In its ongoing focus on combating terrorism, the international community is ignoring the perilous fate of civilians in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch charged today.

In a letter to members of the United Nations Security Council, Human Rights Watch urged the adoption of an arms embargo against all combatants, not only the Taliban. A backgrounder accompanying the letter, "Fueling Afghanistan's War," documents abuses by all sides to the conflict and sets forth new details on the role played by Afghanistan's neighbors and other nations in providing the weapons.

Human Rights Watch also urged the United Nations to take steps to ensure delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance. It called on the Security Council to remove the existing ban on the Taliban-controlled Ariana airline, on the ground that it interferes with the delivery of medicines and other needed aid to civilians.

"Ongoing abuses against civilians must take center-stage in any international intervention," said Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. "The United Nations should not ignore key humanitarian and human rights issues when it deals with Afghanistan."

A draft resolution by the U.S. and Russia currently before the Security Council focuses on the Taliban's harboring of Osama bin Laden and would impose new sanctions only on the Taliban until it gives up bin Laden for extradition and closes camps allegedly used to plan criminal activities overseas. But the draft resolution does not directly address the ongoing civil war in Afghanistan, which has been accompanied by a severe humanitarian crisis. The Security Council's current draft resolution includes provisions to minimize the possible humanitarian impact of any new sanctions, but it does not go far enough.

"It is particularly urgent that the Security Council address abuses by the warring parties now because they are an important cause of the continuing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan," Roth said in the letter to the Security Council. "Failure to do so would mean inexcusably abandoning the Afghan people to suffer atrocities at home while focusing exclusively on the Afghan government's role in attacks on foreigners."

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has been fueled by atrocities against civilians committed by all parties to the conflict. State and non-state actors across the region and beyond continue to provide new arms and other materiel, as well as training and advisory assistance. These arms and materiel have been directly implicated in serious violations of international humanitarian law. The violations include aerial bombardments of civilian targets; indiscriminate bombings; rocketing and other artillery attacks on civilian-populated areas; reprisal killings of civilians and summary executions of prisoners.

Human Rights Watch called on the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on all warring factions until significant progress is made to end violations of human rights and humanitarian law and to bring the perpetrators to justice. It emphasized that the ban must be strictly monitored and enforced and should include all forms of military assistance, including arms, other military materiel, and military training. Human Rights Watch takes no position on sanctions imposed on anti-terrorism grounds, but believes that human rights conditions in Afghanistan warrant Security Council intervention.

The text of the Human Rights Watch letter to the Security Council is available online at:https://www.hrw.org/press/2000/12/afghan-ltr-1215.htm

The 9-page background paper, "Fueling Afghanistan's War," is available online at https://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/asia/afghanistan/afghbk.htm. The background paper describes the international humanitarian law violations committed by the various parties to the conflict and provides a summary account of external military support to the warring factions, including the role of neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and several Central Asian states.