World ignoring possible war crimes in Afghanistan: HRW

AFP, July 14, 2001

ISLAMABAD, July 14 (AFP) - The international community is ignoring gross human rights violations in Afghanistan that could qualify as war crimes and crimes against humanity, a US-based rights group said.

Human Rights Watch, in a report released on its website Friday, said Pakistan, Iran and Russia in particular were fueling the conflict with smuggled arms, some of which contravened a United Nations embargo.

"In the war, all major factions have repeatedly committed serious violations of international law, including killings, indiscriminate aerial bombardment and shelling, direct attacks on civilians, summary executions, rape, persecution on the basis of religion, and the use of antipersonnel landmines," it said.

"Many of the factions' violations can be shown to have been 'widespread or systematic', a criterion of crimes against humanity.

"Direct attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks resulting in civilian casualties may amount to war crimes under international humanitarian law."

The ruling Taliban militia, which controls most of the impoverished country between Pakistan and Iran, captured Kabul in 1996 but is still battling a range of loosely affiliated opposition groups in various areas.

"Most of the recent violations, especially summary executions and indiscriminate aerial bombardment, have been by the Taliban, while the United Front (opposition alliance) has failed to hold its commanders accountable for past abuses," the New York-based group said.

The UN slapped an arms embargo on the Taliban in January for the militia's refusal to hand over indicted terrorist Osama bin Laden for trial. The Saudi millionaire is wanted for allegedly plotting twin US embassy bombings in Africa in 1998.

The embargo does not apply to the opposition forces, based mainly in the northeast bordering Tajikistan and the west near Iran.

"The United Nations Security Council should impose a comprehensive embargo on all military assistance against all warring factions in Afghanistan," Human Rights Watch said.

Its allegations were expanded in a 55-page report, compiled after two years of research in the region, titled "Crisis of Impunity: The Role of Pakistan, Russia, and Iran in Fueling the Civil War in Afghanistan."

"The international community has failed to hold Afghanistan's warring factions accountable for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law," said the group's arms division chief, Joost Hiltermann.

"Civilians are at the center of this conflict, and their well-being must be at the center of the solution."

The report said clear evidence had been found that Pakistan was feeding the Taliban's war effort while Iran and Russia were backing the opposition.

"Pakistan, in particular, should be pressed to comply with the embargo, especially to prevent the re-supply of ammunition and spare parts to the Taliban," it said.

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