Open Letter Calling for Action to Address the Human Rights Situation of Ethnic Tajik Community in Panjshir, Andarab and Takhar, Afghanistan

To: António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General

CC: Ambassador Federico Villegas President of the United Nations Human Rights Council and Permanent Representative of Argentina to the United Nations Office at Geneva

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Richard Bennet, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan

Ambassador Ferit Hoxha President of the UN Security Council and Permanent Representative of Albania to the United Nations

Morris Tidball-Binz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Execution

Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

6 June, 2022

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned, express our grave concern over the violent actions the Taliban are committing against ethnic Tajik communities in the northern regions of Panjshir, the Andarab and Khost districts of Baghlan province, and the Warsaj district of Takhar. These acts are supported by audio-visual evidence and local resident reports, which meet the criteria of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including witnessed summary executions, hostage-taking, arbitrary detentions, home burning, forced displacement, and torture of innocent civilians, including women and children. We condemn these actions in the strongest possible terms and urge immediate action from world leaders and relevant international organizations, especially the United Nations, to not allow these serious crimes go unpunished. We demand a prompt, independent, impartial, effective, and transparent investigation into the campaign of violence and torture against the ethnic Tajik communities in Afghanistan.

These recent events add to the brutal and oppressive campaign of violence that the Taliban have enacted in Afghanistan since August of 2021, including what amounts to war crimes and genocide against the Hazara communities. Arbitrary arrests, house raids, and harassment of Tajiks in Kabul, especially those from Panjshir, have been widely reported and documented. Residents have reported that the Taliban are arresting innocent residents in the war-torn villages of Panjshir province and using them in a prisoner swap or as hostages to gain leverage over the armed opposition. The Taliban militias also engage in revenge killings of young people suspected of being members of resistance groups.

Civilian accounts describe people fleeing from their homes and not being allowed to take nor bury the bodies of their loved ones. In the village of Piyavasht in the Rukha district, the Taliban have deployed their elite forces and enforced a mandatory curfew, stating that they do not allow locals to leave their homes. There are reports of residents in Panjshir saying that the Taliban “used loudspeakers to announce that if anyone fired on the Taliban, locals would be punished collectively.”[1] Moreover, using Panjshir Secondary School for Girls (Bibi Amina) as their military outpost, burning inside Panjshir University, and placing a humanitarian blockade on the region, are some other examples of their atrocities.

In light of these violent actions, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union to Afghanistan, Mr. Andreas Von Brandt, expressed concern on 10 May 2022 about the killing of civilians and mistreatment in Panjshir. On 13 May 2022, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, expressed his concern over the videos, audios, and reports surfacing from Panjshir, Baghlan, and Takhar. He stressed that it is essential for international human rights and humanitarian law to be upheld. Similarly, Afghanistan’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations on 11 May 2022 stated that crimes being committed by the Taliban in Panjshir, Andarab, and Takhar are flagrant violations of international humanitarian and international human rights laws. The Afghanistan diplomatic missions abroad in a statement issued on May 11 2022 also strongly condemned these crimes and urged a thorough investigation and sending a UN fact-finding mission in the country.[2]

Since the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, international media have reported human rights violations by the Taliban across the country. In September 2021, BBC confirmed that the Taliban killed 20 civilians in Panjshir.[3] UN officials equally expressed concerns over human rights abuses in Panjshir. In her statement at the Human Rights Council’s Special Session on Afghanistan, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that she is “concerned by reports of civilian casualties and human rights abuses, as a result of the fighting in Panjshir valley, as well as the growing hardship caused by the dire humanitarian situation there.”[4] According to a report by Amnesty International published in September 2021, on August 24 2021, the Taliban imposed a blockade on food, fuel, and essential supplies to Panjshir, creating a humanitarian crisis for an estimated population of 170,000. Amnesty International also interviewed individuals who said that the Taliban cut off the electricity supply in the province and stressed that this is a serious violation of international humanitarian law.[5]

The most aggressive and egregious development in the Taliban’s campaign of violence on ethnic Tajik communities is the reported presence of thousands of soldiers sent to Panjshir and northern provinces. Scott Richards, who advised the UK Government and Minister Baillie, and reported regularly to the U.S Government including Special Operations Command (SOCOM), in an interview on March 1 2022 with Afghanistan International stated that the Taliban have an active operational and fraternal bond with Al Qaeda and that there is a large concentration of Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. According to Richards, the Taliban used Al Qaeda forces to fight in Panjshir as early as September 2021.[6] Richards has more recently provided intelligence on ISIS activities and statements from Taliban sources that describe operational cooperation between the Taliban under the Haqqanis and ISIS.

Currently, there are little to no active independent international human rights watchdogs, UN human rights investigators, independent local or international media, or journalists to document and investigate the ongoing crimes being committed by the Taliban. There is also no fact-finding mechanism set in place. The Taliban repeatedly deny these serious allegations and have consistently proven that they are perfidious. They are not a reliable source of information.

The UN and its relevant human rights institutions should fulfill their obligation. We, the undersigned, urge you to take immediate actions, and adopt appropriate measures to protect the Tajik communities in Afghanistan.

We strongly urge you to:

  • Condemn in the strongest terms violations of international humanitarian law in Panjshir, Andarab and Takhar and state that crimes under international law amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity;
  • Hold the Taliban accountable and put pressure on them to adhere to international human rights law and humanitarian law, protect civilians, civilian infrastructures, and prisoners of war, and ensure uninterrupted access to essential supplies and humanitarian aid in Panjshir, Andarab, and Takhar;
  • Ask the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Afghanistan to gather and publicize substantiated data and information relating to violations of international human rights law and abuses committed by the Taliban militants across Afghanistan, in particularly the northern provinces;
  • Ask UNAMA and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Afghanistan to submit a special report on the situation of civilians in Panjshir, Andarab and Takhar identifying urgent and practical measures to protect the community against targeted attacks and mass atrocities;
  • Launch an immediate investigation into the targeted killing of Tajiks in Panjshir, Baghlan, and Takhar Afghanistan, and use provisions under international human rights law to address, and put an end to, these perpetual killings;
  • Call a special session of the United Nations Security Council to discuss, as matter of urgency, the situation of the Tajiks in Panjshir, Baghlan, and Takhar and adopt a resolution ensuring that the community will be protected against such heinous targeted attacks;
  • Call a special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to discuss and address the ongoing violence against Tajiks in Panjshir, Baghlan, and Takhar, and work to prevent such atrocities and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Sincerely,

  1. Tariq Basir, Research Scholar, University of Pittsburgh, USA.
  2. Dr. Mejgan Massoumi, Fellow and Lecturer, Stanford University, USA
  3. Shoaib Rahim, Associate Professor, American University of Afghanistan and Visiting Scholar at The New School, New York, USA
  4. Abdul Waheed Ahmad, Fellow at the Institute of Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, State University of New York, USA
  5. Munazza Ebtikar, PhD Candidate, University of Oxford, UK
  6. Kaweh Kerami, PhD Researcher, SOAS University of London, UK
  7. Tabish Forugh, Democracy Activist, USA
  8. Ahmad Rashid Salim, Doctoral Fellow, University of California – Berkeley, USA
  9. Dr. Omar Sadr, Research Scholar, University of Pittsburgh, USA
  10. Dr. Jane Pak, Co-Executive Director, Refugee and Immigrants Transitions; Adjunct Professor, University of San Francisco, USA
  11. Zuhal Bahaduri, Human Rights Advocate, Co-Founder of The 5ive Pillars Organization , USA
  12. Malaak Malikyar Sills, Board Chair, Refugee and Immigrant Transitions, USA
  13. Zuhal Salim, Former Diplomat of Afghanistan to the United Nations, USA
  14. Sameer Bedrud, Political Activist and Former Diplomat to the UN, Canada
  15. Hashmat Radfar, Journalist and Writer, Canada
  16. Musadiq Parsa, Correspondent for Afghanistan International, Belgium
  17. Shogofah Ghafori, Researcher at Center for European Policy Studies, Belgium
  18. Scott Richards, Political Advisor and ED at the Joint Task Force for Anti and Counter Corruption, United Kingdom and USA
  19. Said Sabir Ibrahimi, Political Analyst and Non-resident Fellow,  New York University, USA,
  20. Fatema Ahmadi, Afghan Women’s Fellow School of Public Affairs, American University, USA
  21. Atta Arghandiwal, Author, Humanitarian, Founder-President of Afghans Building Alliances for Humanitarian Development (ABAHD), USA
  22. Goli Hashemi, Occupational Therapist and Director of Community Wellness Program at ARTogether, Oakland, California, USA
  23. Sayed Madadi, Non-Resident Scholar, Middle East Institute, USA
  24. Mehria Albert, Co-founder and Board Member of  Afghans Building Alliances for Humanitarian Development (ABAHD.org), USA
  25. Ariana Delawari, Filmmaker, Musician, and Activist, TEDx Kabul Speaker, co-founder of Inspire Peace Campaign, co-creator of Afghanistan Connect App, USA
  26. Nilufar Shuja, Human Rights Advocate and Executive Director of Payk Media, Inc.
  27. International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)
  28. Humaira Ghilzai, Co-founder Afghan Friends Network, Founder Ghazni/Hayward Sister City Relationship, Cultural Advisor, Speaker, Writer and Producer, USA
  29. Sayed A. Qadir Hashimi, President of South Bay Afghan Community Center, USA
  30. Dr. Farkhondeh Akbari, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Gender, Peace and Security Centre, Monash University, Australia
  31. Dr. Zohra Saed, Distinguished Lecturer, Macaulay Honors College, The City University of New York
  32. Pashtana Durrani, Visiting Fellow at the Wellesley Centers for Women, founder of LEARN Afghanistan
  33. Dr. Ali Karimi, Postdoctoral Fellow, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, USA
  34. Dr. Rabia Latif Khan, Researcher, SOAS University of London, UK
  35. Dr. Wali Ahmadi, Professor and Chair, Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures, University of California, Berkeley, USA
  36. Dr. M. Bashir Mobasher, Postdoctoral Fellow, American University, Washington DC.
  37. Mehdi Hakimi, Executive Director of the Rule of Law Program and Lecturer in Law, Stanford University, USA
  38. Abdullah Fahimi, Doctoral Researcher, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany
  39. Anis Rezaei, MPhil Candidate, University of Oxford, UK
  40. Dr. Kambaiz Rafi, University College London, UK
  41. Maarya Rabbani, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
  42. Azadah Raz Mohammad, PhD Candidate, University of Melbourne, School of Law
  43. Nigara Mirdad Omar, Counsellor (Deputy Head of Mission) of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Embassy, Warsaw Poland
  44. Parwana Paikan, Deputy Chief of Mission/Minister Counsellor of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Paris and Permanent Delegation to UNESCO and ICESCO
  45. Azizullah Omar, Charge d’Affair of Afghanistan Embassy Nursultan Kazakhstan
  46. Mohibullah Taib, Human Rights Counsellor at the Embassy and Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to UNGO
  47. Fazull Mohmood Rahemee Pajwak, Counsellor of the Embassy and Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Vienna
  48. Nazir Majeedi, Counsellor of the Embassy and Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic. of Afghanistan in Brussels-Belgium
  49. Dr. Chihab El Khachab, Associate Professor in Visual Anthropology, University of Oxford, UK
  50. Azimullah Warsaji, Charge d’Affair of Afghanistan Embassy Doha, Qatar
  51. Rahim Peerzada, Charge d’Affair of Afghanistan Embassy Madrid, Spain
  52. Ahmad Seiar Daqeeq, Vice Consul General of Afghanistan Dubai, UAE
  53. Nazir Ahmad Foshanji, Member of the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations in New York
  54. Abdul Ahad Habibi, First Secretary of Afghanistan Embassy and Permanent Mission to the UN Geneva- Switzerland
  55. Dr. Elham Gharji, Independent Scholar, Canada
  56. Shabana Kargar, former Diplomat at the Afghanistan Embassy Ottawa, Canada
  57. Dr. Sahba Shayani, Senior Lecturer in Persian, University of Oxford, UK
  58. Mohammed Alam Begi, Graduate Student at Harvard University, USA
  59. Karin Frodé, PhD Candidate Monash University, Co-founder Ham Diley Campaign, Australia
  60. Abdul Wahid Wafa, Professional Specialist at Princeton University, USA

 

[1]See report: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/terror-and-security/dozens-taliban-fighters-killed-afghan-military-resistance-uprising/

[2] See report: https://twitter.com/afghanistaninch/status/1524341376325935105?s=21&t=KvDjZfeZocnrOlMQyyu_Yw

[3] See report: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-58545892?xtor=AL-72-%5Bpartner%5D-%5Bbbc.news.twitter%5D-%5Bheadline%5D-%5Bnews%5D-%5Bbizdev%5D-%5Bisapi%5D&at_custom3=%40BBCWorld&at_custom4=B7291CA8-14A8-11EC-A94C-9A954744363C&at_medium=custom7&at_custom1=%5Bpost+type%5D&at_custom2=twitter&at_campaign=64

[4] See report: https://www.ohchr.org/en/2021/09/oral-update-situation-human-rights-afghanistan

[5] See report: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa11/4727/2021/en/

[6] See report:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIbVtRr_C-w&feature=youtu.be