U.N. Says Taliban Committed Rights Abuses Despite Blanket Amnesty

The New York Times

A U.N. mission in Afghanistan reported summary killings, arbitrary detentions and torture of hundreds of onetime soldiers, police officers and others in the old government.

Since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 2021, hundreds of members of the U.S.-backed former government have been detained, tortured or killed under the new government, despite Taliban leaders’ declaration of amnesty for actions during the long civil war, the United Nations reported on Tuesday.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a new report that it had documented “at least 218 extrajudicial killings of former government officials,” primarily police officers and soldiers, committed by members of the new government, though the pace had slowed greatly since the first months after the takeover.

“In most instances, individuals were detained by de facto security forces, often briefly, before being killed,” it said. “Some were taken to detention facilities and killed while in custody, others were taken to unknown locations and killed, their bodies either dumped or handed over to family members.”

The killings were among some 800 documented human rights violations against members of the former government from the Taliban takeover on Aug. 15, 2021, until June 30, 2023, the U.N. mission said. The majority took place before the end of 2021, the report said.

More than 400 people were arrested and detained without any clear reason given. Many were held without any contact with their families, often by the national intelligence service. Some were never seen again.

The U.N. report “presents a sobering picture of the treatment of individuals affiliated with the former government and security forces of Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover of the country,” said the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk. “Even more so, given they were assured that they would be not targeted, it is a betrayal of the people’s trust.”

In a statement appended to the U.N. report, the Taliban government denied any knowledge of such offenses.

“After the victory of the Islamic Emirate until today, cases of human rights violations (murder without trial, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, and other acts against human rights) by the employees of the security institutions of the Islamic Emirate against the employees and security forces of the previous government have not been reported,” it said.

Officials also reiterated that the government’s supreme leader, Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, had issued blanket amnesty to all former government members immediately after the group seized power.

Some of those reportedly detained without charge, tortured or threatened said they had been accused of supporting small-scale insurgencies still ongoing against the Taliban, according to the report. In its reply, the Taliban cited that threat, suggesting that only people acting against them since the takeover had anything to fear.

“Those employees of the previous administration who joined the opposition groups of the Islamic Emirate or had military activities to the detriment of the system have been arrested and introduced to judicial authorities,” it said.

The report points to the difficulty the Taliban leadership may have had, after taking power, in redirecting fighters steeped in violence, retaliation, accumulated grievances and a culture that often considers revenge an obligation. It also underscores the complications of Taliban leadership trying to enforce a nationwide policy of amnesty among fighters of an insurgency that was once highly decentralized.

That context is important to keep in mind, according to Graeme Smith, an Afghanistan expert with the International Crisis Group. At the same time, he said, the advent of relative peace “actually puts a heavier legal burden on the Taliban” to uphold human rights than they would bear in the chaos of war.

The U.N. mission said it had included only reported violations for which it was able to document both that the episode had taken place and who was responsible. Its reporting standards, more cautious and rigorous than those of some human rights groups, are “the gold standard,” said Mr. Smith.

“I think we can be very confident that those are minimum numbers, because they are very careful in their work,” he said.

Of the documented victims, 72 percent had been in the military, the police or the National Directorate of Security under the old government, according to the U.N. report. Many of the killings appear to have been reprisals by individual Taliban fighters against their former enemies rather than a systematic revenge campaign.

Still, despite repeated Taliban assurances that such actions would be punished, the report said, “there is limited information regarding efforts by the de facto authorities to conduct investigations and hold perpetrators of these human rights violations to account.”

One witness report was from a person whose brother, a former police officer, was stopped on the road by the Taliban and taken away; three days later, his body was found with “the signs of many bullets.” In another instance, a former soldier was arrested last January, and more than two months later, “his dead body was returned to his family, bearing signs of torture.”

The Taliban government, badly in need of aid, wants to project a law-abiding image internationally even as it imposes increasingly repressive rule at home. The U.N. report addresses only offenses against former government officers, not the Taliban administration’s restrictions on women and girls or other policies that have drawn widespread international condemnation.

Richard Pérez-Peña, an international news editor in New York, has been with The Times as a reporter and editor since 1992. He has worked on the Metro, National, Business, Media and International desks. More about Richard Pérez-Peña

A version of this article appears in print on Aug. 23, 2023, Section A, Page 5 of the New York edition with the headline: Taliban Killed Hundreds Affiliated With Ex-Government, U.N. Report Says.
U.N. Says Taliban Committed Rights Abuses Despite Blanket Amnesty