Taliban Leaders Should Be Prosecuted for War Crimes

August 11, 2010

Sanam Gul was a widow, 35 years old and pregnant.  According to news reports she was kept in captivity for three days before being shot to death in a public trial by the Afghan Taliban.  The execution took place in the Qadis District of the rural Baghdis province in Western Afghanistan.

The “court” that ordered the punishment, found Sanam Gul, also known as Bibi Sanubar, guilty of having an illicit affair, proof of which was her pregnancy.  She was sentenced to 200 lashes and then executed.  The punishment was carried out by Mohammad Yousuf, the area Taliban commander amid a crowd of onlookers.

Sanam Gul’s death comes soon after the chilling Aug 7 executions of ten medical aid workers who had been returning from a trip to provide free medical care to remote regions of Afghanistan.

These barbaric theatrics meant to intimidate and terrify local populations are not novel tactics for the Taliban.  In the time that they controlled Afghanistan, from 1998-2001, such public floggings and executions were frequent occurrences in towns controlled by the group.   In addition to such tactics of terror which misuse concepts of Islamic law to instate a reign of terror, the Taliban are also guilty of increasingly bloodthirsty killing campaigns that kill hundreds of Afghan civilians.

A U.N report released on August 10 revealed that civilian casualties caused by the Taliban have increased nearly 31% in the first six months of 2010.  This means that over 3,000 Afghan civilians have died in the shootings, killings, suicide bombings that the Taliban carry out with impunity in areas which they control.

In the first half of 2010, the executions and assassinations of civilians by the Taliban and other insurgent groups increased by over 95% to 183 recorded deaths compared to the same time last year. The victims were usually accused of supporting the According to Staffan De Mistura, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the U.N “Afghan children and women are increasingly bearing the brunt of this conflict; they are being killed and injured in their communities in greater numbers than ever before”.

In the ten years since the beginning of the Afghan war, and in the years before when the Taliban controlled huge chunks of the country, the world has watched while they have wrested all sense of security from Afghan civilians.  One of the biggest chasms in the worldwide response to the human rights abuses carried out by the Taliban has been the inability to coalesce around a unifying concept of international justice that would hold non-state groups like the Taliban accountable. Historic reliance on the nation state model has meant an initial hesitance to apply the mechanisms of shaming to non state groups which kill the innocent and use religious concepts to terrorize entire populations.

It is this view that perceives only nation states to be human rights abusers that must change drastically for groups like the Taliban to be held accountable for their brutality. The lack of an existing system of justice in Afghanistan means that unless international mechanisms of justice get actively involved in the situation, Afghan civilians will remain helpless before the bloodthirsty campaign of the Taliban.   Because of this Amnesty International is calling for the investigation of Taliban crimes so that they may be prosecuted for war crimes.

The initiation of a prosecution of Taliban leaders that so brutally executed Sanam Gul and have so cruelly taken the lives of thousands of other Afghan civilians must be held accountable.  Such accountability is crucial to insure that these same war criminals are not promoted to positions of power in any post-conflict set up.  Given that the United States, Afghanistan and other members of NATO are currently engaging in such discussions, it is imperative that the human rights abuses carried out by Taliban leaders against civilians be an integral part of their agenda.

Unless the international community takes a stand on this issue, Afghan civilians will continue to believe that they will be abandoned by the world and left to endure another regime of barbarism.