STORY: Afghanistan Violence – OHCHR
SOURCE: UNTV CH
ASPECT RATIO: 16:9
DATELINE: 10 August 2021, GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
UN rights chief warns of likely war crimes in Afghanistan as Taliban reclaims control
Violence against Afghan civilians by Taliban fighters “could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity” UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday, before urging a return to peace negotiations in Doha.
Among the alleged violations, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted "deeply disturbing reports" of the summary execution of surrendering government troops in the face of the Taliban offensive, and the killing of a female rights defender.
“Parties to the conflict must stop fighting to prevent more bloodshed,” Ms. Bachelet said in a statement. “The Taliban must cease their military operations in cities. Unless all parties return to the negotiating table and reach a peaceful settlement, the already atrocious situation for so many Afghans will become much worse.”
Since 9 July in four cities alone – Lashkar Gah, Kandahar, Herat and Kunduz – at least 183 civilians have been killed and 1,181 injured, including children, according to the Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR).
The real figure “will be much higher”, Ms. Bachelet said, as “these are just the civilian casualties we have managed to document”.
Speaking for the High Commissioner, OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani underscored how Taliban violence had targeted women, rights defenders and journalists. “People are living in fear and dread,” she said. “Women are already being killed and shot for breaching rules that have been imposed on what they can wear and where they can move without a male escort.”
Ms. Shamdasani told journalists in Geneva that freedom of expression has also been curbed, as radio stations go off air.
“There are already reports of women having been flogged and beaten in public because they breached the prescribed rules,” she said. “In one case in Balkh province, on 3 August, a women’s rights activist was shot and killed for breaching the rules.”
OHCHR has also received reports of “summary executions, attacks against current and former government officials and their family members, destruction of homes, schools and clinics and the laying of large numbers of IEDs (improvised explosive devices)”, in areas already captured by the Taliban and in contested areas.
Even before the latest Taliban attacks on urban centres, the UN documented an unprecedented increase in the number of civilian casualties.
Amid the continuing pull-out of international and US forces, an estimated 192 district administrative centres have fallen to the Taliban, with attacks on provincial capitals including Qala-e-Naw, Kandahar, Lashkar Gah, Herat, Faizabad, Ghazni, Maimana, Gardez, Faizabad, Pul-e- Khumri, and Mazar-e-Sharif, and the takeover of at least six provincial capitals - Zaranj in Nimroz province, Sheberghan in Jawzjan province, Kunduz City in Kunduz province, Taloqan in Takhar province, Sar-e-Pul in Sar-e-Pul province and Aybak in Samangan province.
In an appeal to all parties to the conflict to stop fighting “to prevent more bloodshed”, the High Commissioner urged the Taliban to cease all military operations in cities. “Unless all parties return to the negotiating table and reach a peaceful settlement, the already atrocious situation for so many Afghans will become much worse,” she said.
The UN rights chief also urged all States to use their influence – bilaterally and multilaterally – to bring the hostilities to an end, noting in her statement the many opportunities for constructive engagement by the belligerents at peace-related meetings taking place this week in Doha.
“States have a duty to use any leverage they have to de-escalate the situation and reinvigorate peace processes. The fighting must be brought to an end,” the High Commissioner said.
According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office, most of the civilian harm has been caused by ground engagements.
Airstrikes have also resulted in civilian casualties, Ms. Bachelet’s statement noted, with at least 241,000 people displaced since the start of the May Taliban offensive.