September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Amnesty International Testimony - Afghanistan Before the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights House Committee on International Relations Presented by T. Kumar Advocacy Director for Asia & Pacific Amnesty International USA; October 31, 2001

Amnesty International Testimony


Before the

Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights

House Committee on International Relations

Presented by

T. Kumar

Advocacy Director for Asia & Pacific

Amnesty International USA

October 31, 2001

Thank you Madam Chair and distinguished members of the Committee for providing Amnesty International the opportunity to testify at this important hearing. Madam Chair, the attacks of September 11th shocked the world. Thousands of innocent people from 80 nations were among the victims. The attacks represented nothing less than a massive violation of human rights. Amnesty International has expressed our grief and solidarity with the victims and their families. We also have expressed our outrage at those responsible and reiterate here today our demand that they be brought to justice. We can best honor the victims of these heinous attacks by not forgetting the human rights of other innocent people in the United States and around the world. We have united to demand justice, but we also should unite to protect the human rights of all.

Among the innocent are the vast majority of the long suffering Afghan people. The human rights situation in Afghanistan has been of consistent and grave concern to Amnesty International for decades. We have documented human rights abuses perpetrated by all sides in the conflict. We have sought to increase awareness and to bring attention to the continuing suffering of the Afghan people. We have characterized what has happened there as the World’s largest forgotten tragedy. We have documented widespread human rights violations by both the Taleban and the Northern Alliance.

A history of abuse against civilians

But human rights abuses committed by the Taleban and Northern Alliance represent only the latest tragedy in the sad history of Afghanistan. Throughout the 1980s, Afghanistan was a Cold War battleground. Following the Soviet Union’s invasion in 1979, the United States supported and trained the Mujahideen resistance forces. Those trained by the U.S. now can be found among those fighting with the Northern Alliance, as well as among those fighting with the Taleban.

In 1989, the Soviet withdrawal and U.S. disengagement left a power vacuum that plunged Afghanistan into civil war with warring factions vying for control of the country. In 1996, Taleban forces captured the capital city of Kabul and soon took control of most of the country. The opposing Northern Alliance lost ground, controlling about 5 to 10 percent of the country’s territory by September 2001.


Many of the Taleban leadership received religious training in Islamic schools in Pakistan. They emerged as a new military and political force in November 1994 when they captured the city of Kandahar from Mujahideen groups. In September 1996, Taleban forces entered Kabul. Among their first acts was to hang former President Najibullah, who since the fall of his Soviet-backed government in April 1992 had received refuge in a UN compound.

Pakistan is the only country that recognizes the Taleban as the government of Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates withdrew their recognition after the September 11th attack.

The Taleban have imposed harsh restrictions on personal conduct and behavior to enforce its particular interpretation of Islamic law and were responsible for continuing numerous and widespread human rights abuses, especially against women. The Taleban has reportedly committed political and other extra-judicial executions that include targeted and mass killings, summary executions, torture, and death in custody. Taleban Shari’a courts and religious police apply procedures that fall short of international fair standards and that impose cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment, such as public executions for adultery or murder, amputations for theft, and beatings for lesser infractions. Thousands of people are reportedly held without charge or trial, including members of ethnic minority groups held on suspicion of supporting the Northern Alliance. In 1998, the Taleban prohibited satellite dishes as part of an effort to ban music, television, and movies, and to create an environment free of any external influence or culture.

Women under the Taleban

The Taleban imposed especially severe restriction on women. Its policy of “gender apartheid” is unlike anywhere in the world. The Taleban’s policies deny basic and fundamental rights to women, including freedom of association, expression, and movement. Under the Taleban’s strict rules, women are not allowed to study, work, or move around without wearing the all-enveloping “burqa.”

One of the most consistent policies of the Taleban is to punish women for defying their draconian edicts. Taleban guards beat and humiliate women for defying their rules, even for acts as seemingly insignificant as showing one’s ankle. The Taleban’s ministry for “preventing vice and fostering virtue” vigilantly enforces the restrictions on women. Women are regularly rounded up and punished for allegedly violating the Taleban’s rules on clothing. On one occasion, the Taleban reportedly cut off the end of a woman’s thumb for wearing nail polish.

Women continue to be subjected to death by stoning and public executions. One married woman was accused of attempting to leave her husband to be with another man. An Islamic tribunal reportedly found her guilty of adultery and, as punishment stipulated her to death by stoning.

Under the Taleban, women are required to remain out of sight. In March 1997, the Taleban ordered Kabul residents to block the windows in their homes at the ground and first floor levels to ensure that women could not be seen from the street. A Taleban representative speaking from the Attorney General’s office in Kabul, told journalists that the face of a woman is a source of corruption for men who are not related to her.

Whenever the Taleban captures territory, among the first steps they have taken is to enforce their “gender apartheid” policies. On May 24, 1997 when the Taleban briefly captured the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, they announced through loudspeakers that women were to stay indoors and that they were only to be allowed outside in the company of a male relative and wearing a burqa. Women were told not to report for work and the Taleban stopped education for girls and women.

The Taleban’s restriction on education and employment has had devastating affects on thousands of university students and professional women. In 1996, the Taleban closed Kabul University, which reportedly had about 8,000 women students. In Herat an estimated 3,000 women lost their jobs after the Taleban took control.

Women suffer extreme repression and effectively live under house arrest. Among the women, tens of thousands are widows who without a man are the sole breadwinners for their families and do not have a close male relative to accompany them in public. Severe depression and desperation is rampant.

Northern Alliance

Unfortunately, conditions under Northern Alliance are not much better. The United Nations and several countries recognize the Northern Alliance as the government of Afghanistan. During their rule in Kabul from 1992 to 1996, the Northern Alliance was responsible for numerous human rights abuses against Afghan civilians. Violations were widespread and included rape, extra-judicial executions and torture, as well as long-term detention of prisoners of conscience. In 1996, the Northern Alliance lost Kabul to the Taleban and subsequently lost most of their territories to the Taleban. Although the abuses by the Northern Alliance continued, the reports of such abuses have declined in recent months. This may be the result of the Northern Alliance controlling limited territory. Such abuses could easily increase as the armed conflict spreads.


The ongoing civil war in Afghanistan also has had a devastating impact on children. While the Taleban denies education to girls, all parties to the conflict recruit boys as child solders. Many are orphaned and have lost their siblings in addition to their parents. Thousands of children die yearly from malnutrition and respiratory infections. The only experience of many of these children have is of war, death, and destruction.

Over the last two decades, four hundred thousand children have been killed due to the war and thousands more have died of war related injuries. They were killed in indiscriminate bombings and shelling of their homes, schools, or playgrounds. They were victims of both deliberate and arbitrary killings and in many cases torture.

Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. Landmines have killed thousands of children. Many of those who survive the blast have died later due to lack of medical facilities. Others are left blind, deaf or without limbs.

Two generations of Afghan children have been raised in a highly militarized “gun culture.” In schools, both inside the country and refugee camps, textbooks, and teaching methods have used images of tanks, guns, and bullets in mathematics and reading classes.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that one in every two children is malnourished and that one in four Afghan children die before the age of five from preventable causes. The child mortality rates within the camps for internally displaced are even higher with one in every three children dying before the age of five. In May 2001, the UN reported that 25 children had died in an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan due to heat stroke.

According to UNICEF, almost all the children they interviewed witnessed acts of violence. Two thirds of them had seen dead bodies or body parts and nearly half had seen people killed during rocket and artillery attacks. A disturbing 90 percent of the children believed that they would die during the conflict. UNICEF’s research also indicates that the majority of children from Kabul suffer from serious traumatic stress.

Humanitarian situation

The large displacement of Afghans between late 2000 and mid 2001 was accompanied by a lack of resources of humanitarian organizations and outbreaks of disease that killed many, particularly children, and the elderly. For example, during the last week of January 2001, reportedly 480 internally displaced Afghans in a camp outside Herat, including 220 children, froze to death due to a lack of shelter and blankets. Threat of a military attack and restrictions imposed by the Taleban on humanitarian activity, including detention of aid workers, have forced UN and other aid agencies in Afghanistan to withdraw their international staff. The pullout has come at a time when Afghanistan is facing a deepening humanitarian crisis.

The ongoing civil war and continuing drought has left between 5.5 and 6 million people in desperate need of aid, and the deteriorating situation and severe disruption in food distribution is likely to further increase this vulnerable population to 7.5 million, of which an estimated 70 percent are women and children. With such a large number of people suddenly deprived of humanitarian assistance from aid agencies, the UN have warned that starvation may occur in parts of Afghanistan.

In spite of security and logistical difficulties, limited deliveries of aid into Afghanistan were resumed between September 29 and October 8. During this period, the WFP reported that it delivered an average of 500 tons of aid per day. In addition, Oxfam and UNICEF were able to deliver both food and non-food aid, including blankets and basic health kits.

The amount of aid reaching the country is far less than the 52,000 tons per month that the WFP estimates it will take to feed the 6 million Afghans at highest risk, and falls short of pre-crisis deliveries, which amounted to 5,000 tons per week. Aid agencies were particularly concerned about the situation in the hardest hit northern provinces of Balkh and Faryab where it was estimated that 400,000 people were expected to have run out of food supplies during the week of 5 October. One challenge is the delivery of food before the onset of winter, which usually occurs around mid-November. The WFP are planning to airdrop food to some 100,000 families in the mountainous central highlands region, who risk becoming cut off once winter sets in. However, the Taleban had closed the airspace under their control and WFP has been attempting to negotiate with them for air corridors to be opened so that airdrops can be made by the organization.

Relief agencies indicate that women and children remain particularly at risk during the current crisis. The UN Population Fund has expressed particular concern about the thousands of pregnant women among those who have been recently displaced who will be particularly affected by the lack of food, shelter, and medical care as well as unsanitary conditions that have only worsened during the current crisis. On 25 September, UNHCR reported that, in at least two cases, pregnant women waiting on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border were permitted to enter Pakistan to give birth and were given medical treatment but were then subsequently sent back to Afghanistan.

Displacement of Afghans since 11 September 2001

Initially, the threat of a US-led military strike on Afghanistan and increased Taleban repression caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, particularly from major cities. A quarter of the population of Kabul and half the population of the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, the headquarters of the Taleban, reportedly have evacuated. Prior to the threat, the already large number of internally displaced persons was estimated to have grown to a total of 1.1 million. The UNHCR predicts that the number of internally displaced persons could rise to 2.2 million by March 2002.

Reports indicate that the Taleban prevented some refugees from leaving Afghanistan or from moving towards the borders. In one incident, the Taleban reportedly stopped 30 to 40 Afghan families from Herat on their way toward Iran and prevented the men in the families from continuing, saying that they had to join the Taleban forces and fight. It was reported that the women and children in these families turned back as well because they did not want to be separated from their male family members.

Following the most recent displacement of Afghans, Pakistan authorities have strengthened their efforts to prevent new Afghan refugees from entering Pakistan, citing security concerns and their inability to support additional refugees. On September 18, Pakistan closed its border with Afghanistan, reportedly due in part to a US request; the authorities are reportedly allowing only vehicles with Afghan transit goods and Pakistani nationals to enter.

The Refugees

During the 22 years of civil war in Afghanistan, millions of Afghan men, women, and children fled the country as refugees because of gross human rights abuses and fighting between armed factions.

Most of the refugees fled between 1979 and 1992. During that time period, more than a fifth of Afghanistan's population - over six million people – fled the country in search of safety to Pakistan and Iran. Currently there are 1.5 million Afghan refugees in Iran and 2 million in Pakistan.

While millions of Afghans fled the country, many are internally displaced within Afghanistan’s borders and are too poor to obtain transport or too weak to move. They languish, without proper food, medicine, housing, or security. The internally displaced seek safety in remote areas, in the mountains or in camps. Thousands of families in Afghanistan relocated several times over the last 23 years to escape fighting in different areas.

Afghans who leave the country do not necessarily escape danger. In Pakistan, Afghans continue to be at risk of violence from combat groups that are active along the border areas and at times exercise effective control over the refugee camps. Scores of refugees have been murdered in the very place they fled for safety.

Many Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran endure hardships. Although refugees have been allowed to work in these countries and have received a degree of support, most are barely able to sustain a meager living conditions for themselves and their families.

Over the last few years, the United Nations Consolidated Appeal for Afghanistan, the UN inter-agency mechanism for coordinated fundraising supporting Afghan relief projects, has received far less funding from donor governments than it has required to maintain the necessary priority assistance programs.

Pakistan continues to keep its border with Afghanistan closed admits only seriously ill individuals. However, the UNHCR is preparing for 1 million additional Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Tajikistan also keeps its borders with Afghanistan closed. The UNHCR is preparing for an influx of approximately 50,000 Afghan refugees into Tajikistan, another 50,000 into Turkmenistan, and up to 10,000 in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have also effectively sealed their borders with Afghanistan.

Although Iran closed its borders on 15 September, there are reports that it has opened its borders recently and that the UNHCR is preparing to receive an influx of up to 400,000 new Afghan refugees in Iran.

Amnesty International has expressed concern both about the failure of neighboring states to provide protection to Afghan refugees and about the failure of the international community to provide adequate support to countries hosting this population.

Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and China Uzbekistan should immediately open their borders to refugees. The international community must share the responsibility of protecting these refugees. These host states should respect the refugees fundamental civil rights and should ensure that they have the basic necessities of life. Particular attention should be given to groups with special protection needs, such as women, children, and the elderly. Refugees should be provided with means to stay in a place of safety that is not close to dangerous border areas. UNHCR must be able to implement in full its protection mandate.

The arms transfers

Throughout the world, Amnesty International opposes the transfer of military and security equipment and expertise in cases in which one can reasonably assume is contributing to grave human rights violations. Amnesty International is extremely concerned that unconditional transfers of weapons and other military equipment and expertise to the warring parties in Afghanistan will increase the clear and sustained pattern of unlawful killings, torture and other serious human rights abuses and war crimes, that have occurred in Afghanistan since 1979.

Amnesty International remains opposed to transfer of arms or security equipment and training to the Taleban, the Northern Alliance and other armed groups in Afghanistan that have a record of committing gross human rights abuses. As there appears to have been a degree of structural integration, both the combatants of the Taleban and of al-qa’ida may be considered as belonging to the same military force. Since 1994, the main supplies of arms and related items to the Taleban have come from official stocks in Pakistan or from Chinese and other sales through private dealers based in Pakistan, and with major funding from Saudi Arabia.

Following the August 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the UN Security Council imposed progressively more comprehensive sanctions on the Taleban under Resolutions 1267 (1999), 1333 (2000), and 1363 (2001), including an arms embargo. These sanctions are binding on all members of the United Nations under. Amnesty International appeals to the government of Pakistan to make every effort to halt such transfers from its territory, and to the government of Saudi Arabia to halt financial support from its residents.

Amnesty International also is deeply concerned about proposed arms transfers to the Northern Alliance from the United States, Russia, Iran, and other states. Amnesty International is concerned that the supply of arms and related equipment and expertise to the Northern Alliance would fail to take account of the serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law perpetrated by those forces.


To Amnesty International’s knowledge, there have never been any accountability for these abuses against women and children and other serious human rights abuses committed in Afghanistan since the war began in 1978. No state has brought to justice Afghans within their jurisdiction suspected of serious human rights abuses. If the cycle of abuses is to be broken, there must be a concerted international effort to end impunity in the country. Any political settlement must exclude the granting of pre-conviction amnesties for alleged perpetrators of serious human rights abuses. Perpetrators should be brought to justice regardless of rank or other status. States should take steps to ensure that universal jurisdiction is exercised by their national courts for war crimes and other serious abuses of human rights committed in Afghanistan.

Prospects for peace

Over the last twenty years, efforts to secure peace in Afghanistan have failed. If Afghanistan is to experience peace in the future, it must begin with a foundation that provides all it’s residents-including all women and all children- with the human rights protection, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With human rights principles as the cornerstone, Amnesty International believes that:

· All parties in the current conflict must take every measure to ensure that international human rights and humanitarian law is upheld.

· Congress and the Administration should ensure that any military assistance be accompanied

by clear commitments on human rights and effective mechanisms to monitor use of weapons.

· The Administration should urge the countries neighboring Afghanistan to keep their borders open to Afghan refugees and the Administration should explore the possibility of emergency resettlement of Afghan civilians in the U.S. and other countries, as was done during the Kosovo refugee resettlement program. Amnesty International recommends that women and children be given priority.

· Congress should support efforts by the Administration and appropriate international relief agencies to provide food, shelter, and medical assistance to refugees and internally displaced people and that the Administration work with appropriate international relief agencies to prevent further human rights violations in the refugee camps, and create an atmosphere of personal security, and, to the extent possible, provide basic education and employment training.

· The Administration should ensure that any political settlement must exclude the granting of pre-conviction amnesties for alleged perpetrators of serious human rights abuses.

· The Administration ensure that Afghan women are adequately represented in any peace process, as well as in any future government.

Madam Chair, Human rights must be central to the negotiation of any settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan. Any political settlement should contain explicit guarantees from the parties on immediate ending of serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary detention. Specific protection should be sought against retaliation and discrimination against ethnic and religious groups.

The parties to any political settlement should undertake to end systematic discrimination against women and to ensure full respect for their fundamental human rights, including their rights to freedom of movement, expression, association, education, employment and health.

A political settlement must be based on broad consultation and participation by the widest possible cross section of Afghan society. The aim of negotiations should be to help create institutions of governance committed to and capable of effectively protecting human rights. Particular emphasis should be placed on adherence to the fundamental principle of non-discrimination, so as to ensure the full protection and meaningful participation of women and all religious and ethnic groups.

Measures for the effective protection and verification of human rights should be incorporated into any settlement of the conflict. International human rights field monitors should be deployed throughout Afghanistan as soon as possible. The monitors should include experts on women's rights. Impartial human rights monitoring would assist in protecting human rights as well as building confidence in the process towards peace. Pending their deployment in Afghanistan, the monitors could be placed in neighbouring countries to collect and analyse information to assess the prevailing human rights situation in Afghanistan, to publicly report on their findings and to inform the peace making process in Afghanistan.

Those entrusted with positions of leadership in a post-conflict Afghanistan must be individuals with a genuine commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights for all. The past human rights record of such people should be taken as a measure of their integrity. Particular consideration should be given to including those who have been denied participation in the past because of systematic discrimination, such as women.

The national reconstruction of Afghanistan must include the development of institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights, including law enforcement agencies trained in international standards and able to promote and protect human rights, and a judiciary capable of conducting fair trials. This task must be included at the outset of any program of institution-building in the country, as it is central to the effective protection of human rights.

An expert commission should be established to examine and advise on how to rebuild the criminal justice system in Afghanistan in line with international human rights standards. The commission could also advise on the mechanisms best suited to address past human rights abuses in Afghanistan, the abuses committed during the present conflict, as well as abuses taking place during the transition to a fully-fledged, functioning and fair judiciary.

Thank you Madam chair for holding this hearing at this crucial time.

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