Reports of Civilian Casualties in Behsud
February 8, 2021
Reports of Civilian Casualties in Behsud
Following allegations of civilian casualties in Hesa-e-Awali Behsud district of Maidan Wardak province, on January 29, 2021, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) sent its staff to the site on January 31, 2021, to investigate the details of the incident. The delegation started its work at 11:40 am, on that day. The Commission staff were on the ground for two days and were only able to conduct 13 interviews due to the tense security situation and restrictions. Interviews were made with local residents, protestors, wounded, members of the National Assembly, local authorities (including the provincial police chief and a doctor). The security situation in the area and the lack of a Commission office in the province of Maidan Wardak restricted the investigation by the Commission and, given the conflicting allegations, the investigation required more time.
The Summary of the Commission's Findings:
On January 12, 2021, a military convoy consisting of detachment 333 and Maidan Wardak Police led by the provincial Police Chief went to the said district to introduce the new security commanders of the first and second parts of Behsud district and after their introduction, the said forces were deployed in the area.This caused concern to the local residents and they held a meeting with the Maidan Wardak Police Chief on January 27 and 28, 2021, raising questions and expressing concern about the long-standing presence of these forces in the area. On Friday, January 29, 2021, at about 9:00 am, protesters from different areas gathered in front of the building of the first part of Behsud district, numbering about 350 to 400 people. At 11:30 am. on the same day, the police commander suggested that ten of the protesters' representatives should come over to negotiate with the police and reach an agreement. As the delegates spoke with the Police Chief, protesters outside the district building shouted slogans and moved closer to the building. Four protesters' representatives then left the police office to share the results of their talks with the protesters and call them to calm down. In response to the representatives, some demonstrators said that the talks would not work. Then, around 3 pm on the same day, several angry protesters hurled stones at the police headquarters; one of the demonstrators jumped on one of the tanks and attempted to fire with a machine gun mounted on it, but he was gunned down by the security forces. After the protester was killed and the situation escalated, the security forces first fired into the air, but then, without the requisite care and caution, directly fired at civilians, killing 11 people and wounding 31 others. A number of the dead and wounded were transported by ambulance to Farakhulm Clinic to Dahani-tour. According to a health official, the first ambulance arrived at the site at 3:30 pm., half an hour after the security forces opened fire on the protesters, and transported two of the wounded to the local clinic. But when the ambulance came to the site for the second time at 4.30 pm, security forces stopped it for one and a half hours. The doctor at the Farakhulm Clinic told the Commission staff that the bodies and the wounded had been delayed due to the continuing fighting, lack of transport means, and the fact that the wounded had been hiding under the bridges.According to eyewitnesses, after the clash ended, more than 100 demonstrators were arrested by security forces and held in a hotel room in front of a district building. By the time the Commission arrived at the site, 43 of them were still in the hotel room and the rest had been released. The survivors did not have contact with their families because their phones had been taken from them. Some of these people were sick and had no water, no food, no bedding. Moreover, there was no clear evidence against them. This question was raised to the Commander of the Security Forces over the telephone at 4:30 pm on Sunday, January 31, 2021, and he was asked to take care of their health condition, as a result of which they were released that evening.
Given that the participants in the demonstrations were civilians and unarmed, the action of the security forces that directly attacked the protesters without any prior warning to disperse them, constitutes a violation of the principles of precaution,proportionality and necessity.
The Commission believes that this catastrophic event could be prevented by observing the legal principles and standards of IHL.
Detaining unarmed protesters and depriving them of their right to access family contact is illegal and the government officials should be held accountable.
The Commission also underlines that civil movements must follow the law and comply with the principle of peacefulness. Encouraging people to use violence against security forces is illegal and causes chaos.
The Commission appreciates the efforts of the Afghan Government to investigate the incident and release the findings of the investigation by the Ministry of the Interior. It also calls on the government to compensate for the harms suffered by the civilians and to ensure that such incidents and acts of violence are not repeated in the future. Finally, the Commission calls on the judiciary to prosecute perpetrators in accordance with the principles of a fair trial.