In its annual report for 2071/2018, titled The State of the World’s Human Rights, released on Thursday, Amnesty International (AI) painted a grim picture of human rights violations and casualties in Afghanistan during the reporting period and said ongoing conflict continues to cause widespread suffering.
The report documents the state of the world’s human rights in 159 countries and territories during 2017 – of which Afghanistan is mentioned in numerous sections.
Globally however, Amnesty International reports that conflict, austerity measures and natural disasters pushed many into deeper poverty and insecurity; millions were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere in their own countries or across international borders.
Discrimination remained rife in all regions of the world, and at times had deadly consequences for the victims. Governments of all persuasions continued to crack down on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
In relation to Afghanistan, Amnesty International reported: “The civilian population suffered widespread human rights abuses as a result of the continuing conflict. Conflict-related violence led to deaths, injuries and displacement.
“Civilian casualties continued to be high; the majority were killed or injured by armed insurgent groups, but a significant minority by pro-government forces.
“The number of people internally displaced by conflict rose to more than 2 million; about 2.6 million Afghan refugees lived outside the country. Gender-based violence against women and girls persisted by state and non-state actors,” the report stated.
According to Amnesty International, armed groups are the key reason for the civilian casualty toll in the country and that members of the Hazara minority group and Shi’a continued to face harassment and increased attacks, mainly by armed insurgent groups.
The report states that an increase in public punishments of women by armed groups applying Shari’a law was reported, human rights defenders received threats from both state and non-state actors; and journalists faced violence and censorship. Death sentences continued to be imposed; five people were executed in November.
The report notes that the Taliban and its Daesh affiliate including other armed groups operating in the country are responsible for the majority of civilian death and injuries.
“The Taliban and the armed group Islamic State (Daesh) were among the anti-government elements but more than 20 armed groups operated inside the country. The Taliban and other armed opposition groups were responsible for the majority of civilian casualties (64 percent) in the first nine months of the year,” the report said quoting a recent figure on Afghan civilian toll by UNAMA.
By the end of September, UNAMA had documented 8,019 civilian casualties (2,640 killed and 5,379 injured), a small overall decrease compared to the same period in 2016, although there was a 13 percent increase in the number of women killed or injured. About 20 percent of the casualties were attributed to pro-government forces, including Afghan national security forces, the Afghan Local Police, pro-government armed groups and international military forces, according to the report.
The report however said that Afghan government forces made some efforts to mitigate civilian casualties, especially during ground engagements; UNAMA also noted that the number of civilians killed or injured in aerial attacks increased by some 50 percent over 2017; about two-thirds of these were women and children.
Abuses by pro-government forces
In June, according to UNAMA, three young children in Saydebad district of Maidan Wardak were killed in their home by a mortar round fired by the Afghan National Army. The same month, pro-government forces on patrol shot dead a father and his two young sons (aged five and 12) outside the brick factory where they worked.
During the first six months of the year, according to UNAMA, 95 civilians, half of them children, were killed in air strikes.
Abuses by armed groups
In January, in Badakhshan province, five armed men dragged a pregnant woman from her home and shot her dead in front of her husband and six children; witnesses said her attackers accused her of being a government supporter.
On 8 March last year, armed men entered an Afghan National Army military hospital in central Kabul and killed at least 49 people, including patients. In August, armed groups attacked the village of Mirza Olang, in Sar-e-Pul province, killing at least 36 people, including civilians.
The report notes that suicide attacks by armed groups in civilian areas caused at least 382 deaths and 1,202 injuries. In one such attack in December, at least 41 people, including children, were killed in a suicide bomb attack on a Shi’a cultural organization in Kabul.
On 25 August, a Shi’a mosque in Kabul was attacked by Daesh, killing at least 28 people and injuring dozens more. On 20 October, similar attacks were carried out against two more Shi’a mosques – one in western Kabul and the other in Ghor province – leaving more than 60 people dead and dozens injured.
Violence against women and girls
The report says that gender-based violence against women and girls especially in areas under Taliban control has also increased significantly during this period.
In the first half of the year, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission reported thousands of cases of violence against women and girls across the country, including beatings, killings and acid attacks.
Against the backdrop of impunity for such crimes and a failure to investigate, cases of violence against women remained grossly under-reported due to traditional practices, stigmatization and fear of the consequences for the victims, the report stated.
According to the report, UNAMA also noted that armed groups tried to restrict girls’ access to education. In February, threats forced the closure of girls schools in several villages in Farah province, temporarily denying education to more than 3,500 girls.
Refugees and internally displaced people
Some 2.6 million Afghan refugees were living in more than 70 countries around the world during 2017. Around 95 percent were hosted in Iran and Pakistan, where they faced discrimination, and racial attacks, the report stated.
“The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that some 437,907 people were displaced by the conflict in 2017 alone, bringing the total number of internally displaced people (IDPs) to more than 2 million.”
Despite promises made by successive Afghan governments, IDPs continued to lack adequate housing, food, water, health care and opportunities to pursue education and employment, Amnesty International stated.
Freedom of expression
A string of violent attacks and intimidation against journalists, including killings, further underlined the steady erosion of freedom of expression.
Media freedom watchdog Nai reported more than 150 attacks against journalists, media workers and media offices during the year.
These included killings, beatings, detention, arson, attacks, threats and other forms of violence by both state and non-state actors.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Based on the report, Afghans across the country remained at risk of torture and other ill-treatment, with little progress towards curbing impunity, Amnesty International stated.
The UN Committee against Torture found “widespread acceptance and legitimation of torture in Afghan society”.
The report concludes that armed groups including the Taliban continued to commit crimes under international law, including killings, torture and other abuses as punishment for perceived crimes or offences. The executions and severe punishments imposed by the parallel justice system amounted to criminal acts under the law, and in some circumstances could amount to war crimes.
This comes a week after UNAMA in its annual report for 2017 on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, said Afghan civilians continue to bear the brunt of Afghanistan’s ongoing conflict with over 10,000 casualties reported during 2017.
Based on the UNAMA report, a total of 10,453 civilian casualties - 3,438 people killed and 7,015 wounded - were documented in the 2017 Annual Report released jointly by UNAMA and the UN Human Rights Office.
The survey of 159 countries and territories accuses governments across the globe of “shamelessly” backsliding on human rights, cracking down on dissent, and instituting measures that ensured the further persecution of marginalized groups throughout 2017.
Amnesty International also stated in its report that the US government's polarizing decision to ban travel from six Muslim-majority countries set the tone for a year of "hate-filled rhetoric" that fanned the flames of bigotry and persecution.
The report stated that US President Donald Trump's effort to restrict travel to the US was "transparently hateful" and listed the US president alongside authoritarian leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as global threats to human rights.
“In the USA, President Trump wasted little time in putting his anti-rights rhetoric of discrimination and xenophobia into action, threatening a major rollback on justice and freedoms – including by signing a series of repressive executive orders that threatened the human rights of millions, at home and abroad,” the report stated.
World leaders failed to prevent abuses such as the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar; instead, many had offered a vision of fear, Amnesty alleged