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Afghanistan: Advancing Taliban Execute Detainees

Police, Civil Servants Detained Incommunicado in Ghazni, Malistan, Kandahar

An Afghan security personnel stands guard along a road in Kandahar on July 14, 2021.  © 2021 by Javed Tanveer/AFP via Getty Images

(New York) – Taliban forces advancing in Ghazni, Kandahar, and other Afghan provinces have summarily executed detained soldiers, police, and civilians with alleged ties to the Afghan government, Human Rights Watch said today.

Residents from various provinces told Human Rights Watch that Taliban forces have in areas they enter, apparently identify residents who worked for the Afghan National Security Forces. They require former police and military personnel to register with them and provide a document purportedly guaranteeing their safety. However, the Taliban have later detained some of these people incommunicado and, in cases reported to Human Rights Watch, summarily executed them.

“Summarily executing anyone in custody, whether a civilian or combatant, is a serious violation of the Geneva Conventions and a war crime,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director. “Taliban commanders with oversight over such atrocities are also responsible for war crimes.”

A journalist from Malistan who has been tracking detentions there since Taliban forces took control of the district on July 13 said that they entered houses searching for members of the security forces and government employees:

“They claimed that they would not hurt anyone and they encouraged people to inform those who have escaped from the area to come back to their houses. In practice, they have acted differently. They search houses and, in some cases, even show photos of government employees, asking for their location.”

He said that the Taliban had killed at least 19 security force personnel in their custody, along with a number of civilians. Taliban fighters also burned down the house of Abdul Hakim Shujoyi, a former militia commander who had worked with US forces. Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm the exact numbers killed there.

Human Rights Watch obtained a list of 44 men from Spin Boldak, Kandahar, whom the Taliban have allegedly killed since July 16. All had registered with the Taliban before being summarily executed. Waheedullah, a police commander from Spin Boldak, had obtained a “forgiveness” letter from the Taliban, but Taliban fighters took him from his house and executed him on August 2, activists and media monitoring these detentions in Kandahar said.  

Ghazni residents said that Taliban forces entered their neighborhoods on July 11, after Afghan government forces withdrew from the city. Taliban forces then searched house-to-house, apparently to identify residents who had worked for the provincial or district government or security forces. They took into custody dozens of residents, some of whom were later released after being compelled to provide assurances they would not cooperate with the government. Human Rights Watch could not confirm the status or whereabouts of those not released.

A resident of Naw Abad district said that when Taliban forces arrived in his area, they announced it through the local mosques’ loudspeakers:

“They said that the area is under their control, and they are celebrating their victory, that people should obey them. They said that government employees, except the military, should come to get a letter which is valid for 10 days and no one would be able to hurt them if they have that. They must renew the letter every 10 days.”

He said the Taliban established checkpoints around the city, and on July 13 they stopped him and two relatives and ordered them to come for questioning.

“They took us to a place and when they didn’t find anything on the other two, they released them,” he said. “They forced me to open my Facebook [account] and they saw my posts, my regular contact with a friend [who works for the government] and some of my pictures with army soldiers. Then they transferred me to another place and referred me to their intelligence department. They said I would only be released if I gave them any weapons I had.”

The Taliban released the man on July 19 after local community leaders gave assurances that he was not a government employee or had any connection with the military. But on July 30, Taliban fighters again came to his house and took him away without explanation. The family said they have no information about his whereabouts.

International humanitarian law prohibits detaining civilians unless absolutely necessary for imperative security reasons. Retaliatory detentions are a form of collective punishment and are also prohibited. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently investigating allegations of war crimes and serious human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict, including the Taliban.  

“Taliban forces need to recognize that in new areas under their authority, they are obligated to ensure that all civilians are protected,” Gossman said.

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