(New York) ­– The Afghan government should prosecute militia members responsible for killings and other abuses against civilians in Afghanistan’s northern Faryab province in late June, 2016, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch interviewed villagers in the aftermath of the attack.

General Abdul Rashid Dostum speaks during an interview at his palace in Shiberghan in northern Afghanistan on August 19, 2009. 

© 2009 Reuters/Caren Firouz

The Junbish militia is loyal to First Vice-President Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former warlord long implicated in war crimes, including the deaths of hundreds of Taliban prisoners in November 2001 in the custody of his militia forces. President Ashraf Ghani has reportedly ordered an investigation into attacks by the Junbish militia, and has detained some militia members allegedly involved.

 “The killings in Faryab are the latest in a long record of atrocities by Dostum’s militia forces,” said Patricia Gossman, senior Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The fact that these forces, and Vice-President Dostum himself, have never been held accountable, has undermined security in northern Afghanistan.”

On June 26, Afghan regular security forces, together with pro-government militia forces, conducted a military operation against Taliban forces in Faryab province, in which at least 4 civilians were killed and 20 wounded, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). After Taliban forces left the area, the militia forces entered at least four villages. killing an additional five civilians and injuring 12. Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch identified the militia forces as belonging to the Junbish faction, and said they had had assaulted the villagers, accusing them of supporting the Taliban. 

Dostum was elected vice-president in September 2014. In late 2015 he announced that he was reactivating the Junbish militia in response to Taliban military gains in Faryab and Sar-e Pul provinces, and has since overseen military operations in these provinces.

In July, Human Rights Watch interviewed residents of the villages that came under attack from forces they identified as Junbish militia. “Hashmat,” about 35, a resident of Dawlatabad, said:

It was about 8 a.m. I was in my house when about 200 Ranger cars of Junbish militia came into the village. The ANA [Afghan National Army] was not with them. They were carrying guns like Kalashnikovs and shouting “You’re Taliban!” and firing as people came out of their houses.

“Soraya” a 50-year-old woman from Qadir Doaba, said that militia forces beat her severely on her back with their guns. She said that they told her, “You are Pashtuns, you cannot say anything – you have no rights.”

Her son, “Rasul,” about 30, said that the militia forces had entered the village several times over the past eight months, threatening residents and forcing them to hand over food and money.

Some villagers told Human Rights Watch that regular Afghanistan military forces stood by when the Junbish forces entered the villages. Although they did not participate in the assaults, they did nothing to stop them or apprehend militia fighters committing offenses.

Human Rights Watch documented killings and other abuses by Junbish militia against ethnic Pashtuns in these same villages in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of the Taliban government in late 2001. No militia commanders were ever prosecuted for these attacks.

Under the laws of war, which are applicable to the armed conflict in Afghanistan, the government has an obligation to investigate alleged war crimes by its forces or carried out on its territory and appropriately prosecute those responsible. Commanders who knew or should have known about crimes committed by their subordinates but took no action can be held criminally liable as a matter of command responsibility.

“Militias like Junbish should have been disbanded long ago,” Gossman said. “But because such forces have powerful patrons they have continued to commit abuses with impunity. President Ghani should fulfill his promise to disarm all such illegal groups and ensure that they play no role in the security forces.”