Human Rights Watch warned today that a repeat of a January 2001 massacre by Taliban forces in Afghanistan was possible unless the international community acted promptly.

The January 2001 killings in Yakaolang district, near Bamiyan, detailed by Human Rights Watch in a report released on today called "Massacres of Hazaras in Afghanistan," took place in after the Taliban gained control of the area from the opposition United Front. It was the third such massacre of largely ethnic Hazara men since August 1998, and resulted in at least 170 deaths.

"Because the January killings took place under circumstances very similar to what we have now, we are particularly worried for the safety of the Hazara population," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "The U.N. in general, and governments concerned with the humanitarian situation inside Afghanistan in particular, need to take every possible measure now to try to get observers and investigators on the ground." She also called for immediate attention to the needs of displaced civilians.

Human Rights Watch is calling for immediate diplomatic demarches to the Taliban, both to demand accountability for the January killings (which the Taliban have denied) and to seek access to the Bamiyan area for journalists; preparation of a small, expert human rights team including forensic specialists that can be deployed as soon as security conditions permit to investigate the January massacre; and strengthening of the U.N. civilian monitoring presence inside Afghanistan.