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UN Should Investigate Deadly Attacks on Afghan Civilians

Twenty Rights Groups Call for Justice and Accountability

The mother of a schoolgirl who was among those killed in the brutal May 8, 2021 bombing of the Sayed ul-Shuhada girls' school stands inside a classroom with bouquets of flowers on empty desks as a tribute to the dead, in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 16, 2021.  © 2021 Rahmat Gul/AP Photo

Human Rights Watch today joined Afghan and international human rights organizations calling for a United Nations-mandated fact-finding mission to investigate escalating attacks on civilians in Afghanistan to promote justice and accountability.

Targeted attacks on civilians are escalating in Afghanistan as foreign troops leave well ahead of the September 11, 2021 deadline set by the United States. The attacks often target people who hold the chance of a brighter future for Afghanistan, hard-working students, women who have fought for and achieved educational and professional success, and dedicated health professionals, humanitarian workers, and government officials.

Recent attacks illustrate this awful trend. Bombs awaiting girls as they leave high school in a minority Hazara neighborhood. Gunmen roaming the halls of a maternity ward shooting new mothers and women in labor in the same Hazara neighborhood. A bomb targeting Sikhs as they mourn dozens killed in an attack on their temple the day before. Men attacking a team of workers clearing landmines, seeking the Hazara members of the team, and killing indiscriminately when their ethnic profiling efforts were foiled. Students bombed as they studied for university entrance exams. Polio vaccinators, many of them women, gunned down. Women journalists assassinated. Women judges assassinated.

Accountability for these attacks is nearly non-existent. The Afghan government has never credibly investigated such attacks, even in government-controlled areas. The government has also tried to prevent an investigation by the International Criminal Court into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has called on the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, to establish a fact-finding mission to investigate attacks on civilians that have occurred since January 2020. Human Rights Watch along with organizations including Amnesty International, the Center for Civilians in Conflict, the International Commission of Jurists, and the International Federation for Human Rights support this call.

There is no entity in Afghanistan able to adequately investigate these crimes. Conducting investigations amid rising insecurity in Afghanistan will be hard but not impossible, and Afghans cannot afford more impunity. Accountability for these crimes is crucial and urgent. The UN should clearly communicate to perpetrators that attacking and killing civilians has consequences. 

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