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(New York) -- Human Rights Watch today urged the United States and Britain to take immediate measures to ensure that three Afghan Taliban commanders alleged to have committed international crimes be held by an outside independent authority until they can be prosecuted before an impartial tribunal.

Mullah Fazil and Mawlawi Nurullah Nuri were known to be in Mazar-I Sharif in the custody of Northern Alliance commander Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum. Mullah Dadaullah was also known to be in Northern Alliance custody, but his precise whereabouts were not known.

Human Rights Watch said that the U.S. and Britain should establish procedures for the transfer and detention of Afghan and foreign combatants suspected of serious abuses. These fighters should be taken into custody by U.S. or British forces and delivered to an independent authority, or be placed in safe and secure detention facilities in Afghanistan, with oversight by U.S. or U.K. forces and independent observers.

"Fazil, Dadaullah, and Nuri represent a test case for how the international community is going to ensure that those who are implicated in the worst atrocities in Afghanistan are brought to justice," said Sidney Jones, executive director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "If these men and others like them are not prosecuted, the cycle of violent abuse in Afghanistan is not going to end."

Mullah Fazil had overall operational command, and specific sectoral responsibilities, during a Taliban offensive that led to the recapture of Khwagaghar town in Takhar province and surrounding areas in January 2001. Over thirty civilians were detained and summarily executed during this operation, while at least forty-five others were detained and transferred to a jail in Kunduz. Numerous witnesses have also testified that Fazil visited Yakaolang district, as commander-in-chief, during a January 2001 massacre of over 170 ethnic Hazara civilians. The Yakaolang victims had been detained by Taliban forces and then executed by firing squad in public view.

Mullah Dadaullah commanded Taliban forces that carried out a scorched earth policy in Yakaolang district, in the mainly Shi'a Muslim Hazarajat region, in June 2001. After briefly recapturing Yakaolang, Dadaullah's forces burned down over 4,000 homes, shops, and public buildings in the district. His forces continued their scorched earth policy as they retreated east, destroying entire towns and villages in the western part of Bamiyan province. Most of the civilian population in western Bamiyan fled the Taliban advance, but those who remained behind, as well as some who had encamped in the hills, were summarily executed. The Taliban's official Bakhtar Information Agency confirmed Dadaullah's responsibility for the military operations in the area. Dadaullah is also reportedly responsible for the massacre of Shi'a Muslims in Syedabad, in Mazar-I Sharif, in 1998.

Mawlawi Nurullah Nuri, the former governor of Balkh province - in which the city of Mazar-i Sharif is located - was military commander of the northern zone under the Taliban. He could be implicated in the reported summary executions of ethnic Uzbek civilians in Balkh in May 2001, and in a massacre of civilian prisoners that took place at Robatak Pass, on the border of Samangan and Baghlan provinces, in May 2000.

Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, to facilitate an arrangement, with the approval of Afghan representatives and the United Nations Security Council for an independent authority to take custody of these suspects, and others with similar accusations against them, until a venue for a fair trial can be determined.

The rights group suggested that because there is currently no possibility for a fair and impartial trial in Afghanistan, persons accused of committing atrocities in Afghanistan will at least at the outset probably have to be tried in other courts - either domestic courts in third countries with universal jurisdiction (laws specifically allowing trials for human rights abuses, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in other nations) or before an international tribunal specially created for Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch noted that President Bush on November 13 issued a military order authorizing the trial by special military commissions of non-U.S. citizens he has reason to believe are members of al Qaeda, have assisted al Qaeda members, or have engaged in or aided acts of international terrorism. The organization has criticized the proposed military commissions for failing to ensure that prosecutions would meet basic fair trial requirements guaranteed under U.S. and international human rights law. Violations of international law unconnected with acts of international terrorism against the United States, such as the abuses in Afghanistan cited above, would not be covered by the military order. Human Rights Watch said prosecuting human rights violations and war crimes in Afghanistan was critical to the future of the country, and again urged the United Nations to establish a commission of experts to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious abuses in Afghanistan.

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