Taliban may be carrying out massacres with impunity – Amnesty International

While focus is on Kabul, killings are taking place across Afghanistan, says investigator

Amnesty International war crimes investigator Brian Castner shortly before leaving Kabul on August 16th

Amnesty International war crimes investigator Brian Castner shortly before leaving Kabul on August 16th

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A war crimes investigator for Amnesty International, who was in Afghanistan when the Taliban took control of Kabul, has warned that the insurgent group may already be carrying out massacres with total impunity across the country.

Brian Castner, a war crimes investigator for Amnesty’s crisis team, told The Irish Times that while the international media is focusing on ongoing evacuation efforts via Kabul airport, targeted killings are taking place.

He said Taliban members have drawn up lists of names and gone “from house to house and knocking on the doors of journalists and women activists”.

Mr Castner travelled to Afghanistan in July to compile a report on the Taliban massacre of nine ethnic Hazara men after the group took control of the Ghazni province.

He and his team reported that between July 4th and 6th, six men were shot and three were tortured and later died, including one man who was “strangled with his own scarf and had his arm muscles sliced off”.

The report states that these killings “likely represent a tiny fraction of the total death toll inflicted by the Taliban to date”, as the insurgents have cut mobile phone services in many areas and are controlling social media content in some.

Narrative

“There’s a focus on Kabul now, but there’s also this narrative that there was only fighting in the last week or 10 days, but there’s already been heavy fighting in Kandahar, Kunduz and outside Herat, ” Mr Castner said.

“We couldn’t speak to people in Kunduz and there’s no cellphone service now in Malistan. The only videos coming out of these smaller districts and rural towns is what is Taliban-friendly and is allowed to be released.”

He said the mass exodus of journalists and fixers, who are trying to get out of the country for fear of being persecuted by Taliban militias, means the knock-on effects of the takeover in many parts of Afghanistan are not being reported.

“The major international media have focused on getting their people out, which is the correct and ethical decision, but if you read the bylines in international media, they’re mostly being written by people in the US reacting to videos,” he said. “The reporting is just not there. We don’t even know how many people have died at the airport and that’s maybe the one place where journalists still are.”

He added: “I know journalists who were working on stories about massacres in various places and they never ran because they fled the country. Who knows when that work will come out? We sent this [Amnesty] report out now because we didn’t want to wait, we could prove what was happening in one hamlet in one district.”

Safe house

Mr Castner was evacuated from Kabul along with other US passport holders on August 16th. Before leaving Kabul, he spent the night in a safe house with colleagues and some Afghan families.

“There was a teenage girl sitting next to me and when the gunfire started. The look on her face, oh my god. I hesitate to overly interpret, but it was like I was watching every dream on her face being crushed.”

Mr Castner said he was aware of how privileged he is to be back in the US while Afghan friends and colleagues struggle to leave Afghanistan. The women he worked with stopped going outside their homes last week, he added.

“There have been some very brave examples of women protesting and trying to keep working. But all the women I spoke to of course have that fear about going outside. My feeling is this is the worst human rights and humanitarian disaster in the world right now.”

The Irish branch of Amnesty International last week joined 11 other organisations working in the area of migrant and asylum rights in calling on the Government to resettle at least 1,000 Afghan refugees.

The Government has agreed to accept 195 Afghan refugees so far, with the first group expected to arrive in the coming days.

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