|Afghanistan Possible Ethnic and Religious Genocide
against the Hazara
||Much of the recent coverage of Afghanistan has focused
on the sensational destruction of ancient Buddhist temples, the demarcation
of minorities, the persecution of women, and the press blackout. This
report, however, concentrates on the recent massacres of the Hazaras
Parties Involved in the Conflict
The Nature of the Violence
Is it Genocide?
Complicating Factors: The Media
Post Soviet Union Afghanistan
After the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the rebel
groups and parties who helped remove the Soviet Union, remained in
conflict. Najibullah, the President of Afghanistan at this time made
offers to share power among the various warring factions. However,
the Afghan rebels refused and the civil war continued. In 1992, the
rebel groups closed in on Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The Najibullah
government fell and ethnic Uzbek and Tajik leaders took power. As
a result, Burhanuddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, took the presidency.
During this time, the Pashtun ethnic group, who had traditionally
held power, were restricted from most government positions and in
many regards discriminated against. Rabbani held power from July 1992
until 1996 amidst continued attempts by various other divisions to
remove him and the ethnic minority leaders. It is at this time the
Taliban entered the Afghanistan political arena
|The Taliban’s Rise to Power
The Taliban, led by Mullah Mohammad Omar emerged in the fall of 1994
as a party of guerrilla soldiers who identified themselves as “religious
students”. The Taliban stated that their mission was to disarm the
warring factions and impose their strict orthodox version of Islamic
law. The Pakistani government is suspected of supporting the Pashtun-dominated
Taliban. The Pakistan rational was that this would help keep the Afghanistan
conflict out of Pakistan as well as provide safety to crucial trade
routes through Afghanistan to Pakistan. The Taliban took Kabul in
September 1996, removing Rabbani’s administration. In 1997, the Taliban
opposition coalition, primarily constituting leaders from Rabbani’s
administration, took the name United Islamic Front for the Salvation
of Afghanistan, (hereafter known as The United Front) appointing General
Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek leader, as chief military commander.
The United Front continues support of Rabbani.
Today the Taliban controls ninety percent of Afghanistan and is still
in routine conflict with the United Front who holds the northwestern
piece of Afghanistan. It is violence, likely based on religious and
ethnic lines, within the context of a civil land and power struggle
that will be the focus of this report.
|II. Parties Involved
The Taliban began as a network of private, rural-based madrasas, or
religious schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Led by Mullah Mohammad
Omar, the Taliban government is then broken down into various Ministries;
these offices then support and enforce governmental edicts. Mullah
Mohammad Omar is an elusive and rarely seen figure. Omar stays mainly
in the southern city of Kandahar. (BBC, January 28, 2001). Mulla Wakil
Ahmad Mutawwakil is Foreign Minister and Mulla Amir Khan Mutaqqi is
the Head of the Administration in the Council of Ministers. The Taliban
fighters themselves are trained within the Madrasas and sent to Afghanistan.
According to CIA estimates, it is believed that there are roughly
244,958 soldiers, ranging in age from 15-49, in Afghanistan today
| The United Front
The United Front was established in 1996. Burhanuddin Rabbani, the
ousted president has the support of the United Front, and is still
the recognized President of Afghanistan by the UN. He is an ethnic
Tajik, and formerly a professor of Islamic law at Kabul University.
Another key figure in the United Front is the military leader, Commander
Ahmad Shah Massoud. The United Front’s membership has varied, but
generally includes the following parties and groups:
|The Jamiat-i-Islami-yi Afghanistan (hereinafter known
as Jamiat), led by Burhanuddin Rabbani, and Ahmad Shah Massoud both
of whom are Sunni Muslims.
The Islamic Unity party of Afghanistan (Hizb-I-Wahdat) is the principal
Shi’a Party. Originally formed by Abdual Alia Mazari, the Hizb-I-Wahdat
is currently led by Muhammad Karim Khalili.
The National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan is led by Abdul Rashid
Dostum, but has been largely inactive since 1998. (Human Rights Watch,
Ittihad-i Islami Bara-yi Azadi Afghanistan (Islamic Union for the
Liberation of Afghanistan) is headed by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf Harakat-i
Islami-yi Afghanistan (Islamic Movement of Afghanistan) is a Shi’a
party that never joined Hizb-i Wahdat, and is led by Ayatollah Muhammad
The United Front’s leaders are representative largely of groups in
power prior to the rise of the Taliban. These individuals and groups
have also committed serious human rights violations.
The leaders of the United Front, prior to the Taliban’s arrival, fought
frequently and violently amidst themselves for control of Afghanistan.
Today although they have united against the Taliban some of these
similar violent instances have continued. These include executions,
the burning of houses, and occasional looting. There were in some
instances reports of the attacks focusing largely on ethnic Pashtuns,
the group that would become the Taliban. On September 20-21 1998,
there were reports of rockets fired into Kabul, some hitting a crowded
night market. Fatalities were estimated as being between 76-180 people.
A similar incident occurred in January 1997 when Junbish troops dropped
cluster munitions on residential areas of Kabul. The United Front’s
Commander, Commander Massoud disclaimed responsibility but it is believed
that his forces executed the attacks. There were also reports of a
massacre in May of 1997 in Mazar-I-Sharif. The massacre orchestrated
by two United Front Factions, the Junbish forces and the Hizb-I-Wahdat,
killed roughly 3,000 Taliban soldiers. (Human Rights Watch, Background
Report), (Norchi, Charles)
|III. Nature of violence
There are many human rights violations and precursors to genocide
in Afghanistan. These include, increasing harassment of foreign aid
workers including the beating of hospital workers (CNN, June 8, 2001),
the shutting down of all Afghanistan news information agencies, the
firing of all minorities from government offices and jobs, the limitation
on the movement and reporting of international journalists. The forced
identification arm bands for Hindu residents, repeated allegations
of civilian killings at Bamiyan, Samangan, Khojah Ghar District, and
the Takhar Province, (Afghan Solidarity, July 15, 2001), (BBC, November
5, 1998), reports by Refugees and survivors from these incidents of
severe torture or civilian killing. The arrest and frequent torture
of many political figures as well as frequent denial of Habeas Corpus,
(Amnesty International, May 11, 2001), is important to note as well
as repeated allegations of individuals killed or imprisoned for “anti-Taliban”
activity: “Torture and ill treatments of detainees has been routine,
with some prisoners being held in metal containers for months. Dozens
of people have been subjected to cruel and inhuman or degrading punishments
such as amputation and stoning” (Amnesty International, May 4, 1999).
There are also repeated reports of the use of rockets and cluster
bombs, both inaccurate and used to cause excessive casualties. (World
Press Freedom Review, 1998) (Norchi, Charles) There is also concern
over the recent destruction of irreplaceable Buddhists statues and
Additionally, there have been three well-documented reports of massacres
in Afghanistan since the Taliban took power. The Massacre at Mazar-I-Sharif
(August 1998), the Robatak Pass Massacre (May 2000), and the Yakaolang
Massacre (January 2001). The nature of the violence in all three examples
is similar. The Taliban enters a town, and then purges it of its men
and boys in a systematic search for primarily Hazara Afghans. These
detainees are then shot on sight, or held in detention centers where
they are tortured, most are eventually killed. [See below]
Date: August 8, 1998
Number Killed: Roughly 3000 Killed
In the Mazar-I-Sharif massacre the Taliban entered the town early
August 8th. Over the course of days, “Taliban forces carried out a
systematic search for male members of the ethnic Hazara, Tajik and
Uzbek communities of the city” 1. During the searches, thousands of
men and boys were taken and held in various jails. It is clear that
most taken were non-combatants. Once in the jail, detainees were beaten
with cables, shot, or packed into trucks that held 100-150 people,
at least thirty five trucks left the Mazar-I-Sharif detention center
and were transported to other holding sites. Few in the trucks survived
the trip. The heat and number of people in each truck caused dehydration
and asphyxiation. These container trucks have in the past been used
to punish or kill prisoners and have “several precedents in Afghanistan”
(Human Rights Watch, November 1998).
As many as 2000 were killed in the initial Mazar-I-Sharif invasion.
Although thousands more remain unaccounted for, it is estimated that
as many as 3000 Hazara were killed in Mazar-I-Sharif and another 1000
in the Ghorband Valley. (Clark, Kate). After the initial invasion,
the newly instituted Governor, Governor Mulla Manon Niazi made inflammatory
speeches against the Hazara, encouraging violence. These speeches
included phrases such as: “wherever you [Hazara] go we will catch
you. If you go up, we will pull you down by your feet, if you hide
below, we will pull you up by your hair” (Human Rights Watch, November
1998). These were then aired on the Taliban controlled radio station
and clearly indicate that these were not the actions of renegade Taliban
forces but were in fact the sanctions of the Taliban Authorities (Human
Rights Watch, November 1998).
Robatak Pass Massacre
Date: Detained January 5-14, 2001, Killed May 8th 2001
Number Killed: 31 Confirmed Deaths, multiple other mass graves reported
In the Robatak Pass Massacre the similarities are clear. On January
5, 2000 the Taliban force raided a number of towns in the Baghlan
Province. House to house searches for the Hazara were immediately
begun and continued for nine days with detainees held at the Mullah
Shazad operational military base in Khinjan. They were subjected to
severe beatings with cables and many were forced to stand outside
in sub-zero temperatures. Others were shot immediately. On approximately
January 15th the detainees were moved to Pul-I-Khumri. On May 8, the
prisoners were found dead at Hazara Mazari. Shepherds at the Robatak
Pass area discovered more bodies. The detainees had been brought to
the execution site, tied with their hands behind their backs in groups
of three and subsequently shot. No exact number has been taken as
to the number killed in this incident, however multiple mass graves
have been reported in different locations near the pass. (Human Rights
Watch, November 1998).
Date: January 7, 2001
Number Killed: Over 300
The Yakaolang Massacre began January 7, 2001. The Taliban entered
the district center in Yakaolang and organized eleven search parties;
they moved from house to house gathering Hazara male occupants. There
were reports of mass civilian killing, reports of soldiers shooting
into groups of people in markets and the shooting of fire rockets
at mosques where women and children sought shelter (Amnesty International,
March 28, 2001). Hundreds of men were gathered at a relief agency
located in Nayak where most were later executed, however witnesses
also reported seeing “piles of bodies in four other locations in and
around Nayak: outside the district hospital, in the ravine behind
the mosque in the old bazaar, and outside the prayer hall of the Mindayak
village and at Qala Arab Hassan” (Human Rights Watch, February 2001).
One witness who inspected the mass graves at Bed Mushkin village reported
that at least one victim had had his skin removed either prior to,
or after death (Human Rights Watch, February 2001).
| Post January 2001
Since January, there have been repeated reports of continuing precursors
to genocide and human rights violations. [See Above] The Human Rights
Watch has continually reported the detention of civilians and destruction
of civilian property. One such incident occurred at Yakaolang after
the United Front regained control of the contested area. The Taliban,
“countered with a series of air raids in which their planes reportedly
bombed the administrative center of Yakaolang, including the district
hospital and an aid agency office. They entered the administrative
center on June 10, where the following day they were said to have
carried out widespread burning of houses and public and commercial
buildings. About sixty civilians who had taken refuge in outlying
regions of Yakaolang were reportedly arrested, and their whereabouts
remain unknown.” (Amnesty International, June 14, 2001). According
to the Radical Afghan Women’s Association, RAWA, most village inhabitants
left the area and fled into the mountains of Maharaja without food
or water. (Rashid, Ahmed, June 6, 2001) RAWA, one of the few aid organizations
still in Afghanistan, goes on to discuss that the exact number of
victims and a detailed account of this June attack is unknown. This
is a direct result of a limited aid and media presence.
|Rationale for Taliban Actions
The Taliban are believed to be instituting this violence against the
Hazara for a number of reasons. First, the Hazara primarily constituted
the government prior to the Taliban. The Rabbani presidency was extremely
violent in their actions during their rise to power and through their
administration. The Taliban feels they are enacting revenge for hardships
endured during this era.
Another probable cause is, as a fundamentalist sect of the Islamic
Faith, the Taliban views other interpretations of the Koran as blasphemy.
Therefore, the Shi’a Muslims, who interpret the laws of Islam differently
and act accordingly, are not only committing acts against the Koran
but are considered infidels. Both are offenses the Taliban feel are
punishable by death.
The final factor that is necessary to address in both situations is
that the Hazara are on the whole, anti-Taliban. As a group they are
more likely to support the United Front in removing the Taliban from
power. So, by killing these non-combatants, the Taliban is able to
ensure there will be no question of their authority or actions to
remove them from power.
|IV. Is this Genocide?
According to the Genocide Prevention Center’s Criteria for Genocide,
the situation in Afghanistan may soon be considered Genocide. The
four Criteria for Genocide are:
Does the situation meet the UN Definition of Genocide?
Is the violence Habitual?
Is the violence Intentional?
Is Genocide the Primary Characteristic of Abuse?
|UN Definition The UN definition
dictates that any noted act with the intent to destroy in whole or
in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group is an act of
genocide. It is highly likely that the Taliban are making a concentrated
effort to destroy the Hazara, an ethnic and religious minority. The
Hazara are isolated and routinely singled out in Taliban acts of violence.
There has also been a lesser focus on other smaller ethnic groups
within Afghanistan including Hindus, the Tajik and the Uzbek, all
Is the Violence Habitual?
The violence is also habitual. There is a pattern of activity within
the Taliban. The massacre of unarmed civilians is routine through
the use of organized search and seizure and the use of anti-personnel
weaponry. Such incidents have occurred repeatedly with confirmed reports
at Mazar-I-Sharif, the Robatak Pass, the Yakaolang District, as well
as unconfirmed reports at Bamiyan, Samangan, the Khojah Ghar District
and the Takhar Province.
Intent of Violence
The intent of this violence is also clear. When the Taliban enters
a newly taken area they search for Hazara, telling residents they
will live if they point out a Hazara individual or household. The
Taliban soldiers then kill this minority in large numbers. The airing
of anti-Hazara and Shi’a radio broadcasts, encouraging and inciting
violence, further prove the organized goal of this violence. Steve
Penner, founder and CEO of the Afghans Women’s Mission, points out
that limited and faulty coverage by the international media does not
highlight the Taliban intent, to massacre the Hazara
The Genocide Prevention Center feels this willful and repeated
killing of an ethnic and religious minority is the primary characteristic
of the abuse. There seems to be a mentality within the Taliban government
to remove all Hazara and religious minorities from Afghanistan whether
by driving them from the country by burning their homes and limiting
the access to what little food/water and aid is available, or by systematically
killing them. There is an organized focus on specific violence aimed
at these people.
|V. Complicating Factors
The primary complicating factor is the limited media presence. All
media institutions in Afghanistan were closed when the Taliban took
power. The few newspapers and the single radio station that are open
today, are Taliban operated and controlled. “The Taliban’s Radio Sharia,
broadcasts Islamic propaganda 24 hours a day, and is the only station
allowed within the Taliban territory” (World Press Freedom Review,
1998). This limitation on the flow of information extends to foreign
journalists as well. The Taliban on numerous occasions have made threats
and taken violent actions against journalists who break their list
of journalistic rules, print anti-Taliban reports, or try to use photography
(Reporters without Boarders, 2001). In addition, all journalists are
limited to travel within Kabul, the capital city, and are issued visas
on a week-by-week basis.
|There are also further accusations that Western Journalists
who do not speak the Afghans language receive visas whereas those
who speak Arabic are refused. This action is explained by accusations
that Taliban sponsored translators give incorrect translations to
journalists. “Almost all of them (translators) are affiliated WITH
People are afraid to say anything in front of them
because everybody knows they will report back to the information and
culture department. I’ve heard interpreters tell a foreign journalist
the exact opposite of what the person being interviewed actually said”
(Reporters without Boarders, 2001). The Taliban has also refused journalists
access to areas of alleged massacres or violence. Such limitations
on media make documentation of the current, actual situation in Afghanistan
very difficult. With journalists so limited in movement and censorship
so pervasive, reliable information is difficult to come by.
In conclusion, the Genocide Prevention Center believes that the situation
in Afghanistan is extremely volatile and could at any time dissolve
into an area of genocide. This conclusion is based on the meeting
of the four standards of genocide as well as the additional precursors
to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity which have been
cited within this situation:
1. Property Destruction (Human Rights Watch, November 1998)
2. Temple Destruction (Amnesty International, June 7, 2001)
3. Public Identification of Minority Members (BBC, May 22, 2001)
4. Vilification by Media/Government of a minority (Human Rights Watch,
5. Ethnic Cleansing (Human Rights Watch Report on Afghanistan, 1998,
6. Frequent Physical Brutality (Human Rights Watch, May 2000).
7. Frequent One-Sided Casualties
As established and cited by the Geneva Convention of 1949 article
3, the following war crimes have been committed:
1. Violence to life and person: Murder, Mutilation, Cruel treatment,
Torture (Amnesty International, May 11, 2001)
2. Taking hostages (Amnesty International, May 11, 2001)
3. Outrages upon personal dignity: including humiliating and degrading
treatment (BBC, June 27, 2001)
4. Passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without
previous judgment by a regularly constituted court. (Amnesty International,
February 14, 2001).
5. Interruption of the care for the wounded and sick (CNN, July 8,
Furthermore, according to the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Convention
of August 12, 1949 and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International
Armed Conflicts June 9, 1977 articles, the following war crimes have
1. Restrictions of non-combatants for respect for their persons, honor,
and convictions of religious practices, humane treatment without adverse
distinction. (article 4) (Human Rights Watch, November 1998)
2. Use of collective punishments (article 4) (Human Rights Watch,
November 1998, Amnesty International, April 11, 1999)
3. Humiliating and degrading treatment, rape (article 4)(Steve Penner,
July 11, 2001).
4. Lack of access to education for Children (article 4) (Afghan Solidarity,
July 15, 2001)
5. Denial of the free practice of religion. (article 5)
6. When in detention, detainees have had their integrity, physical
health and mental health endangered. (article 5) (Human Rights Watch
Report on Afghanistan, 1998, 2000, 2001).
7. The lack of protection of Medical Units and transports, who shall
not be the object of attack. (article 11) (CNN, June 8, 2001)
8. Persons punished for having carried out medical activities compatible
with medical ethics. (article 10) (CNN, June 8, 2001).
9. Protection of the Civilian population and individuals against dangers
from military operations. (article 13) (Amnesty International, March
28, 2001) 9. Making Civilian Populations the object of attack, or
acts and threats of violence with the primary purpose to spread terror
among the civilian population. (article 13) (Clark, Kate, BBC)
10. Protection of Religious or Cultural articles. It is prohibited
to commit any acts of hostility against historic monuments, works
of art, or places of worship that constitute the cultural or spiritual
heritage of people. (article, 16) (Time, July 12, 2001).
According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
(U.N. Doc. A/CONF 183/9, 1998) the following crimes against humanity
were committed in Afghanistan.
3. Deportation/forcible Transfer of Population
7. Persecution of identifiable group on political, racial, ethnic,
cultural, gender and religious lines
Given the current situation in Afghanistan. The Genocide Prevention
Center wishes to make these recommendations:
1. The UN, United States, EU and other participating nations, as a
whole must end aid and relief embargos to Afghanistan. Today, those
suffering to the greatest extent, are in need partly due to these
2. The international community must also continue to enforce the Afghanistan
Arms embargo. By limiting the availability of weapons to both the
Taliban and the United Front, perhaps some of the civilian focused
violence will end.
3. The worldwide media must offer additional pressure, as a group,
to gain access to information and freedom of movement within the nation.
A more active media presence will offer much needed transparency to
this otherwise information vacuum.
4. Furthermore, as a worldwide community, there must be a concerted
effort to increase funding and aid to those nations currently supporting
Afghanistan refugees, such as Pakistan, India and Iran.
These four steps will help those in need, including refugees and supporting
nations, as well as help to facilitate an end to this continuing conflict.
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June 14, 2001.
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Political Personalities” March 11, 1999.
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Penner, Steve. Afghan Womens Mission. Interview Conducted by Maggie
Riden, July 11, 2001.
Online News Sources
British Broadcasting Company. “Country Profile: Afghanistan” July
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