(New York) -- Human Rights Watch today called upon Afghanistan's Northern Alliance to respect the laws of war in Kunduz, and to accept any offer of surrender by any Taliban or allied troops, including foreign elements.

Human Rights Watch also urged foreign fighters with the Taliban to respect the laws of war. In Kunduz, detailed and credible reports have emerged that foreign fighters have begun summarily executing local Taliban fighters who were considering surrendering to the Northern Alliance.

Following their retreat from the northern city of Mazar-i Sharif, thousands of Taliban fighters have been surrounded by the Northern Alliance in Kunduz, the only northern city remaining under Taliban control. According to numerous sources, a significant number of foreigners who fought with the Taliban-identified by various sources as Pakistanis, Arabs, Chechens, Central Asians, and Chinese fighters-are also surrounded in Kunduz.

"If the Northern Alliance kills any fighters without accepting their offer of surrender, that's a war crime," said Sidney Jones, Executive Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "The Northern Alliance must respect the laws of war for foreign fighters in Kunduz, no less than Afghani ones."

Since surrounding the Taliban and their foreign allies in Kunduz, senior Northern Alliance leaders, while encouraging the surrender of Afghan Taliban troops, have repeatedly stated that they will not accept surrender offers from the foreign fighters, preferring to kill them instead. Pir Muhammed, a senior Northern Alliance commander, told the New York Times: "These foreigners have killed thousands of civilians. Their hands are covered with blood. We will avenge this." A second senior Northern Alliance commander, General Daoud Khan, told the Associated Press: "For the foreign terrorists… there will be no negotiations, we will not deal with them, they are killers."

The laws of war explicitly outlaw orders refusing to accept the surrender of an adversary, a practice known as "giving no quarter." Article 40 of Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions, which reflects customary international law applicable to the current conflict in Afghanistan, states: "It is prohibited to order that there shall be no survivors, to threaten an adversary therewith or to conduct hostilities on this basis." The authoritative commentary of the International Committee of the Red Cross makes clear that this article also protects foreign fighters such as those involved in Kunduz:

"[A]ny order of 'liquidation' is prohibited, whether it concerns commandos, political or any other kind of commissars, irregular troops or so-called irregular troops, saboteurs, parachutists, mercenaries or persons considered to be mercenaries, or other cases. It is not only the order to put them to death that is prohibited, but also the threat and the execution, with or without orders."

"The law is absolutely clear on this point," said Jones. "The Northern Alliance can fight the Taliban if they refuse to surrender, or arrest them for crimes they may have committed if they do surrender. But the Northern Alliance cannot refuse to accept an offer of surrender by the foreign fighters if such an offer is made."

Human Rights Watch is also deeply concerned by credible reports of large-scale summary executions of would-be Taliban defectors by foreign fighters in the city of Kunduz. Such executions, if confirmed, are clearly crimes prohibited by international law.

"The way to stop war crimes in Afghanistan now is to start talking about future prosecution of the guilty," said Jones. "The international community needs to let those on all sides who are thinking about committing war crimes in Afghanistan know that they will be brought to account for their atrocities."

For more information on Mullah Dadaullah, commander in charge of Taliban forces in Kunduz, please see Human Rights Watch Backgrounder - Afghanistan: Ethnically-Motivated Abuses Against Civilians.