Violations of International Humanitarian Law in Spin Boldak District of Kandahar Province
31th July 2021
Following the fall of the Spin Boldak district of Kandahar province to the Taliban and the publication of reports of the killing of civilians by the group, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) despite serious challenges in the area investigated and documented the incident and, in order to obtain reliable and accurate information, while referring to reliable local sources, it also interviewed a number of victims' families and eyewitnesses. The evidence indicates that the Taliban, in violation of international humanitarian law, committed retaliatory killings of civilians and looted the property of several local residents, including the properties related to former and current government officials.
Description of the Incident and How the Residents of Spin Boldak District Were Killed
The Taliban took over the Spin Boldak district of Kandahar province on Saratan 23, 1400 (July 14, 2021). A few days later, security and defense forces started a military operation to retake the district, which was welcomed by some of the local residents. A number of Spin Boldak district residents ran out of their homes to welcome the security forces, although they did not actively participate in the district recapturing operation.
Security forces were unable to recapture the Spin Boldak district after fighting the Taliban. The Taliban then began sweeping in many villages adjacent to the district market, looking for former and current civil servants and identifying government supporters. The Taliban expelled them from their homes and killed them; as some of those bodies have been identified so far.
Findings by the Commission show that the Taliban has retaliated against the past and present government officials and residents who welcomed security forces during the recapture of Spin Boldak district. They looted property belonging to a number of locals, including the homes of former and current government officials. However, the Commission has not yet obtained credible information confirming a purely ethnic motive in the killings.
Furthermore, personal motives and earlier confrontations seem to have been involved in the Taliban's killing of local civilians. According to reliable local sources, an influential ethnic leader was killed during General Abdul Raziq's tenure as Kandahar provincial police chief, along with a few other people whose families eventually moved to Pakistan and joined the Taliban. After the fall of Spin Boldak district to the Taliban, the brother of this influential ethnic leader introduced people to the Taliban whom he considered the supporters of General Raziq and the government in order to seek revenge.
Meanwhile, according to the findings of the Commission after the Taliban took over the Spin Boldak district, they plundered the property of several people in the area.
Violation of Humanitarian Law and War Crimes by the Taliban
International humanitarian law provides important protection to people who are not directly involved in the conflict, in that their lives, moral and physical integrity are safeguarded, and they should be treated humanely under all circumstances and without discrimination. Additionally, according to these principles, all individuals have the right to judicial guarantees, and no one should be held liable for an act he did not commit. According to AIHRC findings, after taking over Spin Boldak district, the Taliban chased and identified past and present government officials and killed these people who had no combat role in the conflict. Since July 16th 2021, the Commission has identified 40 people killed in the district by the Taliban. There are allegations of higher numbers of civilians killed and injured by the Taliban in this manner in Spin Boldak that we have not been able to fully verify yet. The killing of these individuals by the Taliban in Spin Boldak district is a clear violation of international humanitarian law and can amount to war crimes.
While the Taliban leadership has officially stated that its affiliated militants will not harm civilians or civilian facilities; but this and other similar incidents show that contrary to what they proclaim, the group has no practical commitment to the principles of international human rights and humanitarian law.
AIHRC once again calls on the warring parties, in particular the Taliban, to fulfill their legal obligations to protect the civilians’ right to life and physical integrity and to refrain from retaliatory attacks and the destruction of public facilities and people’s properties.