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I.  Introduction

We went to Kabul with a lot of glory and pride. . . .  [W]e were encouraged that our country would lead forward, gain strength, and we would stand on our own two feet.  The recent attacks on Kabul have shattered all the hopes of the Afghan people and caused us tremendous humiliation in the international community.
—Hamid Karzai, deputy foreign minister, to the Associated Press, August 23, 1992.

Afghanistan has suffered from over two decades of war.  This is the typical opening of most reports, articles, and speeches written about Afghanistan today.  The statement, usually used to help explain the country’s post-Taliban challenges, is repeated so frequently that it has become a cliché.  Yet few efforts have been made to study the history itself and its significance for Afghanistan’s current situation.  More remarkable, despite the fact the two-decade period was marked by widespread human rights abuses, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the statement is rarely followed by suggestions that perpetrators of past crimes, most of whom are still alive, should be brought to justice. Afghanistan’s past is often invoked, but rarely addressed.

This report, which documents only one short part of that two-decade past, is not an attempt to remedy the situation.  This report is not a comprehensive history of armed conflict in Afghanistan over the last two decades or a full accounting of the crimes of this period.  Nor could it be.  Complete documentation of the most serious atrocities committed in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s, when it is accomplished, will require broad-based and long-term efforts backed fully by both the Afghan government and the international community.  When such a history is written, it will not fit within the covers of a book; it will fill bookshelves.

Rather, this report focuses on a single year in Afghanistan’s history: the Afghan year of 1371 (April 1992 to March 1993), immediately succeeding the collapse of the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. It also focuses on events in a single place: Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, and its immediate environs.

Why Kabul, and why 1371?  To start, there is the scale of the abuses and their context.  The year 1371 was Afghanistan’s first full year of freedom from Soviet manipulation, in the wake of ten years of Soviet occupation in the 1980s.  The change of power in Kabul in 1371 could easily have marked a new beginning for Afghanistan.

Instead, it was one of its darkest eras.  As this report shows, Kabul in 1371 was the scene of almost constant armed conflict among hostile Afghan military factions—rival mujahedin forces and defecting army forces who swept into the city after the Soviet-backed government collapsed.  During this period, the various factions battled over Kabul and committed countless atrocities against the Afghan civilian population.  Tens of thousands of civilians were killed and injured amidst the fighting.  Many if not most of these civilian casualties were the result of direct or indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population and other serious violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war).  Militias abducted thousands of civilians during this period; most were never seen again.  Much of the city was looted and destroyed.  Most of the destruction that scars Kabul even today took place during this period and in the years immediately following—before the Taliban marched on Kabul.

The crimes of this period have not received as much attention as crimes committed during other phases of Afghanistan’s wars.  The whole history of conflict in Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion to the present was marked by atrocities.  In the 1980s (Afghan years 1359-68), the Soviet Red Army and its allied Afghan army committed massive war crimes and crimes against humanity, intentionally targeting civilians and civilian areas for attack, killing prisoners, and torturing and murdering detainees.  And in the mid- to late-1990s (Afghan years 1375-1380), the Taliban committed numerous war crimes during military operations, and as a governing power operated almost entirely outside of established human rights standards. 

Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups have already documented, in numerous earlier reports, the atrocities of Soviet armed forces and the Afghan client government, and the crimes and repression of the Taliban in the 1990s.  In addition, the United Nations has compiled an index of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and human rights violations during the entire period from 1978 to 2001, focusing largely on Soviet and Taliban abuses (this report was never publicly released, but was supplied to the Afghan government in January 2005).  Abuses from the Soviet and Taliban periods have also been covered widely in international media.

The early 1990s, however, including the Afghan year 1371, have received relatively little attention.  Internationally, this period was overshadowed by other events, including the U.S. presidential campaign between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush in 1992, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and war in the former Yugoslavia.  In the United States, the fall of the Soviet-backed regime in late April 1992 was upstaged by violent race riots in Los Angeles, California.

Generally, little information is available today about what happened in Afghanistan during 1371.  A relatively small number of Afghan and international journalists covered events during this period, and media editors and producers often passed on the stories journalists filed.  There were no functioning Afghan news services.  No international human rights monitors were deployed in the country at the time, few humanitarian groups were operating, and there was only a modest United Nations presence with no direct mandate to report on the human rights situation.  This report attempts to fill some of these informational gaps.

A second reason for our focus on the early 1990s lies in this period’s specific relevance to the present.  Many of the main commanders and political faction leaders implicated in the crimes detailed in this report are now officials in the Afghan government—serving in high level positions in the police, military, intelligence services, and even as advisors to President Hamid Karzai.  Others may be actively seeking such positions.  Many Afghans, and Kabulis in particular, believe that these leaders’ history of abuse makes them unsuitable to hold such positions.

We agree.  Human Rights Watch has been working in conflict and post-conflict settings in four continents for over twenty-five years.  We have observed the successes and failures of numerous peace-building processes, and documented time after time how post-conflict leaders with records of past abuse––with their penchant for resolving political issues through force instead of law—have continued to commit abuses and allowed lawlessness to persist or return.

These lessons are applicable in Afghanistan today.  Despite the 2001 Bonn Agreement, which established a government under President Karzai, most parts of Afghanistan are still controlled by autonomous commanders—warlords—who control militia factions of varying sizes and continue to threaten the country’s peace-building efforts.  Many of these warlords and factions, named in this report as being implicated in past abuses, have been involved in contemporary human rights abuses in the Kabul area since 2001, including looting of homes, abduction, torture of detainees, rape, and murder. 

Human Rights Watch has documented much of this abuse in past reports.1  Many high level officials named in this report, and in our past reports, have also been implicated in widespread land-grabbing schemes in reports by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

Simply put, many of the warlords involved in abuses in the early 1990s are repeat offenders.  This pattern of recidivism is common sense to many Kabulis, many of whom have repeatedly told Human Rights Watch over the last three years: “Jangsalar jangsalar hastand.”  (“Warlords are [and remain] warlords.”)  But the lesson seems to be lost on many Afghan and international officials.

Specific Findings

This report documents numerous serious human rights abuses, war crimes, and crimes against humanity that occurred from April 1992—the collapse of the government of President Najibullah, the leader once backed by the Soviet Union—to March 1993.

Section II, following this introduction, provides an historical background to the events of that year.  Section III (A) details the capture of Kabul by various anti-Najibullah mujahedin forces in late April 1992, and describes violence in the city from April through December of 1992 as these forces began to fight among themselves.  The report documents the different abuses committed by each of the factions during this period, including indiscriminate military attacks, intentional targeting of civilians, murders and assaults on civilians, abductions, forced labor, and looting of civilian homes.  It also discusses allegations that members of particular factions raped women as well as girls and boys.

In section III (B), the report documents how fighting intensified in January 1993.  Section III (C) describes how that fighting culminated in the February 1993 Afshar campaign—a military attack by various mujahedin forces against Shi’a mujahedin forces in the west of the city.  As the report shows, in the lead-up to the attack, hundreds of people were killed in indiscriminate or intentional attacks on civilian homes, and thousands more were displaced.  As documented here, militias murdered scores of civilians in front of their homes during the attack.  Hundreds more were abducted and never seen again.

In section IV, we discuss the legal culpability of various factions and leaders for their involvement in the documented abuses, including numerous commanders who hold positions in Afghanistan’s government as of mid-2005.

Section V sets forth detailed recommendations.

Text Box: The Responsible Parties
As shown below, the factions and leaders involved in the documented abuses include:

•	Jamiat-e Islami-yi Afghanistan (hereafter “Jamiat”), a predominately Tajik faction led politically by Burhanuddin Rabbani and commanded militarily by Ahmad Shah Massoud (killed in a suicide attack on September 9, 2001).

•	Shura-e Nazar, a federation of military forces led by various mujahedin commanders, mostly from the north and northeast of Afghanistan, united under Massoud’s military command.

•	Hezb-e Islami, a predominately Pashtun faction under the command of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and one of the primary recipients of military assistance from the United States and Pakistan through the 1980s and early 1990s.

•	Ittihad-i Islami Bara-yi Azadi Afghanistan (hereafter “Ittihad”), a predominately Pashtun faction headed by Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, linked to and supported by Saudi Arabia.

•	Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami-yi Afghanistan (hereafter “Wahdat”), the principal Shi’a and predominately Hazara faction in Afghanistan led in 1992-1993 by Abdul Ali Mazari (killed in 1996) and heavily supported by Iran.

•	Junbish-e Milli-yi Islami-yi Afghanistan (hereafter “Junbish”), a predominately Uzbek and Turkmen militia, based in northern Afghanistan, led by Abdul Rashid Dostum (a general in the Soviet-backed Afghan army during the 1980s) and comprised of forces from the former Soviet-backed army and various mujahedin militias from the north of the country.

•	Harakat-e Islami-yi Afghanistan (hereafter “Harakat”), a predominately Shi’a faction headed politically by Mohammad Asef Mohseni and militarily by Hossein Anwari, supported by Iran.

During most of the period discussed in this report, the sovereignty of Afghanistan was vested formally in “The Islamic State of Afghanistan,” an entity created in April 1992, after the fall of the Soviet-backed Najibullah government.  This government was headed from April to June 1992 by Sibghatullah Mujaddidi, a relatively weak political leader from a small mujahedin party in Peshawar, chosen to be president as a compromise by most (but not all) of the parties named above.  For the remaining period covered in this report, and until the Taliban entered Kabul in 1996, the presidency was held by Burhanuddin Rabbani, the political leader of Jamiat.

With the exception of Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami, all of the parties listed above were ostensibly unified under this government in April 1992 (but as described here, Wahdat later changed sides, in late 1992, and allied with Hezb-e Islami).  The military, police, and intelligence forces loosely organized under this government were, at least at the beginning of the period covered in this report, comprised mostly of Jamiat and Junbish troops, although these militias also allied with soldiers from the Ittihad, Wahdat, and Harakat factions.  Commanders and officials from the Jamiat, Junbish, and Ittihad parties often met at the office of the president and Ministry of Defense to coordinate.  

Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami, for its part, refused to recognize the government for most of the period discussed in this report and launched attacks against government forces and Kabul generally.  (Mazari’s Wahdat forces joined in these efforts in late 1992.)

As shown in this report, each of these forces in 1992-1993 had hierarchical military structures with a chief commander, sub-commanders at various levels, and soldiers.2  These hierarchies made it possible for factional leaders and commanders to have effective control over subordinates, and leaders and commanders could order troops to act, and not to act, and ensure that troops would obey.  These hierarchies were not always transparent or consistent—and complicated ethnic, tribal, and family relations made the command structures fluid.  But the groups were organized, and commanders in many respects did control troops.  Many of the atrocities and abuses documented in this report were avoidable, not unstoppable.  Some abuses, as shown below, may have been directly ordered by commanders.

For more information on the make-up and characteristics of the factions listed above, see Appendix A.

The Value of Justice

Everyone has blood on their hands.  This is another oft-repeated phrase about Afghanistan.  For many Afghans, it is an indictment: a denunciation of the warlords in Afghanistan’s current government with past records of abuse and war crimes.  Many if not most Afghans hated the cruelty and viciousness of Taliban rule.  But Afghans also remember the period before their rule, when many of Afghanistan’s current military and political leadership were in Kabul, serving as factional commanders or officials in the erstwhile government.  They remember how the factions looted and fought bloody street battles throughout Kabul, typically with total disregard to their effect on the civilian population.  And they also remember the Soviet period, with its terrible crimes.

However, for many Afghan and international officials, Everyone has blood on their hands is an excuse: a justification for inaction in holding some of the world’s most serious human rights offenders accountable for their crimes.  “No one has clean hands,” officials sometime say, referring to Afghanistan’s potential leaders, a statement that disregards the millions of Afghans inside and outside the country who never took part in Afghanistan’s hostilities. 

There are literally millions of Afghans without “blood on their hands.”  And many of them would be eligible to serve as officials in Afghanistan’s government, or run for office.  Some have, and have served with distinction.  Yet many qualified Afghans are today afraid of taking part in governance, fearful of more powerful militia leaders whose hands, they say in Dari, “be khoon agheshteh hast”—are indeed stained with blood.

The truth is that most Afghans want these factional commanders and officials involved in this fighting to be held accountable for the crimes committed during this period—along with those involved in Soviet-era and Taliban-era abuses.  The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission completed a survey, based on in-depth interviews and focus groups with thousands of Afghans across the country, focusing on citizens’ views on past crimes and what to do about addressing them.  The findings made it clear that the vast majority of Afghans want the crimes of the past to be confronted.  This is not surprising, given the extent to which the Afghan population has been affected by conflict.  As the commission noted in the report:

The atrocities that were committed in Afghanistan are of an enormous scale, and the sense of victimization among the people we spoke to is widespread and profound. Almost everyone had been touched by violence in some way.  When we asked 4,151 respondents as part of the survey whether they had been personally affected by violations during the conflict, 69 percent identified themselves or their immediate families as direct victims of a serious human rights violation during the 23-year period.  Out of over 2,000 focus group participants, over 500 referred to killings among their relatives.  Almost 400 had experienced torture or detention either themselves or in their immediate family.  These are staggering statistics, in comparison to any other conflict in the world.3

According to the AIHRC survey results, 94 percent of Afghans consider justice for past crimes to be either “very important” (75.9 percent) or “important” (18.5 percent).  When asked what the effects would be for Afghanistan in bringing war criminals to justice, 76 percent said it would “increase stability and bring security,” and only 7.6 percent said it would “decrease stability and threaten security.”  Almost half of those questioned said war criminals should be brought to justice “now,” and another 25 percent said perpetrators should be tried “within two years.”4

Human Rights Watch, along with numerous other international and Afghan non-governmental organizations, has repeatedly called on Afghan officials and international actors involved in Afghanistan to help organize independent and impartial mechanisms to hold accountable persons responsible for war crimes and serious human rights abuses committed since 1978, and we fully agree with the AIHRC on the need for this issue to receive more attention.

The AIHRC has also made a number of recommendations for moving forward, including short-term and immediate measures for sidelining past abusers from government service (“vetting”), building up the capacity for criminal trials, and exploring options for reparations and compensation for victims. 

Human Rights Watch in general supports the AIHRC’s recommendations (see section V, below), especially on the need for vetting government officials and rebuilding the judicial system to allow for fair trials of those implicated in serious international crimes.

In short, we agree with the majority of Afghans—and the AIHRC—that justice for past crimes in Afghanistan is important, and that ongoing impunity is damaging efforts to develop Afghanistan and reestablish the rule of law. 

Continued impunity is an affront not only to the victims of past abuse, but to all Afghans, and a stumbling block on the road to Afghanistan’s peaceful future.  The purpose of this report, among other things, is to help pressure the Afghan government and international community to take action to address this impunity, so that Afghans get what they want: justice.

As an immediate first step, we recommend that the government implement a set of vetting processes for government officials.  We also recommend that immediate efforts be taken to accelerate judicial reform.  We also recommend that the government work to create a Special Court to try past offenders, and that the court be comprised of both Afghan and international judges, with an international majority, and that the prosecutor’s office be led by an international prosecutor.

A complete recommendations section appears on page 125.

Methodology of this report

This report is based on over 150 in-depth interviews with witnesses and victims of abuses in 1992-1993 and faction members and officials familiar with events at the time.  Those interviewed include civilians in Kabul during the fighting, Afghan and international print, radio, and television journalists who ventured through Kabul during the hostilities, health workers at Kabul’s hospitals, government and factional officials and troops, among others.  Human Rights Watch has also interviewed military experts and analysts familiar with mujahedin groups and the weapons systems and military tactics these groups used in 1992-1993. 

In most cases, Afghan and international sources interviewed by Human Rights Watch voiced serious concern about their ongoing security, given the sensitivity of the issues and the continuing power of some of the persons implicated in the abuses discussed.  For these reasons, most sources are identified by initials (e.g., “G.H.K.”) which are not associated with their actual name.

The use of ethnic group identifications in this report does not constitute endorsement or approval of the use of ethnically based distinctions in identifying Afghan citizens.  Many Afghans share more than one ethnic ancestry or are intermarried.  Still, most Afghans identify themselves as belonging to a single particular ethnic group—usually their fathers’.  Except where otherwise stated, all references to Afghans’ ethnic identities (for instance, Tajik, Pashtun, Uzbek, Hazara) and religious identities (Sunni and Shi’a) are based on interviewees’ own identifications.

[1] See, e.g., Human Rights Watch, “Killing You is a Very Easy Thing For Us”: Human Rights Abuses in Southeast Afghanistan, A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 15, no. 5 (C), July 2003, available at; and Human Rights Watch, Paying for the Taliban's Crimes: Abuses Against Ethnic Pashtuns in Northern Afghanistan, A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 14, no. 2(c), n. 13, available at

[2] Descriptions of factions’ command structures in this report are based on numerous interviews with sources familiar with the events of 1992-1993, including Afghan humanitarian workers, journalists, historians, and government officials; international aid workers, health workers, journalists, and diplomats; and mujahedin and other factional leaders.  The command structures of these factions are also discussed in detail in section IV.  For a broader analysis of various mujahedin parties in the early 1990s acknowledging and describing their command structures, see Barnett R. Rubin, The Search for Peace in Afghanistan: From Buffer State to Failed State (New Haven: Yale, 1995) pp. 117-119; Amin Saikal, “The Rabbani Government, 1992-1996” in Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and the Taliban (William Maley, ed., Lahore: Vanguard Books, 1998), pp. 34-36; Noor Mohammed Sangar, Neem Negahi Bar E’telafhay-e Tanzimi dar Afghanistan (“A Brief Glance at Factional Alliances in Afghanistan”) (Peshawar: publisher unknown, 2003); and Tschanguiz Pahlavan, Afghanistan: The Era of Mujahedeen and the Rise of the Taliban (Tehran: Ghatreh Publishing House, 1999).

[3] Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, “A Call for Justice: A Report on National Consultations on Transitional Justice in Afghanistan,” January 2005.

[4] Ibid.

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