No justice for civilians killed in war
All parties in the unending conflict in Afghanistan have the blood of civilians on their hands but there's no comprehensive list of either war crimes or war criminals.
An investigation: Officials in the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), transitional justice campaigners, and other activists admit such a list has yet to be compiled.
Civilians have paid a high price in the continuing war. They have been targeted by armed opponents of the government, Afghan security forces and foreign troops.
Among the scores of incidents involving civilians are the air attack that killed 20 civilians in Shindand district Herat (August 2017); the unprovoked killing of at least 50 civilians including doctors and patients in a US bomb strike on the Medicine Sans Frontier (MSF) hospital in Kunduz (August 2016); the suicide attack on the Finest supermarket in the Wazir Mohammad Akbar Khan area of Kabul City that killed 16 civilians (January 2011); and, the Taliban's targeting a hotel called Spogmai around Qargha lake in Paghman district, Kabul province, and killing 15 visitors to the popular picnic spot (June 2012).
On the basis of findings of the AIHRC, about 11,000 civilians have been killed every year since 2011.Year after year the majority of victims are women and children.
Documentary and other evidence points to the involvement of the US- led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces in Afghanistan in war crimes.
On July 2007, 1, US fighter jets bombed a wedding ceremony in Uruzgan province that caused 47 civilian casualties. Further, on November 6 the same year the US air force targeted yet another wedding in the Shah Walikoot district of Kandahar province and killed 40 civilians including both the bride and groom and 23 children.
MSF has placed on record that there were 105 patients in the Kunduz hospital when it was attacked by US bombers and none of them were armed combatants as alleged by the US military.
MSF Director General Christopher Stokes who visited the bombed ruins of the Kunduz hospital told the press that the US air force launched an unprovoked attack despite being given the coordinates of the hospital to prevent an accidental attack. The deliberate targeting of the hospital should be counted as a war crime, he declared.
The stain of war crimes is also on the country's security forces. On August 29 last year, Afghan forces carried out an airstrike in the Takhtabad area of Shindand district in Herat province that killed 16 and injured 6, all civilians. An investigative reporter of The Killid Group visited the victims and interviewed many. He met Zarghoona who has lost 11 family members. She says the fighter aircrafts circled the area above them two times before dumping bombs on their houses. She ran out in time but says "my mother, my two sisters, my son, two nephews (a sister's sons), daughter of my uncle, daughter-in-law of my uncle, grandchild of my uncle and five of my neighbours were killed." Zarghoona who was pregnant and some other family members were injured. "My wounds were very deep and the doctors said to me that my leg should be cut," she says. She also miscarried as a result of the incident.
Her mother-in-law Ziagul calls the government blind and blames it for killing women and children on the pretext of attacking Taliban. "Taliban were not here but the government killed the women and children to avenge Taliban," she says.
Ziagul told Killid the government knows Taliban hideouts are far from the homes of villagers but it still targets civilian homes instead of the shelters of Taliban. "There was no fighting for them to say they made a mistake," she says.
Addressing a press conference, General Dawlat Waziri, spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence, told the media that 18 Taliban were killed in the attack in the Takhtabad area. The Ministry of Interior Affairs blames civilian casualties on the Taliban. He claims Taliban use civilians as a shield against government security forces.
The Taliban have taken responsibility for countless suicide attacks and bombings that have killed civilians. On June 2012, 22, they launched an attack on one of the few places that Kabulis then regularly visited for a picnic or to relax. Fifteen civilians were killed in the attack on a hotel on the Qargha lake. Eye witnesses told the media that the five attackers celebrated the success of their mission. It took a -12hour operation by security forces to silence the guns of the five.
The Taliban claimed they killed expatriates and Afghans who were indulging in "debauchery".
Killid interviewed the mother of Feda Mohammad, a hotel staffer who was killed. She said she had been in the process of finding a bride for her son but instead found he was laid in a grave.
Mohammad, 20, was both studying in class 12 and working in the hotel to provide for his family.
Another hotel staffer who was killed was Homayoon. He was only 18. His relative, Shahnaz, recalled that Homayoon had tried very bravely to fend off the attackers before he was shot dead. "They (Taliban) showed no pity," she says.
Akelshah was another victim of the incident. Twenty seven years old he had three sons and two daughters. His father Abdullah Shah says, "Akelshah had gone to Qargha along with his colleagues but was martyred along with his friends by the Taliban." Abdullah Shah says his son was employed in the Afghanistan National Standards Authority.
Other armed groups
Hezb-e-Islami have also been accused of war crimes. The January 2011 attack on the upmarket Finest supermarket in Kabul City was claimed by the Hezb-e-Islami. They owed up responsibility for the attack on the expatriate staff of Black Water (March 2007), which was also claimed by the Taliban. The Hezb hand was also alleged in the attacks on Shah Shaheed in Kabul and the Yahyakhil area of Paktika province.
What are war crimes and who qualify as war criminals?
By definition all armed attacks on civilians are war crimes. Belal Sidiqi, AIHRC spokesperson, says, "… attacks in which civilians are killed are war crimes." Sidiqi says the deliberate or accidental targeting of civilians has to be avoided by all sides in an armed conflict. "The side that does not adhere to the rule is disobeying war rules and that is a crime," he adds.
All players in the Afghan conflict have been accused of war crimes. Civilian casualties of attacks by foreign forces have increased three times compared to the past. Torture of prisoners of war and others is also a war crime, and it has been committed by all sides in Afghanistan's fighting. It is occurring even in prisons in the country.
Ahmad Shah Stanekzai, spokesperson for the Foundation for Transitional Justice, says, "All those that are involved in targeting and killing civilians are war criminals."
The Afghanistan Civil Society and Human Rights Network head Aziz Rafeaee says, "All sides involved in war are involved in war crimes. We urge them to observe the international rules of armed engagement in the current (Afghan) war."
List of war crimes
An AIHRC spokesperson believes the failure to agree on the definition of war crimes is preventing rights and advocacy groups from collating a list of war crimes. "All attacks where civilians are injured or killed are registered with us but national and international institutions have to decide which a war crime is and which is not."
Meanwhile, Stanekzai of the Foundation for Transitional Justice, says they have a list of complaints "but it is still to be proved which are and which not war crimes are." He adds that "Making a list needs time."
Network head Rafeaee is convinced that any group that targets civilians should be on the list of war criminals. "Killing civilians is a crime, (and) whoever does it is a war criminal."