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The Killid Group
Judging Taliban war under international lawWritten by Kate Clark
Saturday, 28 May 2011 08:55
A summarized version of an Afghanistan Analysts Network's article*
When the Taliban attacked the 400-bed military hospital in Kabul on 21 May, they committed a gross violation of the international law that protects medical personnel during conflict. The Taliban spokesman heaped praise on those who attacked the hospital, even though, a few days earlier, he had been condemning the international military's 'crime against humanity' of killing civilians in Takhar Province.
The Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahed, is aware of medical neutrality. In April, IRIN reported his complaint that the government was violating medical neutrality in the newly created district of Badbakh in Laghman. Mujahed said the Taliban had called on the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to get the district governor and his armed men out of a clinic which, in the absence of government buildings, they were using as a base. If they did not move, Mujahed warned, 'we will attack it and we won't be held responsible for any harm to civilians.'
In April, Mujahed also made an extremely rare apology after Taliban used an ambulance to carry out a suicide attack in Kandahar. ICRC's reaction to the incident was strong: "Using an ambulance for the purpose of deceiving the adversary in carrying out an attack constitutes perfidy." Mujahed responded, "This will not happen again."
Yet in a statement emailed to journalists, he praised those who had attacked the 400-bed hospital.
Mujahed's praise came just days after he had referred to international law to lend weight to his condemnation of the deaths of several people in Takhar on 17-18 May.
Using the language of international humanitarian law to denounce attacks by the foreign military is easy, but recent comments by Mujahed have suggested that the law on protecting civilians is also becoming slightly more relevant to the Taliban - if nothing else, at least in their statements. The Taliban's own Code of Conduct tells their fighters: "Taking care of public property and the lives and property of the people is considered one of the main responsibilities of a mujahidin; you must try very hard to carry out this responsibility…"
There is of course the question of implementation - do they practice what they preach - but also a more fundamental question of whom the Taliban consider a civilian. In a non-international conflict like Afghanistan's, international humanitarian law looks at whether a person is directly participating in hostilities or not. The Taliban, however, generally separate those who are with them from those who are against them - thereby lumping 'the wrong sort' of medical students and doctors, as well as politicians, government workers and tribal leaders with soldiers, considering them all legitimate targets. And that is a violation of international law.
*This version of the article has been brought to you through a Killid partnership with AAN.