Rights watchdog says Taliban guilty of war crimes in Panjshir province

Portraits of former mujahedeen commanders along Panjshir province’s main road. September 2021.

Amnesty International said in a report released this week that the Taliban have committed the war crime of collective punishment against civilians in Afghanistan’s Panjshir province.

The watchdog’s new report, titled “Your Sons Are In The Mountains: The Collective Punishment of Civilians In Panjshir by the Taliban”, documents serious international human rights and humanitarian law violations, including extrajudicial executions, torture, and mass arbitrary arrests and detention by the Taliban.

According to the report, members of the security forces of the former Afghan government fled to Panjshir with equipment and arms, and joined the National Resistance Front (NRF) after Afghanistan collapsed to the Taliban in August 2021.

In response, the Taliban retaliated against captured fighters, and targeted the civilian population in Panjshir to force compliance and submission, the report said.

“In Panjshir, the Taliban’s cruel tactic of targeting civilians due to suspicion of their affiliation with the NRF is causing widespread misery and fear,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“The list of war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law committed by the Taliban in Panjshir is extensive: extrajudicial executions, torture, hostage-taking, unlawful detention, and the torching of civilian homes. Each individual act is abhorrent, and this conduct in sum amounts to collective punishment – in itself, a war crime,” she added.

“Thousands of people are being swept up in the Taliban’s continued oppression, which is clearly intended to intimidate and punish. The Taliban’s deliberate targeting of civilians in Panjshir must stop immediately,” Callamard said.

The watchdog also said that during the ongoing crackdown, the Taliban have conducted village-wide arbitrary arrests of all adult men and older boys, detained them without charge, and subjected them to beatings and other abuse.

According to the report, the Taliban have also imposed the only night-time curfew in all of Afghanistan, seized civilian homes, and restricted shepherds’ access to their traditional grazing lands.

“While many of the acts taken by Taliban forces individually constitute war crimes, the entirety of those acts – plus the additional arbitrary detentions and restrictions on the civilian population – also constitute the war crime of collective punishment,” the report said.

Amnesty International has called on the Taliban authorities to investigate the cases documented, and hold fair trials before ordinary civilian courts where warranted.

The organization also reiterated its call for the United Nations Human Rights Council to create an independent international accountability mechanism with a focus on preserving evidence for future justice processes, including prosecutions as well as public reporting and monitoring as “the Taliban have been neither willing nor able to conduct genuine investigations or hold any members of their forces to account in fair trials.”