A group of Taliban fighters in Panjshir. Photo: Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu

Amnesty International: The Taliban has committed war crimes in Panjshir province

Amnesty International has accused the Taliban of committing war crimes in Panjshir.

In a report published on Thursday, the international human rights organisation says the group has been engaged in “mass punishment of civilians and extrajudicial executions of prisoners of war.”

The report, titled “Your Sons Are in The Mountains: The Collective Punishment of Civilians in Panjshir by the Taliban” recounts the Taliban’s abuses in Panjshir province, where the National Resistance Front (NRF) has been active.

Drawing on open-source images and videos, and interviews with people in Panjshir, Amnesty has documented extrajudicial executions, torture and arbitrary detentions.

The report says:

“Over the past two years, the Taliban has repeatedly sent troops to Panjshir, launching operations to suppress the NRF.” Last summer, the region witnessed a devastating battle between the Taliban and the Front, resulting in substantial casualties on both sides. The Taliban in Panjshir stands accused of “shooting prisoners, arbitrary arrests, torture, and the targeted killing of civilians.”

Agnès Callamard, Secretary-General of Amnesty International, said the list of war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law committed by the Taliban in Panjshir is extensive.

“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,” Callamard states. “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,” she added.

Amnesty’s report has documented several cases of “extrajudicial mass executions” of NRF fighters by the Taliban. In one case, at least six people – and possibly nine – were executed in September 2022 on a mountainside near Darea Hazara, which is part of Pochava village of Darah district in Panjshir.

Amnesty’s Crisis Evidence Lab has analyzed and verified five videos depicting parts of the execution process. The first video shows members of the Taliban escorting six men with their hands bound behind their backs up a steep hillside.

According to the report, interviewees identified all six as captured fighters in the NRF: Mohammad-u Din, Ishaq, Daniyar, Modir Ahmad, Amir Hatam, and Mohammad Yar.

In the subsequent videos, the detainees’ eyes are covered with blindfolds, and armed members of the Taliban are positioned uphill, behind the detainees. The videos show several Taliban members firing their weapons for 19 seconds, killing five men and causing several of their bodies to fall downhill. While five people were visibly shot and killed on camera, a witness has told Amnesty International that a total of nine people were killed in this mass execution. Witnesses later named the three other victims as Feroz, Torabaz, and Shah Faisal.

“Unlawful detention, torture, and other ill-treatment”

Amnesty International’s report states that in at least three cases, the Taliban tortured to death civilians they had arrested in the Bazarak and Rokha districts of Panjshir province. According to the organization, the detained farmers and cattle ranchers believed they had permission from the group officials to access certain mountainous areas for their animals.

Two of the victims, Noor Mohammad and Ghulam Ishan, were residents of the Darah district and were tortured in the Rokha district while in search of their cattle in October 2022. The third man, Abdul Muneer Amini, was detained in his home district of Bazarak in June 2022. Videos and photos taken after their bodies were recovered were shared on social media and privately with Amnesty International. All three bodies showed extensive signs of torture, including severe bruising likely caused by heavy beatings, according to the analysis of a forensic pathologist consulted by Amnesty International.

The organization writes that the Taliban have also repeatedly arbitrarily arrested and detained civilian men and older boys over their suspected affiliation with the NRF. As many as 200 people have been detained at a time. According to the report, these arrests largely occurred in Darah, Abshar, and Khenj districts between May and August 2022, either during village-wide mass arrests in certain locations or in targeting specific households where the Taliban suspect family members have joined the NRF.

The detention of family members to induce surrender by fighters amounts to hostage-taking and is a war crime. Detainees remained in Taliban custody for various lengths of time, ranging from hours to months.

The report states that in one case in Darah district, a man said the Taliban arrested his father from his village in June 2022, in an attempt to find the man and his brothers, whom the Taliban suspected had joined the NRF.

The man told Amnesty International: “[The Taliban] had taken my father by 1:00 PM. He was taken to the mosque, and there they unbound his blindfold. They made him sit on a mattress. There they began questioning [him], ‘Where are your sons? It is said that your sons are in the mountains.”

“Need for accountability”

In its report, Amnesty International has highlighted that the people of Afghanistan suffered crimes and other serious human rights violations both prior to and following August 2021 with little accountability. According to this organization, the lack of a credible internal infrastructure for accountability poses a significant risk of evidence destruction concerning these crimes.

“Those who have faced atrocities in Panjshir, and indeed all victims of Taliban crimes committed in Afghanistan, deserve an end to impunity and a clear road to justice, truth, and reparations,” said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“The creation of an independent international accountability mechanism is essential, with a focus on the collection and preservation of evidence to hold all those suspected of criminal responsibility accountable,” she added.