A new United Nations report on the human rights conditions in Afghanistan raises questions about the ongoing US bombing campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda. It expresses concern that the raids risk violating international humanitarian law, and calls for an inquiry into whether the US military is taking proper precautions to prevent civilian casualties.
"The international coalition needs to review the conduct of its military operations so as to strictly comply with international humanitarian law, and to demonstrate that these operations are not directed against the Afghan people," says the report, which was prepared for the UN Secretary General by Kamal Hossain, the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan for the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Specifically, the report cites as sources of concern reports of civilian casualties, including women and children, and attacks on supply warehouses of the International Committee of the Red Cross. It also cites an October 22 bombing incident near Herat, in which US jets reportedly dropped cluster bombs in civilian areas. That raid "raise[s] questions which call for a proper inquiry."
The report goes on to raise alarms about a looming humanitarian crisis. As winter approaches, many Afghans face hunger amidst the dislocation caused by the anti-terrorism campaign and the ongoing effects of severe drought. At the same time, the UN is concerned that the existing humanitarian aid infrastructure cannot cope with the crisis. The aid effort suffered a serious blow when the Red Cross, which has historically operated in war zones, could not get security assurances from the Taliban and withdrew from Afghanistan.
Striving to reestablish a UN commitment to aiding Afghans, the report suggests that international humanitarian staff should be redeployed inside Afghanistan "so that they may be seen to be standing by the Afghan people in time of danger and to be interceding on their behalf to protect their rights and to bring emergency humanitarian assistance to them."
About 80 UN international staff members were evacuated from Afghanistan following the September 11 terrorist attacks. The World Food Program still provides humanitarian assistance through truck convoys from Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Iran, and about 100 local staff in Afghanistan. In the first week of November, WFP trucked 15,000 tons of food into the country. Its goal is 52,000 tons per month, which represents 2,000 tons per day needed to feed 6 million hungry Afghans.
Meanwhile, Uzbek media reports that UNICEF aid shipments bound for Afghanistan have started arriving in neighboring Uzbekistan. About 120 tons of food and other humanitarian aid have already been stockpiled in Termez, located on the Uzbek-Afghan border. The Tashkent-based Pravda Vostoka newspaper said UNICEF plans to begin transporting the aid to Afghanistan around November 15.
Hossain told reporters November 8 that because of the UN's record of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, Afghans who are looking for the UN to return should not be let down. "Even when there has been internal conflict, the UN has managed to be there with humanitarian assistance working with NGOs, humanitarian bodies. So it has a very positive image," he said.
"Where there is relatively improved security conditions, UN staff should be visible in those areas, working with the people to start the process of meeting the local needs," Hossain added.
The report also urged the UN to issue "credible warnings" to all the Afghan militia groups against summary executions. The Taliban executed Pashtun leader Abdul Haq on October 26 shortly after he crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan on a mission to foment anti-Taliban opposition.
Addressing security concerns, Hossain said arrangements should be made "to prevent massacres and protect the life and property of citizens" in areas where the Taliban loses control to other forces, especially the Northern Alliance. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archives]. Such security arrangements could include local community leaders who "are not tarnished by a negative track record."
When asked by reporters if moderate Taliban could be included in a post-Taliban regime, Hossain responded by saying that "every citizen of Afghanistan has a right to participate in the rebuilding of Afghanistan, except those who are disqualified by some criminal liability, which they have incurred
Todd Diamond is a journalist who covers the United Nations.