violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Afghanistan by all parties, by significantly increasing its monitoring presence in Afghanistan.

Other intergovernmental organizations can also play an important role in ensuring that the warring parties in Afghanistan uphold international humanitarian law and human rights. In its Common Position on Afghanistan, adopted on January 24, 2000, the Council of the European Union stated that the objectives of the E.U. were, among others, to "promote respect for international humanitarian law and human rights, including the rights of women and children."29 The arbitrary detention and summary execution of civilians documented in this report, and the attendant population displacement, represent a challenge to the principles articulated in the Common Position, and merit an affirmative response on the part of the European Union. E.U. members should obtain information about human rights and humanitarian law violations in Afghanistan through coordinated initiatives by E.U. member states' embassies in neighboring countries where they can have direct contact with refugees.

Human Rights Watch
Asia Division

Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world.

We stand with victims and activists to bring offenders to justice, to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom and to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime.

We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable.

We challenge governments and those holding power to end abusive practices and respect international human rights law.

We enlist the public and the international community to support the cause of human rights for all.

The staff includes Kenneth Roth, executive director; Michele Alexander, development director; Reed Brody, advocacy director; Carroll Bogert, communications director; Barbara Guglielmo, finance director; Jeri Laber special advisor; Lotte Leicht, Brussels office director; Michael McClintock, deputy program director; Patrick Minges, publications director; Maria Pignataro Nielsen, human resources director; Jemera Rone, counsel; Malcolm Smart, program director; Wilder Tayler, general counsel; and Joanna Weschler, United Nations representative. Jonathan Fanton is the chair of the board. Robert L. Bernstein is the founding chair.

Its Asia division was established in 1985 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in Asia. Sidney Jones is the executive director; Mike Jendrzejczyk is the Washington director; Joe Saunders is the Deputy Director; Smita Narula is the Senior Researcher; Jeannine Guthrie is NGO liaison; Sara Colm, Jan van der Made, Vikram Parekh and Gary Risser are researchers; Mickey Spiegel is a consultant; Liz Weiss and Adam Bassine are associates. Andrew J. Nathan is chair of the advisory committee and Orville Schell is vice chair.

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29 Council of the European Union, 2239th Council meeting, General Affairs, Brussels, January 24, 2000, "Annex : Common Position on Afghanistan," (accessed February 16, 2001).

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