UN expert decries ‘systematic’ attacks on Afghan Shia groups

A UN expert warns that Hazaras and other Shia communities in Afghanistan are facing ‘systematic’ attacks that may amount to international crimes.

Hazara and other Shia Muslim communities in Afghanistan are facing what seem to be “systematic” attacks that could amount to international crimes, a United Nations expert has warned.

Afghanistan’s Hazaras have faced decades of abuse and state-sponsored discrimination, including by the ruling Taliban, which first ran the country from 1996 to 2001 and then seized power again in August last year.

Richard Bennett, the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, said on Monday Hazara and other groups have been “arbitrary arrested, tortured, summarily executed, displaced from traditional lands, subjected to discriminatory taxation and otherwise marginalised”.

They are also the frequent target of attacks, including by the Taliban’s enemy, the Islamic State of Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K), which considers them heretics.

“These attacks appear to be systematic in nature and reflect elements of an organisational policy,” Bennett said as he presented his first report to the UN Human Rights Council.

He added the attacks bear the “hallmarks of international crimes and need to be fully investigated”. International crimes refer to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Last month, United States-based rights group Human Rights Watch said the Taliban has failed to protect the Hazaras and other at-risk communities in Afghanistan, undermining the armed group’s promise of greater security.

Since the Taliban’s return to power, the ISKP has claimed responsibility for 13 attacks against Hazaras and has been linked to at least three more, killing and wounding at least 700 people, the rights group said.

‘Human rights crisis’

Bennett, who began his work in May, warned the rights situation in the country has deteriorated across the board.

“Afghans are trapped in a human rights crisis that the world has seemed powerless to address,” he said.

Women and girls in particular have seen a “staggering regression” in their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights since the Taliban came to power, he said.

“There’s no country in the world where women and girls have so rapidly been deprived of their fundamental human rights purely because of gender.”

The overall humanitarian situation was dire, with nearly half the population facing acute levels of food shortage, he added.

“Children in particular are facing extreme hunger and high risks of exploitation, including forced labour and marriage,” he said.

Despite an amnesty, people who served in the Afghan army, security forces and Western-backed government prior to the Taliban takeover in August 2021, still faced “arbitrary detention, torture, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances”, he said.

Bennett called on the international community to do more to address the situation and to ensure accountability.

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