Written evidence submitted by Gillian McKay, PhD Candidate at the University of Leeds (AFG0025)

 

ABOUT

 

1         This submission has been prepared by Gillian McKay, a PhD Candidate in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. Her research is focused on the United Kingdom’s approach to mass atrocity prevention and is being undertaken in collaboration with the Aegis Trust, supervised within the European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Her academic background is in psychology and human rights law, and she has previously worked in the humanitarian and development sectors.

 

SUMMARY

 

2         Given the clear and substantial risk of mass atrocity crimes in Afghanistan, this submission seeks to respond to the Committee’s question: What are the humanitarian and human rights implications of the Taliban takeover? Drawing on evidence from non-governmental organisation reports and news media sources, and using the United Nations (UN) Framework for Analysis of Atrocity Crimes, this assessment finds evidence for 11 of a possible 14 risk factors present in Afghanistan since August 2021. It is worth noting that an additional three atrocity risk factors have been identified for the period prior to the Taliban takeover but these have not been included here.

 

3         The Framework defines risk factors as ‘conditions that increase the risk of or susceptibility to negative outcomes… [including] behaviours, circumstances or elements that create an environment conducive to the commission of atrocity crimes, or indicate the potential, probability or risk of their occurrence.’ This assessment finds that seven of eight common risk factors (i.e., risk factors common to all four mass atrocity crimes – defined as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing) are currently present in Afghanistan. Moreover, additional risk factors specific to genocide (2 of 2 risk factors identified) and crimes against humanity (2 of 2) have also been observed in this exercise. Each risk factor has a number of risk indicators, and these have been noted below in brackets under each risk factor.

 

COMMON RISK FACTORS

 

4         Risk Factor 1: International or non-international armed conflict

Given the sudden transfer of power in August (1.4), the situation in Afghanistan is volatile and there is a strong possibility that the Taliban will now defect from the intra-Afghan peace talks (1.2). A recent Amnesty International report documented a number of indicators which point to continuing but worsening problems in the country that are conducive to mass atrocity crimes: including the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic (1.3), the growing threat of terrorism (1.2), the increase in identity-based exclusion (1.11), and the growing repression of political participation and resistance (1.6, 1.10).[1] The UN Development Programme has also noted the deteriorating economic stability in Afghanistan, estimating that 97 per cent of the population will face poverty by mid-2022.[2] This exacerbates atrocity risks further given the scarcity of resources available to meet basic needs (1.7), the likelihood of economic collapse following the withdrawal of international support (1.8), and the fact that almost half of the population is already living in poverty (1.9).[3]

 

5         Risk Factor 2: Record of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law

The past and present human rights record of the Taliban is well documented by non-governmental organisations. The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect has, for example, noted the group’s propensity to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity as well as genocide (1.2), their denial of any such wrongdoing (2.5), and their impunity for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law (2.1, 2.3).[4] Amnesty International has also reported on these points, highlighting targeted groups like women and LGBTI communities, as well Hindu, Sikh and Shia populations.[5] A fifth indicator worth noting here is the Taliban’s relationship with other non-state actors (2.5), in particular the group now responsible for security in Kabul: the Haqqani network (a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK).[6]

 

6         Risk Factor 4: Motives or incentives

With the Taliban in power, there are strategic and economic interests that the group will now be looking to safeguard (4.2, 4.3).[7] Moreover, grievances and perceptions of disloyalty or opposition from human rights defenders and journalists, as well as those who worked with foreign forces or for the former Afghan government, are a likely source of continued motivation for the Taliban to commission targeted attacks (4.5, 4.6).[8] Indeed, evidence of reprisals and revenge killings was already being reported prior to the fall of the republic in August (4.9).[9]

 

7         Risk Factor 5: Capacity to commit atrocity crimes

The rapid withdrawal of foreign forces meant that an abundance of equipment was left behind (including exports originating in the UK)[10] which the Taliban may now be able to use to commit mass atrocity crimes across the country (5.1, 5.2). The inability of the international community to curb the illicit narcotics trade – a responsibility for which the UK once held a leading role – also continues to supplement the Taliban’s financial income.[11] Moreover, the capacity of the Taliban and groups like the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) to recruit and mobilise support – and child soldiers – continues to raise concerns (5.3),[12] as does the former’s close ties with the Haqqani network as mentioned above (5.5).[13]

 

8         Risk Factor 6: Absence of mitigating factors

The failure of the international community to support the former Afghan government in upholding its primary responsibility to protect, or to act decisively once it was known to be manifestly failing in that responsibility, has been clear in the case of Afghanistan (6.9). Likewise, this failure to protect manifests in the closure of borders by neighbouring Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan (6.10),[14] as well as push-backs further afield in Turkey[15] and Poland.[16] Moreover, the crisis has demonstrated the glaring gaps in UK policy on atrocity prevention and the need for a distinct early warning mechanism at the country level (6.11). Since August, the international community has held a limited presence (6.4), with many states, including the UK, suspending embassy operations in the country.[17] The ability to monitor the Taliban’s already-limited cooperation with international human rights mechanisms (6.7) is also constrained by severe restrictions on independent media and other communications (6.2).[18]

 

9         Risk Factor 7: Enabling circumstances or preparatory action

Many of the risk indicators here overlap with those noted above, including media and communications restrictions (7.6) and the limited presence of international actors and/or their movements (7.7), as well as the acquisition of arms and ammunitions that could be used to inflict harm on a particular group (7.4). More specifically, however, there is also evidence that the Taliban has mobilised its security apparatus against the minority Hazara population (7.3, 7.13),[19] infringing upon their rights to life and liberty (7.8), as well as destructing their property and forcibly displacing entire communities (7.10, 7.11).[20] Women and children have also become increasingly vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation (7.9),[21] and the Taliban continues to suspend key institutions such as girls’ education (7.2).[22]

 

10     Risk Factor 8: Triggering factors

Triggering factors include the sudden fall of the republic and the subsequent transfer of power to the Taliban in August (8.4), a real or perceived threat from former Afghan government or security officials (8.5)[23] or particular religious sects (8.6),[24] and the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its related restrictions (8.9).[25] 

 

SPECIFIC RISK FACTORS

 

11     Risk Factor 9: Intergroup tensions or patterns of discrimination against protected groups

The risk of genocide is particularly pronounced for the minority ethnic Hazara population which has, in both the distant and recent past (9.1), experienced grave identity-based violence and exclusion with impunity (9.2).[26] This now includes unequal participation and representation in Afghan economic, social, and political life under the Taliban (9.4). The risk is exacerbated by the absence of a national mechanism to address identity-based tensions and discrimination (9.6).

 

12     Risk Factor 10: Signs of an intent to destroy in whole or in part a protected group

Human rights organisations have warned of the growing attacks on Hazara and other minority communities by both the Taliban and ISKP.[27] In addition to widespread, targeted attacks designed to instil fear or terror in these populations (10.5) and the destruction of their religious or cultural property (10.8), long-standing violence and discrimination continues to escalate (10.3) and points to a possible policy of elimination of the Hazara in particular (10.2).

 

13     Risk Factor 11: Signs of widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population

Indicators which point to the risk of crimes against humanity include the transfer of power to the Taliban which now has the means to implement targeted violence on a more widespread and systematic scale (11.6, 11.7). Beyond the patterns of violence and destruction noted above (11.1), the scale and gravity of such attacks on protected groups has also grown,[28] pointing to increased organisation and coordination (11.3) and signs of a deliberate policy to inflict lasting harm (11.5).

 

14     Risk Factor 12: Signs of a plan or policy to attack any civilian population

With the Taliban in power, targeted attacks perpetrated by the group may now constitute a high-level plan or policy (12.10) to implement discriminatory security practices (12.2)[29] and widespread attacks (12.9) which result in the alteration of the population’s composition (12.3).[30]

 

 

October 2021


[1] Amnesty International, Afghanistan’s Fall into the Hands of the Taliban; The Impact of COVID-19 on Afghanistan’s Internally Displaced

[2] UN Development Programme, Economic Instability and Uncertainty in Afghanistan after August 15

[3] Asian Development Bank, Afghanistan and ADB

[4] Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Afghanistan

[5] Amnesty International, Afghanistan’s Fall into the Hands of the Taliban

[6] UK Home Office, Policy Paper

[7] World Bank, Afghanistan

[8] Amnesty International, Afghanistan’s Fall into the Hands of the Taliban

[9] Human Rights Watch, Mounting Taliban revenge killings

[10] Politico, Fears UK weapons exports could fall into Taliban hands

[11] House of Lords, The UK and Afghanistan; Reuters, Profits and poppy

[12] House of Lords, The UK and Afghanistan; Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Afghanistan

[13] BBC, Hardliners get key posts in new Taliban government

[14] Amnesty International, Afghanistan’s Fall into the Hands of the Taliban

[15] Human Rights Watch, Turkey soldiers push Afghan asylum seekers back to Iran

[16] Amnesty International, Afghans at the border violently pushed back to Belarus

[17] British Embassy Kabul; Devex, Aid groups must navigate sanctions and Taliban to help Afghanistan

[18] Human Rights Watch, Taliban Severely Restrict Media; Amnesty International, Afghanistan’s Fall into the Hands of the Taliban

[19] Human Rights Watch, Taliban Forcibly Evict Minority Shia

[20] Human Rights Watch, Taliban Forcibly Evict Minority Shia

[21] Human Rights Watch, Afghan women fleeing violence lose vital protection

[22] Amnesty International, Afghanistan’s Fall into the Hands of the Taliban

[23] Amnesty International, Afghanistan’s Fall into the Hands of the Taliban

[24] Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Atrocity Alert 274

[25] Amnesty International, The Impact of COVID-19 on Afghanistan’s Internally Displaced

[26] Early Warning Project, Countries at Risk for Mass Killing 2020-21

[27] US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Statement on the Hazara; Human Rights Watch, Surge in Islamic State attacks on Shia

[28] US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Statement on the Hazara; Human Rights Watch, Surge in Islamic State attacks on Shia

[29] Amnesty International, Afghanistan’s Fall into the Hands of the Taliban

[30] Human Rights Watch, Taliban Forcibly Evict Minority Shia