Volume 1, Issue 1

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 minority.
Parties Involved in the Conflict
The Nature of the Violence
Is it Genocide?
Complicating Factors: The Media
Works Cited


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.
Situation Today

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

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 (CIA Factbook).
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, 2001)

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 Asif Muhsini

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 artwork.

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]

Mazar-I-Sharif Massacre
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).

Yakaolang Massacre
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 Shi’a Muslims.

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

Primary Characteristic

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 Media

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 the governmentÂ…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, November, 1998)
5. Ethnic Cleansing (Human Rights Watch Report on Afghanistan, 1998, 2000, 2001)
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, 2001)

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 been committed:

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.

1. Murder
2. Extermination
3. Deportation/forcible Transfer of Population
4. Imprisonment
5. Torture
6. Rape
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 embargos.
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.

Works Cited

Amnesty International
Amnesty International. “Afghanistan: Inquiry needed into New Abuses” June 14, 2001.
Amnesty International. “Afghanistan: Massacre in Yakaolang”. March 28, 2001.
Amnesty International. “Afghanistan: Executions in Panjshir” February 14, 2001.
Amnesty International. “Afghanistan: Detentions and Killings of Political Personalities” March 11, 1999.
Amnesty International. “Afghanistan: Summary Executions of Civilians in Yakaolang”. January 23, 2001.

Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch. “Afghanistan Crisis of Impunity”. July 2001, Vol. 13, No. 3
Human Rights Watch. “Fueling Afghanistan’s War: Press Backgrounder”. http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/asia/afghanistan/afghbk.htm
Human Rights Watch. “Report on Afghanistan: Mazar-I-Sharif: Attacks on Civilians” November 1998, Vol 10, No 7.
Human Rights Watch. “Report on Afghanistan: Mazar-I-Sharif: Incitement of Violence against Hazaras by Governor Niazi” November 1998, Vol 10, No 7. Human Rights Watch. “Report on Afghanistan: Mazar-I-Sharif: Summary and Recommendations” November 1998, Vol 10, No 7.
Human Rights Watch. “Report on Afghanistan: Massacre at Robatak Pass” February 2001. Vol. 13, No 1. I


Penner, Steve. Afghan Womens Mission. Interview Conducted by Maggie Riden, July 11, 2001.

Online News Sources
British Broadcasting Company. “Country Profile: Afghanistan” July 6, 2001.

Clark, Kate. British Broadcasting Company. “World: South Asia UN Condemns ‘Horrific’ Massacre”. November 5, 1998. http://news/bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/south_asia/newsid_1140000/1140942.stm

Clark, Kate. British Broadcasting Company. “Taliban Bar Press from ‘Massacre Site”. January 28, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/south_asia_newsid_2080001208829.stm#top.

CNN. “Afghanistan on the Brink warn Donors”. June 8, 2001. http:..www.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/central/06/08/afghan.aid/index/html

Norchi, Charles. “Human Rights in Afghanistan: Two Decades of Abuse” www.oneworld.net/anydoc_mc.cgi?url=http://www.mediaaction .org/resources/art3.htm

Rashid, Ahmed. “Taliban Destroy Town that Was Rebel Stronghold” Radical Afghan Women’s Association. June 13, 2001. Reporters Without Borders. “The Taliban and the Media A Country with no News or Pictures”. http://www.rsf.fr/uk/home.html.

World Press Freedom Review. “Report on Afghanistan, 1998”. http://www.freemedia.at/wpfr/afghanis.htm.


Constable, Pamela. “Religious Minorites Tread Carefully under Taliban Rule” Washington Post Foreign Service. Sunday April 11, 2001.

Hughes, Robert. “Buddha Bashing”. Time. July 12, 2001. http://www.time.com/time/asia/arts/printout/0.9788.102096.00.html Afghan Solidarity. “

Afghan Refugees Fear Death at Hands of Taliban”. July 15, 2001.

US Government Sources

Central Intelligence Agency. “CIA Fact Book: Afghanistan, 2000”. www.cia.gov/publications/factbook/geos/af.html#military.

United States Department of State. “Afghanistan Country Reports on Human Rights Practices”. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2000/. July 18, 2001.

Copyright (c) 2001 by The Genocide Prevention Center. All rights reserved.