UN reports serious rights violations in northwest Afghanistan

News Network International
, April 29, 2003

KABUL April 29 (NNI): The United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has announced that serious human rights violations had taken place in Bala Morghab District in the northwestern province of Badghis, resulting from clashes a month ago between a coalition of factions and those of a local commander, Juman Khan.

"According to reports, during the recent conflict in Akazayi village, 38 civilians died, while 761 homes and 21 shops were looted," David Singh, a media relations officer for UNAMA, told Integrated Regional Information Network in the Afghan capital, Kabul, urging the governor of Badghis and local authorities to make every effort to bring the perpetrators to justice.

From 16 to 20 April, a UN and AIHRC joint delegation was sent to the area to carry out a preliminary fact-finding assessment. "Information gathered from Akazayi elders and local human rights activists, points to extremely serious violations of human rights before and during the recent armed conflict," Singh said, stressing that those violations represented a serious threat to peace and reconciliation in the country.

The UN said victims who had drowned in a river included three women and 12 children. "Some reports say that they threw themselves in the river to escape the gunfire, while others said women jumped in to avoid being abused by soldiers," Singh said. He added that, based on the reports, a coalition of local factions pursuing Juman Khan and his troops had executed 26 individuals, whose bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs.

But there had already been earlier reports of an established pattern of human rights violations in Bala Morghab, which might have even triggered the conflict. "Reportedly, these included compulsory taxation of the local population by soldiers and armed individuals not wearing any recognised uniform, and extortion of money and food, and confiscation of cattle and harvest," Singh said. Failure to comply with the demands had resulted in ill-treatment and torture and even extrajudicial executions.

"Interlocutors also pointed out that persons refusing to comply with requests by the soldiers were labelled as Taliban," he asserted, noting that the remoteness of the area made it virtually impossible for the people there to address complaints to the central government.

"The international community has allowed warlords and local military commanders to take control of much of the country," HRW representative Loubna Freih told the U.N. Human Rights Commission

Reuters, April 22, 2003

The region experienced a very similar outbreak of violence in early April, when 13 people, including two civilians, were killed as a result of internal clashes between two local warring groups in Faryab Province, neighbouring Badghis.

"The tension is of course instigated by violations perpetrated by factions in the area, as well as due to an insufficient presence of the central authority and absence of a national army, law enforcement and lack of a national police force," Goran Fejic, a senior human rights adviser for UNAMA, told IRIN, calling on the Afghan government to pay more attention to the area, including social and economic aspects.

"UNAMA has observed gross neglect of the local population, including extremely high levels of illiteracy and total absence of infrastructures, as well as of qualified teachers in the area," Fejic argued, describing the latest incidents as "shocking".

AIHRC officials said that they had briefed the Afghan government on the issue, asking it to pursue it vigorously. "The violation may erupt again if decisive and immediate reaction is not undertaken," Ahmad Nader Nadery, an AIHRC commissioner asserted, noting, however, that the situation had calmed down despite the fact that the perpetrators and their gunmen were still in the area.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government confirmed details of the incident, saying that serious countermeasures were being undertaken. "A high-ranking government delegation just arrived from the area, which collected reliable facts and took claims from the local people in Bala Morghab," Gen Ahmadzai, the chief of staff of the interior ministry, said, noting that the ministry had reported the matter to President Hamid Karzai, and that another government high-level delegation, comprising people from the interior ministry and presidential office, was set to go to the area soon.

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