Stephen Goose, director of Human Rights Watch's Arms Division, was instrumental in bringing about the 2008 convention banning cluster munitions, the 1997 treaty banning antipersonnel mines, the 1995 protocol banning blinding lasers, and the 2003 protocol requiring clean-up of explosive remnants of war. He and Human Rights Watch co-founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. Goose created the ICBL’s Landmine Monitor initiative, the first time that non-governmental organizations around the world have worked together in a sustained and coordinated way to monitor compliance with an international disarmament or humanitarian law treaty. In 2013, he and Human Rights Watch co-founded the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1993, Goose was a US congressional staffer and a researcher at the Center for Defense Information. He has a master's degree in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a B.A. in History from Vanderbilt University.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Imports sit destroyed in a damaged warehouse at the port in Hodeida city, Yemen.

© November 2016 Kristine Beckerle / Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – All parties to the conflict in Yemen should minimize civilian harm during military operations against the western port city of Hodeida, Human Rights Watch said today. The Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United States, and Yemeni government-aligned forces, backed by the United Arab Emirates, stepped up attacks on Houthi forces controlling the port in June 2018.

About 70 percent of Yemen’s aid and commercial imports enter through Hodeida and the nearby Saleef port, providing food, fuel, and medicine that the population needs for survival. To comply with international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, warring parties should take immediate steps to provide safe passage and adequate support to civilians fleeing fighting and facilitate the flow of aid and commercial supplies to the broader population and access by humanitarian agencies.

“The coalition and Houthi forces now fighting for Hodeida have atrocious records abiding by the laws of war,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UN Security Council should urgently warn senior officials on both sides to provide civilians access to desperately needed aid.”

Related Content

Up to 600,000 civilians remain in the vicinity of densely populated Hodeida, which the Houthis took over in late 2014. On June 9, the UAE, which has led coalition operations along Yemen’s western coast, informed humanitarian organizations that they had three days to evacuate the city. The United Nations and other humanitarian organizations withdrew many of their staff, but the UN aid chief, Mark Lowcock said, “It is our plan, intention and hope to stay and deliver.”

The parties to the conflict are bound under the laws of war to take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian structures. Since the coalition began its military campaign in Yemen in March 2015, coalition forces have committed numerous unlawful airstrikes and used inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions. The Houthis have unlawfully carried out indiscriminate missile strikes, used anti-personnel landmines, and deployed children in combat, as have pro-government Yemeni forces.

The UN has referred to Yemen as the world’s worst and largest humanitarian crisis. As of January 2018, at least eight million Yemenis were on the brink of famine, which is linked directly to the armed conflict. Hodeida’s port is the “single most important point of entry for the food and basic supplies needed to prevent famine and a recurrence of a cholera epidemic,” the UN has said.

UN Security Council Resolutions 2140 and 2216 established a sanctions regime that authorizes the Yemen Sanctions Committee to designate those responsible for serious abuses, including obstructing humanitarian assistance, for travel bans and asset freezes. The Security Council should announce that it will impose these penalties on individuals who commit offenses during the Hodeida offensive that meet the sanctions committee’s designation criteria, Human Rights Watch said.

The US became a party to the Yemen conflict soon after fighting began by providing intelligence and refueling for coalition bombing missions. In 2017, the US sent special forces to assist in locating and destroying Houthi caches of ballistic missiles and launch sites, according to the New York Times. The US has also sold thousands of advanced bombs and rockets to Saudi Arabia, which leads the coalition. The US could become complicit in violations of the laws of war by assisting coalition forces during the Hodeida offensive. The United Kingdom, France and other countries have also sold weapons to coalition forces. US and other foreign officials may be exposed to potential legal liability by selling weapons likely to be used in unlawful attacks.

“The battle for Hodeida could have a devastating impact on civilians both in the city and elsewhere in Yemen,” Whitson said. “Both sides need to seek to minimize civilian harm at all times, whether in carrying out attacks or by allowing families to flee to safety.”

A worker is pictured in a government hospital's drug store in Sanaa, Yemen August 16, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Khaled Abdullah

Facilitate Humanitarian Access
Health professionals and humanitarian workers in Yemen have described how parties to the conflict have restricted access to aid and essential goods and the impact on the civilian population. This includes repeatedly failing to abide by laws-of-war requirements to facilitate the delivery of aid to civilians, exacerbating Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

Further disruption of humanitarian and commercial imports through Hodeida and Saleef will have predictably devastating consequences for civilians, Human Rights Watch said. The inability of essential supplies to reach their final destinations, including to areas under Houthi or Yemeni government control, would also be disastrous.

On June 8, Lise Grande, Yemen’s UN humanitarian coordinator, said: “In a prolonged worst case, we fear that as many as 250,000 people may lose everything – even their lives.… Cutting off imports through Hodeidah for any length of time will put Yemen’s population at extreme, unjustifiable risk.”

The coalition has imposed a naval and air blockade on Yemen since the current conflict began that has severely and disproportionately restricted the flow of food, fuel, and medicine to civilians in violation of international humanitarian law. The coalition closed all of Yemen’s entry points in response to a Houthi missile strike on Saudi’s Riyadh airport on November 4, 2017, keeping Hodeida and Saleef ports closed for several weeks. The closures immediately and predictably exacerbated existing food shortages. The port of Aden in the south, which is controlled by the Yemeni government, does not have the capacity to receive the hundreds of thousands of metric tons of food, fuel, medicine, and other imported goods Yemenis depend on for survival.

Houthi forces have blocked and confiscated food and medical supplies and denied access to civilians in need. They have imposed onerous restrictions on aid workers, interfered with aid delivery, and restricted the movement of ill civilians. The cumulative impact of Houthi obstruction and interference with humanitarian assistance has significantly harmed the civilian population.

Parties to the conflict must facilitate the rapid passage of humanitarian aid for civilians in need and not arbitrarily interfere with it. They must also ensure the freedom of movement of humanitarian workers, which can only be restricted temporarily for reasons of imperative military necessity. Warring parties are also prohibited from carrying out attacks on objects that are indispensable to the civilian population, such as food stores or drinking water installations intended for civilians. The laws of war prohibit using starvation as a method of warfare, and require parties to a conflict not to “provoke [starvation] deliberately” or deliberately cause “the population to suffer hunger, particularly by depriving it of its sources of food or of supplies.”

All parties to the conflict should:

 

  • Take all necessary steps to keep Hodeida and Saleef ports open and operational without interruption to humanitarian and essential commercial goods;
  • Take all necessary steps to ensure that aid and essential commercial imports can be taken in at ports and can be transported to civilians throughout Yemen;
  • Cease targeting, damaging or destroying objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population; and
  • Ensure the safety and security of humanitarian workers at all times.

 

Provide Safe Passage to Fleeing Civilians

Thousands of civilians have been displaced as fighting moved up Yemen’s western coast. In Aden in February, families displaced from their homes said they fled because they did not trust the warring parties to distinguish between civilians and combatants in their attacks. They described their fear when “the war came” and that the next mortar attack or airstrike would hit their or their neighbors’ homes. Some said that Houthi or UAE-backed fighters had restricted their flight.

A three-story house in Souq al-Hinood, a crowded residential area in Hodeida city, that was hit by an airstrike on the evening of September 21, 2016. A single bomb killed at least 28 civilians, including 8 children.

© 2016 Priyanka Motaparthy / Human Rights Watch

One man, “Talal,” said that after pro-government fighters pushed the Houthis out of Khawka in late 2017, about a dozen Houthi fighters deployed in the woods near his farm. He was worried that coalition forces would attack, but for two weeks the Houthis refused to allow his family to leave. “They said, ‘We will live together or we will die together.’ It was an order,” said Talal. “We heard the sound of airplanes all the time, stuck between the coalition and the Houthis.” His 4-year-old son “would wake up at night, crying, and yell, ‘The airplanes are coming!’” In December, after the Houthis had retreated to the woods, coalition airstrikes hit the family vehicle and their home. Eleven family members, including Talal’s nine children, were at the farm, and his 12-year-old son was severely wounded. They fled on motorbikes to the city of Hays.

Thousands of people displaced from fighting on the western coast have fled to Aden. “Ahmed,” 27, said UAE-backed forces at checkpoints occasionally refused entry to Aden or sought bribes from displaced people. His brother said, “Some of the people who are coming pay at the checkpoint, but it depends where you are from.” People from Houthi areas in the north pay larger bribes, he said. When Ahmed traveled from Taizz to Aden in early 2018, UAE-backed forces held him and a family traveling on the same bus at a checkpoint overnight with nothing to eat – the soldiers took their food and water. The soldiers let Ahmed go in the morning, but the family from the northern city of Saada, whom the soldiers accused of being Houthis, were still being interrogated when he left.

The laws of war require parties to the conflict to take all feasible steps to evacuate civilians from areas of fighting or where fighters are deployed and not to block or impede the evacuation of those wishing to leave. The creation of “humanitarian corridors” and the issuance of effective advance warnings of attack to the civilian population do not relieve attacking forces of their obligation to distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians and to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians.

Deliberately using the presence of civilians to protect military forces from attack is the war crime of “human shielding.”

The parties to the conflict should:

 

  • Remove civilians to the extent feasible from areas in the vicinity of military targets;
  • Allow civilians to flee areas of fighting for safety and to obtain aid; and
  • Never use civilians as “human shields.”

 

Avoid Civilian Casualties and Damaging Civilian Structures
Human Rights Watch and others have documented dozens of indiscriminate or disproportionate airstrikes by coalition forces and missile attacks by the Houthis that have caused thousands of civilian casualties. Coalition airstrikes have killed civilians in attacks on markets, homes, schools, hospitals and mosques. In March, the UN human rights office said that coalition airstrikes caused 61 percent of verified civilian casualties in Yemen.

The coalition has repeatedly hit infrastructure critical to the civilian population, including damaging essential port infrastructure in Hodeida. The coalition has carried out airstrikes using explosive weapons with wide-area effect in densely populated areas, including in Hodeida city.

The coalition has repeatedly pledged to minimize civilian harm in its aerial campaign, but has continued to carry out unlawful attacks. In April, the coalition bombed a wedding in Hajjah, killing 22 civilians and wounding at least another 54, about half of whom were children. As in 23 other apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes that Human Rights Watch has documented, the coalition used a US weapon – a Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) satellite guidance kit.

Houthi and government-aligned forces have carried out indiscriminate artillery attacks that have struck populated neighborhoods, killing and wounding civilians. The Houthis have repeatedly fired artillery indiscriminately into Yemeni cities, including after withdrawing from city centers. They have failed to take all feasible precautions against harming civilians by deploying military forces in civilian facilities – including a school and a civilian detention facility.   

A so-called dual-use object – one that normally has both civilian and military purposes – is a valid military target so long as the expected concrete and direct military advantage from the attack is greater than the anticipated loss of civilian life and property. Any coalition attacks on Hodeida and Saleef port facilities, which serve a military purpose, will need to take into account the extreme importance of those facilities to the civilian population and the anticipated impact of their destruction, Human Rights Watch said.

 

All parties to the conflict should:

 

  • Take all feasible measures to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects during military operations;
  • Act to ensure that attacks on military targets do not cause disproportionate harm to civilians and civilian objects;
  • Take all feasible steps, when operating in areas where civilians and combatants are comingled, to minimize the harm to civilians and civilian objects, including by selecting weapons and specific munitions to minimize civilian casualties; and
  • Cease use of munitions with wide-area destructive effect in heavily populated areas.

 

Cease Use of Landmines; Increase Efforts to Clear Explosive Remnants of War

Landmines have killed and maimed civilians, disrupted civilian life, hindered humanitarian access, and prevented civilians’ safe return home in affected areas in Yemen. In any battle for Hodeida, the Houthis, as well as pro-government forces, should not use antipersonnel mines, which pose a threat to civilians long after a conflict ends.

Houthi forces have repeatedly laid antipersonnel, antivehicle, and improvised mines, as they withdrew from areas in Aden, Taizz, Marib and, more recently, along Yemen’s western coast. In February, the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center’s southern branch found antipersonnel mines, antivehicle mines and other types of explosive ordnance, including improvised antipersonnel mines, near the towns of Mokha, Khawka and Hays. One deminer said that, “Areas that have been mined have never been signed [marked with warning signs].” Three years after the Houthis withdrew from Aden, mine survey and clearance operations continue.

Use of antipersonnel landmines violates the laws of war, and those involved are committing war crimes. The indiscriminate use of antivehicle mines and failure to minimize civilian casualties also violate the laws of war. Yemen suffers from a shortage of equipped and trained personnel who can systematically clear landmines and explosive remnants of war.

All parties to the conflict should:

 

  • Cease using antipersonnel mines, destroy any antipersonnel mines in their possession, and appropriately punish those using them;
  • Raise awareness among the displaced about the threat of mines, including improvised mines, and develop capacity to rapidly clear homes and residential areas of mines and remnants of war to facilitate the return of the civilian population; and
  • Direct international assistance to equip, train, and assist clearance personnel to systematically survey, clear, and destroy Yemen’s mines and explosive remnants of war. International donors should provide assistance for landmine victims, including medical care, prosthetics, and ongoing rehabilitation.

 

Ensure that No Children Take Part in Fighting

Houthi forces, pro-government forces, and other armed groups have used child soldiers, an estimated one-third of the fighters in Yemen. By August 2017, the UN had documented 1,702 cases of child recruitment since March 2015, 67 percent of which were attributable to formerly aligned Houthi-Saleh forces. About 100 of the verified cases included recruiting children younger than 15, the recruitment or use of whom is a war crime.

The Houthis have recruited, trained, and deployed children in the current conflict. “Yasser,” 20, said that the fear of forced recruitment drove him and two of his close friends to flee Sanaa in 2017. The Houthis had recruited his younger brother, 15 or 16, who then patrolled neighborhoods, worked at checkpoints, and received training. “He takes our father’s weapon when he goes.” The Houthis provided him with food and qat, but no pay. “He goes with seven of his friends around the same age,” Yasser said. Houthi supporters came to their neighborhood almost daily and talked to young men and boys about becoming fighters.

“Salem,” who was displaced by fighting on the western coast, said that children as young as 13 “were ruling us, they have the guns,” while his family remained in Houthi-controlled Mafraq. His family was first displaced to Houthi-controlled Ibb, but they fled to Aden in early 2018 after a local leader warned them the Houthis might forcibly recruit their children.

The local leader, who was also trying to send his children away to protect them, said the Houthis were going around to people’s homes, asking how many men and boys lived there, and registering names for fighting. Their neighbors said families had to provide either money or a person to fight, often a child: “They paid, or they take the kids, so they paid… They would take people who were 16, 17, if they can carry a weapon.” His relative, “Ali,” 16, said that in December 2017 Houthi men on a truck came to his secondary school. “I saw three Houthis with guns trying to take the kids… some of the kids were crying.” He and his friend scaled the school’s wall and ran away. Salem, Ali and about 70 other members of 13 related families were staying together in an abandoned school in Aden when Human Rights Watch interviewed them.

International law sets 18 as the minimum age for participation in direct hostilities, which includes using children as scouts, couriers, and at checkpoints. Under Yemeni law, 18 is the minimum age for military service.

Forces that capture child soldiers should treat them as victims of rights violations, not simply as captured fighters, and abide by international standards. The Paris Principles on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups states: “The release, protection and reintegration of children unlawfully recruited or used must be sought at all times, without condition and must not be dependent on any parallel release or demobilization process for adults.”

All parties to the conflict should:

 

  • Ensure that no children take part in fighting in Hodeida;
  • Clarify to affiliated forces that recruiting children is unlawful even if they are not serving a military function;
  • Appropriately investigate and punish officers who allow children in their units or are responsible for the war crime of recruiting or using children under 15; and
  • Provide former child soldiers all appropriate assistance for their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration.

 

Investigate Unlawful Attacks

None of the countries that make up the Saudi-led coalition have publicly clarified which alleged unlawful attacks their forces participated in. The investigative body the coalition created in 2016 does not meet international standards and has absolved coalition forces of responsibility in the vast majority of attacks investigated. The coalition has not compensated victims of unlawful strikes or their families, as far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine.

In response to Human Rights Watch letters in 2016 and 2017, the Houthi-controlled Foreign Affairs Ministry expressed a willingness to investigate reports of landmine use, but not until the conflict ended. Human Rights Watch has not been able to identify any concrete steps the Houthis have taken to investigate potentially unlawful attacks or hold anyone to account for violations.

Countries that are parties to the armed conflict should:

 

  • Impartially and transparently investigate credible reports of alleged violations of the laws of war and make public their findings. Individuals implicated in war crimes should be appropriately prosecuted;
  • Conduct investigations using a full range of tools, including interviews with witnesses, surveillance and targeting videos, and forensic analyses. Public findings should include accountability measures taken against individual personnel, redress provided to victims or their families, and an explanation of the process used;
  • Provide compensation for wrongful civilian deaths, injuries and harm. The coalition should develop effective systems for civilians to file claims for condolence or ex gratia payments and to evaluate the claims; and
  • The US, UK, and France should cease all weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia because of Saudi Arabia’s widespread violations of the laws of war, and weapons transfers to other coalition members that are likely to use them unlawfully.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

ICBL Statement on Compliance
Delivered by Steve Goose, Human Rights Watch
Mine Ban Treaty Intersessionals
Geneva, 7 June 2018

Thank you for the floor.

We thank the Committee on Cooperative Compliance for its important work, and also thank it for the opportunity for the ICBL and its members to contribute to the process.

This is a good time to remind ourselves how special this Convention is, and how special the cooperative compliance approach is. There are lessons to be learned for the many nations that are struggling to deal with Syria’s willful violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and for the many nations that are questioning how to deal with compliance in a future world of autonomous weapons.

The most serious compliance concern of course is the possible use of antipersonnel mines by a State Party.  There has been one confirmed instance of this since entry-into-force, by Yemen in 2011-2012.  We have just heard from the Committee about its actions with respect to Yemen, as well as to allegations of use by three other States Parties: South Sudan, Sudan, and Ukraine.

It is worth noting that there have been no new allegations of use by these States Parties or any other States Parties since the Committee began its inquiries, some four years ago. After receiving a written report from South Sudan, the Committee is recommending “case closed” status for that investigation, just as it did previously for Turkey.

It is unfortunate that we did not hear updates today from Sudan, Ukraine, and Yemen.  Ukraine has not provided an update on its efforts to investigate allegations of use since February 2017 and Yemen has not since June 2017. Sudan told the Committee earlier this year that it still needs to investigate allegations of use in three regions. Full transparency with respect to these investigations and their findings is crucial.

The Compliance Committee has noted that in all of these cases, the States Parties have mined areas under their jurisdiction, but outside of their control, and that the cases will have to remain open until those states conclude appropriate investigations into those areas.

While being the most serious, use allegations are by no means the only compliance issues of concern.

The long-missed stockpile destruction deadlines for Greece and Ukraine remain unmet.

We must again ask, why are States Parties not asking questions of those that are keeping mines under the Article 3 exception without ever using them for any of the permitted purposes? These are in essence stockpiled mines, not mines retained for training or development.

On Article 5, there are far too many mine clearance extension requests, and too little respect for the “as soon as possible” requirement and the ten-year deadline.  The most egregious case of course is that of Ukraine. Ukraine has been in violation of the treaty since 1 June 2016 for missing its clearance deadline without having requested an extension in time. We continue to hope Ukraine will move to remedy this situation as soon as possible, as it is clearly in its own best interests to do so. As Switzerland noted, this situation not only affects Ukraine, but undermines the credibility and integrity of the Convention.

Ukraine has the dubious distinction of being in double violation for missing both its stockpile destruction and mine clearance deadlines. But while States Parties and the ICBL have acknowledged multiple understandable reasons and shared blame for missing the stockpile destruction deadline, such is not the case for clearance and the failure to submit an extension request. Instead, Ukraine has apparently made a decision to ignore a legal requirement and to ignore the multitude of entreaties from States Parties to urgently submit an extension request.

Extension requests are required, and submission of a request is not a matter for negotiation or for pre-conditions. Ukraine cannot unilaterally declare that its obligation no longer exists. There are no reservations allowed under this treaty. Given the very difficult conflict situation it is enduring, it is hard to understand why Ukraine is needlessly bringing harsh criticism upon itself for its failure to abide by the treaty’s legal requirements. Perhaps the time has come to ask if Ukraine is willfully violating the treaty, that is, does Ukraine believe it is gaining benefit from its failure to submit an extension request? We certainly hope not.

Turning to another compliance matter, the compliance rate with the legal obligation for transparency reporting continues to be disturbingly low, around 40%.

In closing, it is vital to promote compliance with the norm being established by the Mine Ban Treaty: that there should not be any use of antipersonnel mines by any actor under any circumstance.

It is striking that thus far in 2018, there is not confirmed use of antipersonnel mines by any government force. We are investigating allegations in several past users, such as Myanmar and Syria.

Non-state armed groups have used antipersonnel mines in a significant number of countries -- mostly improvised antipersonnel mines, also called victim-activated improvised explosive devices, which are prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty. There have been incidents of use or unconfirmed allegations of use by non-state armed groups in Afghanistan, Cameroon, DR Congo, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen. We continue to assess these situations.

Improvised antipersonnel mines can also be a compliance issue.  States Parties need to treat these as they do other antipersonnel mines, to report them in transparency reports as contaminated areas, and to report on clearance in accordance with treaty mandated deadlines.

States Parties should condemn any new use of improvised antipersonnel mines by non-state armed groups as well as government forces, and States Parties should seek out new ways to stigmatize and stop the use of improvised antipersonnel mines.

Thank you.

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Statement on Stockpile Destruction
Intersessional Meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty
8 June 2018
Delivered by Mary Wareham, Human Rights Watch

 

Thank you.

The requirement to destroy all stockpiled antipersonnel landmines within the firm and relatively short deadline with no possibility for extension is a remarkable provision of the Mine Ban Treaty. With a few notable and regrettable exceptions, States Parties have successfully implemented this obligation, collectively destroying more than 53 million stockpiled mines over the past two decades.

According to Landmine Monitor, all except two of the 33 states not party to the Mine Ban Treaty currently stockpile antipersonnel landmines. Yet these states have also been taking stepts to destroy their stocks and the collective estimate of antipersonnel mines stockpiled by these states has decreased over the past 20 years from approximately 160 million antipersonnel mines to perhaps less than 50 million mines. 

Today, up to six of the treaty’s 164 States Parties continue to stockpile antipersonnel mines. Greece, Oman, and Ukraine have formally declared stocks. Somalia and Sri Lanka may have stocks, but we await their formal declarations in their Article 7 transparency reports. Tuvalu is not likely to have stocks, but must also submit its transparency report.

The newest State Party, Palestine, has stated that it does not possess a stockpile and that it will not retain any mines for training purposes.

Three States Parties still must destroy a collective total more than 5.5 million antipersonnel mines: Ukraine (4.9 million), Greece (640,761), and Oman (7,630). 

We welcome the update from Oman today that it should complete destruction of its stockpile antipersonnel mines by the end of this year.

We appreciate the update from Greece on its progress in stockpile destruction and cooperation with Bulgaria in this regard.

Yet we are deeply disappointed at the non-compliance of Ukraine with this core obligation of the Mine Ban Treaty. Ukraine has not submitted a transparency reports for calendar year 2017, as of today, which makes it impossible to properly assess their progress. Most disturbingly, Ukraine also did not intervene on its stockpile destruction status at the 16MSP in December or today here at the intersessional meetings. We urge Ukraine to accelerate their efforts and complete the task as soon as possible or by the Fourth Review Conference.

New State Party Sri Lanka is obligated to declare any stockpiles in its initial transparency report, which is due by 28 November 2018. Sri Lanka did not mention any stocks in its 2005 voluntary transparency report, but media reports indicate that some landmines have been destroyed from stocks in recent months.

Somalia stated in 2013 that it is working to “verify if in fact it holds antipersonnel mines in its stockpile.” Somalia has admitted that “large stocks are in the hands of former militias and private individuals.”

Additionally, non-state armed groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen, as well as in Western Sahara, were reported to possess stocks of factory-made antipersonnel mines and/or components to manufacture improvised landmines.

Finally, the destruction of stockpiles of improvised antipersonnel mines requires some attention from States Parties in this forum, but more information needs to be researched and assessed. For example, do authorities in places where improvised mines are produced, stored, and used have any lessons learned to share?  Are there requirements for possible international cooperation and assistance?  Is treaty compliance even considered when improvised antipersonnel mines are found?  Are there obstacles at the national level that hinder consistent transparency reporting?  The ICBL welcomes further action on this issue.

Stockpile destruction has potentially saved millions of lives, as a mine destroyed from stocks can never claim a victim. Implementation of this treaty obligation has also potentially saved hundreds of millions of dollars, as it is much cheaper to destroy a stockpiled mine than it is to clear one or to care for its victim. Be proud of the achievements to date, but we urge states parties work collectively to help ensure that states parties yet to complete this essential task do so as swiftly as possible.

Thank you.

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Parliament is scheduled to vote today [May 30] on a motion to support a ban on fully autonomous weapons, often called or “killer robots.” Parliament should not hesitate to vote yes to reject these weapons systems that, once activated, would select and attack targets without meaningful human control.

Permitting machines to take human life in warfare or in law enforcement and other circumstances raises a host of serious ethical, legal, moral, operational, societal, technical and other concerns. These weapons don’t yet exist but are under development in several countries. Once they are created, it may be too late to stop their use.

Belgium has a rich history as a champion of humanitarian disarmament. It was the first country to have a national ban on antipersonnel mines and the first to ban cluster munitions. Belgium played a leadership role in the diplomatic process that created the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. A decade later, Belgium actively supported the creation of the 2008 treaty prohibiting cluster munitions. This engagement shows how countries can show important leadership when they come together to solve pressing humanitarian challenges.

Many who have studied the issue doubt that fully autonomous weapons would be able to respect the basic rules of international humanitarian and human rights law. And it is unclear who would be held accountable for actions taken by a fully autonomous weapon gone wrong.

For these and other reasons the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an international coalition of non-governmental organizations, is calling for a pre-emptive ban on development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons. We are not alone. So far, 26 countries, more than 20 Nobel Peace Prize laureates, nearly 200 faith and religious leaders, and thousands of experts in robotics and artificial intelligence all support the call to swiftly negotiate new international law to prohibit killer robots.

Last December, 116 of Belgium’s top roboticists, AI experts, and scientists issued a joint statement warning that fully autonomous weapons threaten human rights and human dignity. They called on the government to actively support efforts to conclude a new treaty banning fully autonomous weapons. Defense Minister Steven Vandeput put it succinctly in 2015, when he said  that the prospect of fully autonomous weapons systems gives him “cold shivers.”

As international talks on lethal autonomous weapons systems enter their fifth year, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots sees an urgent need for governments to move from discussing the issue to taking preventative action.

Momentum is building to start negotiations on a treaty in 2019. Last month at a UN meeting, Austria and other states called for negotiations on a legally binding instrument to prohibit weapons systems that operate without meaningful human control over the critical functions of selecting and attacking targets.

Belgium accepts that the law has been written for humans rather than machines. From past experience, it should understand that ethical decisions by governments and by society at large have preceded and motivated the development of new international legal constraints in warfare, including constraints on weapons that cause unacceptable harm.

Yet Belgium has not spoken out for negotiating a treaty on fully autonomous weapons. It should affirm its credentials as a champion of humanitarian disarmament efforts. And it should join the growing calls to retain meaningful human control over weapons systems and the use of force.  

The Belgian parliament faces an important choice today. Lawmakers should stand on the right side of history and heed calls to support a new treaty to prohibit fully autonomous weapons. This vote is a key opportunity to shape the future of warfare and law enforcement and to ensure the protection of civilians. Belgium should carry on its leadership as a champion of humanitarian action.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

An Amazon.com Inc driver stands next to an Amazon delivery truck in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 21, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

US law enforcement agencies’ use of Rekognition, an Amazon surveillance system that uses facial recognition powered by artificial intelligence, poses threats to the rights to peaceful assembly and respect for private life, among others.

Human Rights Watch and other organizations have pointed this out in a letter to Amazon expressing strong concerns about the system. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California obtained documents showing the system was marketed to police departments, and highlighted its potential dangers to rights.

We should all be asking exactly how this technology is being used by police in Orlando, Florida, and Washington County, Oregon, as well as how it could be used elsewhere. (Motorola, which sells equipment to law enforcement, also has access.)

But this is only part of the puzzle. People in the US also need to know whether law enforcement agents have been disclosing uses of this technology for criminal investigations to judges and defendants – because if they aren’t doing so, this would prevent courts from evaluating the system’s legality and accuracy.

Human Rights Watch recently published a detailed investigation of “parallel construction,” a practice in which the government conceals its use of a particular investigative technique (such as surveillance) from defendants and judges by deliberately creating an alternative explanation for how a piece of information was found. One of the risks Human Rights Watch identified was that, thanks to this practice, judges might never decide whether new technologies are constitutional and sufficiently minimize any impact on rights.

A bill introduced in Illinois throws the potential consequences of the secret use of technologies such as Rekognition into high relief: If passed, the legislation could empower police to surveil peaceful protesters using drones equipped with facial recognition software. There is always a risk that biased or inadequately trained officers anywhere could single out protesters for investigations simply because they exercised their free-expression rights, and an airborne facial recognition tool could facilitate such conduct.

Concerns over technology like Rekognition are not limited to law enforcement uses. For example, such technology could be employed in the development of fully autonomous weapons (also known as “killer robots”) – which Human Rights Watch is campaigning to outlaw.

US lawmakers and courts need to make sure all government uses of systems relying on biometric data or artificial intelligence respect rights. But they can only do that if they – and we – know about those techniques in the first place.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

There is no safe place in Kabul—you don’t know where the next attack will be.
–Mohammad A., shopkeeper who survived an insurgent attack in Kabul, November 13, 2017

Since early 2016, insurgent groups in Afghanistan have sharply escalated their attacks in Kabul and other major urban areas that have left thousands of civilians dead and injured. Suicide attacks, including car and truck bombings, caused at least one-third of these casualties. Hundreds of civilians going about ordinary activities—walking down the street, working in a shop, preparing food at home, or worshipping in a mosque—have experienced sudden and terrifying violence.

The families of those who perish endure tremendous pain and suffering, and often the loss of a breadwinner. Those who survive are frequently left with lasting and debilitating physical and psychological wounds. Many face enduring problems getting health care, counseling, and other assistance.

This report—based largely on Human Rights Watch interviews in late 2017 and early 2018 in Kabul, Jalalabad, and Herat— details a number of the deadly attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan since late 2016, highlighting the continuing impact on affected families and communities. The report concludes with recommendations to insurgent groups and to government authorities responsible for providing support to victims.

***

In the past two years, the Taliban have intensified their attacks in large urban areas, ostensibly targeting Afghan government and foreign military facilities but using means that cause massive, indiscriminate casualties. These attacks have killed hundreds of civilians. In January 2018, the Taliban claimed responsibility for two large-scale attacks in Kabul that killed at least 125 civilians.

Attacks claimed by groups affiliated with the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), an affiliate of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), have targeted civilian facilities, including many Shia mosques and a cultural center. The sectarian nature of these attacks marks an ominous development in Afghanistan’s armed conflict.

A May 31, 2017 truck bombing in Kabul was the largest single attack in the city during any period of the war, killing possibly 150 or more and injuring hundreds. The sheer size of the bomb and the location of the explosion—a busy traffic intersection in central Kabul—dramatically eroded the confidence of many Afghans in their security, a fear compounded by subsequent attacks. No group claimed responsibility for that attack.

According to statistics compiled by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 2017 recorded the highest number of civilian casualties from suicide attacks and so-called complex attacks in a single year since the mission began documenting them in 2009.

Enduring Harm to Families and Communities

The cost to civilians from these attacks is far greater than the numbers of those killed or injured. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, relatives of individuals killed in insurgent attacks described the cascading negative consequences for victims’ families: the psychological trauma for relatives who witnessed the violence, some of whom had to search hospitals and morgues for the mutilated remains of their relatives; the devastating financial impact for families that have lost a breadwinner; the social consequences, especially for women who are suddenly widowed, becoming dependent on other members of their husband’s family for support and limited in where they can live and work; and the impact on children who have had to leave school, either because the family can no longer afford the cost or because the child must work in order to supplement the family’s income. Each death has a ripple effect on the family network, with spouses, children, parents, and other relatives suffering losses in support, emotional and social security, and income.

For those injured, there are also lasting harms that are not measured by the numbers. Many have ongoing physical health needs and may not be able to afford more expensive treatment beyond what most hospitals in Afghanistan can provide. Many medicines are costly and often out of reach for poorer Afghans. Those with severe physical injuries or acquired disabilities may lose mobility and the ability to work and contribute to the household or go to school. There are limited support services for people with disabilities in Afghanistan, who then become dependent on other family members.

Many of those Human Rights Watch interviewed described serious emotional and psychological trauma as a result of witnessing and surviving such attacks. The last 40 years of protracted conflict, social unrest, and limited mental health services have had a devastating impact on the mental well-being of many Afghans. The escalation in insurgent attacks in the past two years, bringing increased insecurity, uncertainty, violence, and economic hardship, has exacerbated trauma and psychological distress.

Although no statistics are available, Human Rights Watch research suggests a large proportion of those killed and injured have been the very poor. For example, the victims of the January 27, 2018 ambulance bomb in Kabul included street children, peddlers, and kiosk vendors. Those interviewed for this report who were injured in attacks included two mosque custodians, a wedding hall guard, a tailor, a baker, and a taxi driver. All of them described the severe financial hardship they endured after surviving the attack.

Government Support to Victims

Although the Afghan government offers some financial assistance to those injured and to the families of those killed in insurgent attacks, many of those we interviewed said they had received no government assistance despite promises that such aid was forthcoming. Others said that the process for obtaining assistance was prohibitively onerous, or was tainted by corruption, with some receiving assistance and others not.

As attacks have escalated, the growing needs of those affected have overwhelmed nongovernmental services. Nearly everyone with whom we spoke complained that no officials had come to ask them about their situation, or to inquire about their immediate needs and long-term medical recovery. Whatever animosity they felt toward those who had carried out the attack, they also described feeling abandoned by the government and the international community. Every person we interviewed described living with fear that other loved ones would die or be injured in the next catastrophic attack. The uncertainty of never knowing when or where the next attack would be increases anxiety and exacerbates psychological distress.

Key Recommendations

The Taliban claim they do not target civilians or carry out indiscriminate attacks, but actually protect civilians as an Islamic and Afghan obligation. As detailed in this report, however, their attacks in urban areas have taken a horrific toll on families and communities, and the harm continues to mount long after the attacks. The attacks are tearing at the families and lives that the Taliban have pledged to protect.

Both the Taliban and other insurgent groups should end attacks that fail to discriminate properly between civilians and combatants, as well as attacks that can be expected to cause disproportionate harm to civilians. They should cease all intentional attacks on civilians and civilian objects—including schools, hospitals, places of worship, and homes not in use for military purposes—as well as perfidious attacks, in which the attacker feigns protected civilian status to carry out an attack, such as using an ambulance to conceal bombs. Insurgent commanders who order or are otherwise responsible for serious laws of war violations should be held to account.

Governments have the responsibility under international law to protect the lives of all those under their jurisdiction and to bring those who commit criminal offenses to justice. Although governments have no obligation to provide redress to victims of insurgent armed attacks, there is a growing consensus, including at the United Nations, on the importance of assistance. The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, adopted by the General Assembly in 2006 and reviewed every two years, recognizes the importance of supporting and showing solidarity with victims of terrorism. While there is no recognized international instrument outlining countries’ specific obligations toward terrorism victims, there has been growing recognition that countries should develop national assistance systems that promote the needs of victims and their families and facilitate the normalization of their lives.

In light of this, the Afghan government should seek to formalize through regulation or legislation the current ad hoc system, or create a new program for providing assistance to civilian victims of the conflict, including those injured or those that have lost a family member from insurgent attacks.

The government should launch a campaign to inform the general public about the procedure for obtaining financial assistance or other support. Support should be equitably distributed, and complaints of corruption and discrimination should be promptly investigated. The government should also develop and implement measures to provide psychosocial support to survivors of attacks, whether by insurgents or government and allied forces. Afghanistan’s international donors should support programs to provide financial and other assistance, including psychosocial services, to civilian victims of attacks by all parties to the conflict.

Methodology

Between November 2017 and February 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed people affected by insurgent attacks in the cities of Kabul, Jalalabad, and Herat. We spoke with 45 people (32 men and 13 women) who had been injured or whose family members had been killed or injured in attacks by Taliban forces or armed groups claiming allegiance to the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), an affiliate of the Islamic State. We also interviewed representatives of United Nations agencies and humanitarian organizations, journalists, and Afghan government officials about such attacks. Security considerations precluded us from seeking interviews with the insurgent groups.

All interviews were conducted individually. Researchers explained the purpose of the interviews and received interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences in this report and, in some cases, to film the interview. No interview subject was paid or promised a payment, service, or personal benefit in exchange for their interview. Some pseudonyms have been used in the report to conceal the identity of interview subjects.

Human Rights Watch was not able to assess claims by insurgent groups taking responsibility for specific attacks. In some cases, Human Rights Watch researchers were able to visit the sites of recent attacks, including the Imam Zaman Mosque in Kabul, the Jawadiya Mosque in Herat, and the Sedarat Square checkpoint in central Kabul.

The incidents documented in this report represent only a small fraction of insurgent attacks that have caused civilian injuries and loss of life since 2016. A partial list of major attacks since July 2016 is available in the appendix. We have not attempted to address the even larger number of smaller unlawful attacks perpetrated during this period.

I. A Rising Civilian Toll

Fighting between Afghan government and insurgent forces has intensified since 2016, causing increasingly higher numbers of civilian casualties. While urban suicide attacks have been part of the Taliban’s operations since the mid-2000s, 2017 saw a dramatic increase in the number and size of such attacks, in tandem with increased military operations by Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and United States forces in provinces where the Taliban have made significant territorial gains.

Principally in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, Afghan government and US forces have also battled the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP), the Afghan branch of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). Since January 2016, ISKP has been responsible for suicide attacks in Kabul, Herat, Jalalabad, and Lashkar Gah provinces that have killed and wounded at least 2,000 civilians. Most of these attacks have targeted Afghanistan’s Shia religious community.

Analyst Borhan Osman has suggested that the insurgents are committing attacks in urban areas for strategic reasons: “By turning Kabul into a battlefield, insurgents gain wider attention, shake public confidence in the government, while showing their continued ability to strike hard.”[1]

According to statistics compiled by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 2017 recorded the highest number of civilian casualties from suicide attacks and so-called complex attacks in a single year since the mission began documenting them in 2009.[2] The Taliban were responsible for 42 percent of all attacks that killed and injured civilians in 2017, and groups affiliated with ISKP were responsible for 10 percent. Attacks that could not be definitively attributed to one group, or which were carried out by other insurgent groups, accounted for 13 percent. UNAMA found that 22 percent of civilian casualties in 2017 resulted from suicide and complex attacks intentionally directed at civilians or civilian objects, and 16 percent of all civilian casualties resulted from such attacks in Kabul.[3]

Legal Standards

The armed conflict in Afghanistan is considered a non-international armed conflict under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war. The laws of war apply to all parties to the armed conflict, whether national armed forces or non-state armed groups. The laws of war prohibit deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, attacks that cannot discriminate between civilians and combatants, and attacks that cause disproportionate civilian harm.[4]

Individuals who commit serious violations of the laws of war intentionally or recklessly are responsible for war crimes. Commanders who knew or should have known about violations but failed to stop them or punish those responsible may be liable as a matter of command responsibility.[5]

Many of the attacks included in this report were described as “suicide attacks,” which typically involve individuals driving vehicles packed with explosives or small groups of insurgents armed with assault weapons, hand grenades, improvised bombs, and other light weapons who intend to fight to the death. While the laws of war do not prohibit suicide attacks, the majority of such attacks are perfidious, a war crime in which the attacker feigns civilian or other protected status in order to carry out an attack.[6]

Emergence of ISKP

Groups that claim allegiance to ISIS first emerged in Afghanistan after 2010, although it was not until January 2015 that ISIS announced its expansion into “Khorasan province,” a term encompassing parts of Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.[7] However, there is little evidence of any working relationship between ISKP’s leadership and that of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. According to Borhan Osman, those behind the Khorasan armed group have largely been “Pakistani militants who had long been settled in the southeastern districts of Nangarhar.… Before choosing to join ISKP, these militants operated under different brands, mainly under the umbrella of the ever-loosening Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP).”[8]

Most of these militants, who operate under diverse affiliations, appeared in Nangarhar after 2010, when pressure from Pakistan’s military operations in North and South Waziristan and in the Swat Valley in 2009 compelled many to relocate across the Afghan border into Nangarhar.[9] In Nangarhar, deteriorating security and infighting among local militant groups had created a vacuum they could easily exploit.[10] Rivalries among powerful Nangarhari families and government elites over land grabbing and access to contracts and customs revenue sparked wider conflict and militancy.[11] Afghan government officials, particularly the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, also courted some of the new arrivals as “a bulwark against the Afghan Taliban.”[12] In 2009, the US provided military support to some tribal communities to stand against the Taliban in exchange for money, weapons, and development projects in their district.[13] The plan, known as the Shinwari Pact, backfired, as it fueled conflict among different tribal groups and further destabilized the region.[14]

ISKP has also attracted some support from Central Asian militants, particularly the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The IMU’s loyalties to ISKP reportedly have wavered, and as of 2018, the total Central Asian contingent constituted less than one-third of ISKP’s fighting force.[15] Unlike the Taliban, ISKP does not have purely nationalist ambitions, and criticizes the Taliban on those grounds.[16] Instead, it seeks to establish a caliphate encompassing swaths of Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

As ISKP established itself, its members engaged in intimidation and brutal attacks against the local civilian population, forcing schools and health clinics to close, threatening journalists, and killing those they accused of supporting the government or criticizing ISKP. ISKP proved adept at courting media attention, and in mid-2015 acted on its new claim to power in Nangarhar province by blowing up 10 alleged Taliban supporters, videotaping the murders, and then using social media to ensure the video had wide circulation.[17] From its inception, ISKP has carried out sectarian attacks, targeting the Shia religious community. Such attacks appear to have become the group’s main form of action. ISKP militants in Nangarhar have often clashed with the Afghan Taliban over control of districts. Although ISKP has not established itself effectively outside Nangarhar, an ISKP cell in Kabul is believed to be responsible for most of the recent attacks on Shias.[18]

Support for Victims of Insurgent Attacks

The Afghan government has a policy of providing financial assistance to those injured in attacks by insurgents and to family members of those killed. After an attack takes place, the police district in that jurisdiction is required to register all injuries and deaths. The Office of the Chief Executive is responsible for calling a meeting of officials from the relevant ministries along with the Attorney General’s Office, the President’s Administrative Office, and the NDS to discuss the security implications and determine a compensation plan. Payment for those injured is set at 50,000 afghanis (US$720), and for families of those killed at 100,000 afghanis ($1,440).

Human Rights Watch’s research indicates, however, that the system for determining eligibility for such assistance and delivering payments is onerous for those who have tried to access it. Many victims of insurgent attacks and their family members do not know what assistance is available to them or what is required to claim it. People we interviewed described difficulties collecting the necessary documentation, often making multiple trips to the hospital or clinic where they were treated and to the Ministry of Public Health only to learn that their names were not on the list of those eligible for assistance, or that the list had not been approved. The belief that the system is biased, either because of corruption or discrimination, was also widespread among those we interviewed.

In a 2013 report, the Center for Civilians in Conflict evaluated Afghan government initiatives to assist civilians harmed by both government forces and insurgents. The report concluded that while commendable, the programs suffered from serious flaws, with the result that “most civilian interviewees did not receive any assistance from the Afghan government. Some … individuals filed claims and did not receive any response. Many others gave up on their pursuit of monetary help, owing to the time-consuming and confusing application process. Others did not apply due to concerns of retaliation from the Taliban or because they were unaware of these assistance mechanisms.”[19] The report noted that the process of applying for assistance had “generated frustration and anger among applicants, while discouraging others from even applying for assistance.” It urged the government to reform the process, to institute a public awareness campaign about its assistance program, and to make the process more “accessible, transparent, and gender sensitive.”[20] Human Rights Watch’s research indicates that in the five years since the report was published, the flaws remain and still need to be addressed.

From April 2015 through February 2018, the Afghan Civilian Assistance Program (ACAP) operated as a donor-funded service to identify survivors of attacks, whether by insurgents or government and allied forces, and inform them about available services.[21] The organization also maintained a hotline to provide victims and families with information on services.

A number of people Human Rights Watch interviewed mentioned receiving a package of basic food supplies from ACAP. The organization also provided counseling and physical rehabilitation services, although available reports do not indicate how many had requested and received this support. In its October 2017 newsletter, ACAP said that because the number of civilian casualties increased significantly in 2017, it had been forced to scale down its assistance packages to help only those it determined to be the most at risk. Due to limited resources, the group was unable to offer psychosocial counseling and physical rehabilitation after October 2017.[22]

Afghanistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), as well as its Optional Protocol, in 2012, and subsequently developed a national strategy for disability and rehabilitation. The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled is the lead government agency responsible for policy on support for persons with disabilities. However, throughout the country, the government lacks the facilities, trained personnel, and technical expertise to effectively deliver services to those with disabilities. There are critical gaps in the availability and quality of psychosocial support and mental health services in Kabul and other cities, while in rural areas they are virtually nonexistent. Afghanistan lacks trained personnel in all areas—psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, psychologists, and social workers. The stigma associated socially with psychosocial disabilities (mental health conditions) is also a significant barrier for people seeking support.[23]

Under international law, the government is obligated to provide redress to victims of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed by its own forces or groups acting under its orders.[24] There is no international legal requirement for governments to compensate or assist victims of attacks by opposition armed groups. However, the UN General Assembly’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy of 2006, which has been reaffirmed every two years since, emphasizes the “dehumanization” of victims of terrorist attacks and asks UN member states to consider adopting “systems of assistance that would promote the needs of victims of terrorism and their families and facilitate the normalization of their lives.”[25]

II. Attacks on Civilians Claimed by the Taliban

In 2017, the Taliban were responsible for 42 percent of all civilian casualties and 65 percent of all deaths and injuries caused by insurgent groups, according to UNAMA. The 4,385 civilian casualties (1,574 deaths and 2,811 injuries) attributed to the Taliban in 2017 were 12 percent fewer than those in 2016.[26] The Taliban claimed responsibility for one of the most deadly recent attacks, the January 27, 2018 ambulance bombing that killed more than 103 people, mostly civilians, at a Kabul intersection.

On some occasions, the Taliban have sought to justify attacks against civilians by claiming that anyone working for the government of Afghanistan, including civil servants, is a valid military target. This argument flouts international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, which prohibits attacks targeting civilians unless directly involved in hostilities at the time. Such pronouncements demonstrate criminal intent by Taliban leaders to commit war crimes and instigate war crimes by subordinate personnel.

Ambulance Bomb in Kabul, January 27, 2018

On January 27, 2018, an ambulance rigged with explosives killed at least 103 people in Kabul, most of them civilians, and injured over 200. At about 12:50 p.m., the ambulance drove toward the checkpoints at Sedarat Square in central Kabul, the location of the former Ministry of Interior building. The street where the checkpoints are located is blocked to most vehicular traffic but, because of its proximity to Jamhuriat Hospital, is frequently used by ambulances. The ambulance drove through the first checkpoint at the entrance to the street, where it was allowed it to pass. It was reportedly stopped while attempting to gain entrance at the second checkpoint. A spokesperson for the Kabul police told the New York Times that after police stopped the vehicle, the driver attempted to continue driving forward from the left lane, but was again stopped, at which point the bomb detonated.[27]

People flee after an ambulance rigged with explosives detonated in central Kabul, killing 103, January 27, 2018.

© 2018 Andrew Quilty

The Taliban, in a departure from their normal practice, quickly claimed responsibility for the attack. In a January 28 statement issued in response to media reports of civilian casualties, the Taliban claimed that the target “was the enemy, and the true brunt was also borne by the workers of this Ministry [of Interior],” and that “it is illogical to claim that civilians or a bazaar would be present.”[28] As noted above, the Taliban do not consider the ministry’s administrative staff to be civilians—a position contrary to international law.

The street where the bomb detonated is open to civilian pedestrian traffic, including but not limited to government workers. Witnesses described most of those killed and wounded as civilians. According to the Kabul daily Etilaat Roz, three cobblers and two street children who were seen on the street before the blast were not found afterward and are believed to have been killed.[29] The article described damage to shops and other normally civilian structures in the vicinity of the blast, including Jamhuriat Hospital, where security cameras recorded the moment of the explosion.[30] A journalist who was on adjacent Chicken Street when the blast happened told Human Rights Watch that many of the victims were civilians who had been walking or working near the intersection, including street vendors selling fruits and juice.

Smoke rises from damage on an adjacent street after the ambulance bomb in central Kabul, January 27, 2018.

© 2018 Andrew Quilty

Beyond the attack being unlawfully indiscriminate, the use of an ambulance, or a vehicle painted to be taken for an ambulance, as military subterfuge is prohibited under the laws of war. Use of medical insignia to feign protected status in order to carry out an attack constitutes perfidy, which is a war crime.[31]

Human Rights Watch interviewed Roya (pseudonym), who had been on her way to the Ministry of Interior with her sister and a friend at the time of the attack. The three women had arrived at the ministry at about 12:40 p.m. for Roya to apply for an open position in data entry at the ministry. The guards told her she would need to wait until the doors opened at 1 p.m. The women then stepped into a photocopy shop near the second checkpoint to pass the time. When the blast occurred, Roya was thrown to the floor. She told Human Rights Watch:

I didn’t know what had happened. I thought I had gone blind because there was blood running down my face into my eyes and I couldn’t see. My friend grabbed hold of me to pull me out of the shop, but I was crying that I had to find my sister. It was dark in the shop and dust was in the air. The bodies of two men were lying near the door. I found my sister under a pile of rubble—only her hand was sticking out. My friend and I freed her and she was able to walk so we managed to get out of the shop. The street was full of bodies. One man who was very badly injured pleaded with us not to step over him. I have not been able to go back to that place.[32]

When a Human Rights Watch researcher visited the site of the explosion nearly three weeks later, shops and other buildings closest to the blast were badly burned and showed structural damage. Shops further along the street were open despite broken windows and other damage. Ali (pseudonym), a waiter at a café, said:

I saw many people killed that day. Our café was shaken and glass flew everywhere. My coworker was injured and has not yet returned to work. My hand was injured, but I have to work so I came back. For the few days after the attack, almost nobody came to this street. But people have to work, even though we are afraid.[33]

Attack on Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel, January 20, 2018

The attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul began at about 9 p.m. on January 20, 2018, when six gunmen armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and grenades entered the hotel through the kitchen. Most of the rooms were occupied, with at least 100 guests of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology staying there for a conference. The attackers killed 21 civilians, including 14 expatriates, and wounded an additional 11 Afghans. The attack did not end until the afternoon of January 21.

The attack showed extensive pre-planning. Two of the attackers had reportedly been working as servers in the hotel restaurant for days before the attack, and had apparently placed weapons inside the hotel as part of the preparations. The attackers also seemed to have prior knowledge of the layout and guests, and sought out hotel rooms with expatriates. Survivors, some of whom hid on balconies of rooms where guests had already been killed, reported hearing gunmen enter rooms and shoot the occupants.[34] At about 11 a.m. on January 21, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

A man tries to escape from a balcony during the attack at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel, January 21, 2018.

© 2018 Omar Sobhani/Reuters

Among the dead was Ahmad Farzan, a 34-year-old religious scholar and member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, as well as two Venezuelan and seven Ukrainian pilots and crew members of the Afghan commercial airline Kam Air.

Fahim Hakim, a former commissioner with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, was in the hotel having dinner with his family when the attack began. He told Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service:

One of the shooters was saying, “All of these people are foreigners,” and shot indiscriminately and then turned toward us. All the guests were screaming and trying to hide somewhere. I was in front of them. One guy was very agitated and I said, “We are Afghans, we are not foreigners, we are a family here. Don’t shoot at my family members, if you want you can shoot at me.”[35]

The gunman shot him and one of his sons, injuring them both. Then the power went out and the attackers fled to another area of the hotel.

Abdul Haq Omeri, a journalist, had been visiting friends in the hotel when the attack began. He told the New York Times:

I went from one balcony to the next. I did not jump down. I joined other people, and reached the balcony of a room that had been already attacked and its occupant killed. We switched off our phones and stayed quiet.… At one point, a woman screamed for help on the third floor, but then we heard gunfire and the woman stopped.[36]

Attack on a Mining Ministry Shuttle Bus in Kabul, July 24, 2017

On July 24, 2017, the Taliban carried out a suicide attack against a minibus carrying employees of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, killing at least 38 civilians and injuring dozens. In a statement taking responsibility for the attack, the Taliban claimed to have targeted a bus carrying personnel working for the National Directorate of Security, the government intelligence agency.

An Afghan shopkeeper inspects his shop after the suicide attack in Kabul on July 24, 2017.

© 2017 Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

M. Ahmadi, a property dealer whose shop was at the site of the explosion, said:

I was in my shop.… I heard a very loud sound and I did not know what happened.… I was not hearing well, and somebody pushed me and said, “Get out!” The staff shuttle bus for the Ministry of Mines that had been bombed had crashed into my shop. I walked out with bare feet and the broken glass cut into my feet. My shop was on fire. There were fires on both sides of the street.[37]

Out on the street a car stopped in front of him and the driver told him to get in:

He took me to Mawla Hospital and he called my family to let them know. Then my sons brought me to Emergency Hospital. I do not remember how long I was there. My head, my belly, and my arm were injured—there are still shell fragments in my arm.… During the night I scream in my sleep. The doctors told me I need to see a psychiatrist. But I cannot because of the money.[38]

The consequences for Ahmadi went far beyond the initial injuries:

My family asks me not to go to work, but what can I do? This shop is mine, and I had to borrow a lot of money to repair it. I am the only breadwinner in the family. Due to our financial problems, my children can’t go to school now. Why doesn’t the government give some money to help the injured people in this area? Aren’t we from this land, from this country?[39]

M. Daud, a guard at a wedding hall near the site of the attack, was injured in the explosion:

I was standing on duty in front of Sabeqa Street when the explosion took place. Particles from the explosion hit both my legs and also my arm. If the wall hadn’t been here, I would have been killed.[40]

His family found out about him via Facebook and television:

When I was discharged from the hospital, I went home for almost 20 days. My family said, “Don’t go back to Kabul.” But I told them, “I can’t work here, I have to go.”… Now, as the weather is getting cold, I feel a lot of pain in my right leg, especially in the morning. Doctors told me not work for a year, but if I do not work, how can I survive and support my family? Every night I feel fear.… I still feel the sound of the explosion in my ears.[41]

Sardar A., a baker, was also injured in the attack:

I was sitting in the front part of my bakery near the window and selling bread. During the explosion my head, my right side of the body, and my legs were injured.… My family tells me not to go to the bakery, but I have to because there is no other work I could do—I am the owner of this bakery. Now I am very afraid. Even when I hear the sound from the tire of a bike getting punctured, I am scared.[42]

Milad D. said that his father had a calligraphy shop that was a five-minute walk from their home:

I had just woken up when the explosion happened. It has become so routine, you just check your phone to see where it is.… We kept calling my father’s number, and finally a doctor at Isteqlal Hospital answered and told us my father was injured and we should come.… When we arrived, a nurse told us he was dead and that we should identify the body. My uncle collapsed, and I went to where they kept the bodies.

You know the target for the attack was a shuttle bus? That vehicle was completely burned and the [passengers] were burned too. My father was among those bodies in the morgue.… For a month after that I was not in a normal state psychologically—I could hardly sleep for three hours. I know the loss of my father can’t be compensated, but we are so afraid to lose anyone else. When I leave the house, my mother really worries. My brother tells me not to go out unless it’s really necessary.[43]

Mohammad A. owned a motorbike repair shop near the site of the explosion:

I came to my shop 10 to 20 minutes early. Just as I opened the door of my shop, the explosion happened behind me. I fell and saw that some of my intestines were protruding from my body, so I held my hands over my belly and found someone to take me to Isteqlal Hospital.[44]

He and his family have not recovered from the blast:

It was really hard for my family as I am the only breadwinner. I still have shrapnel in my back. My stomach had 30 sutures and I still feel pain. I can’t do heavy work at my shop, so I had to hire an assistant. You know now that there is no safe place in Kabul—you don’t know where the next attack will be.[45]

Attack on District Six Police Station in Kabul, March 1, 2017

At about 12:30 p.m. on March 1, 2017, the Taliban attacked the police station in District Six in Kabul. A suicide bomber detonated a car bomb behind the precinct office, after which gunmen attacked the station with small arms fire. At about the same time, the Taliban also attacked an NDS training facility in another area of Kabul. Eleven civilians were killed and more than 50 injured in the two attacks.[46]

Smoke rises from the site of the car bomb attack on the police station in District Six, Kabul, March 1, 2017.

© 2017 Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

Najla (pseudonym), who lives near the police station, said:

I was at home preparing lunch for my family when suddenly it seemed an earthquake struck, and a cloud of dust and debris swept over the house. The blast destroyed all the windows and many of the doors, and many of my family members were injured. I was five months pregnant at the time, and I fell to the ground in great pain. Within an hour, I started bleeding. My husband came home and took me to Cure Hospital. I remained there for two months until the doctors decided to deliver my baby surgically. The worst thing is that no one helps you in the government or anywhere else. My husband and his family had to cover all the medical expenses.[47]

Safar M., a plumber, was fixing a hand pump at a house behind the police station when the explosion happened:

I heard a loud sound—everything went dark and I fell. Then I felt like my leg was on fire. A relative of mine heard me screaming and took me to Alemi Private Hospital in Dasht-e Barchi. My leg was hanging loose. They took me to the operating room and when I woke up I discovered they had amputated my leg below the knee.… I can’t work anymore and I have financial problems. Sometimes my wife’s relatives come and help me a little. It is a very bad situation.[48]

A doctor at the Gulkhan Health Clinic near the police station said that she and her colleagues were in the middle of a busy vaccination program when they decided to get a quick lunch in the area. Two of her colleagues and three other volunteers from the clinic died in the explosion:

I was injured. I was bleeding a lot but I had to stay there for 40 minutes because fighting was still going on inside the police station. Then some colleagues and a local resident took me on his back to the nearest private clinic. From there I went to Emergency Hospital where they removed the shrapnel from my leg.… I am still lame and I hope to go to India for more treatment.[49]

Another colleague of mine who is the chowkidar [guard] named Ibrahim was injured as well. He had already lost his left eye, but in this explosion his right eye was injured too, and now he can’t see very well. He is still working but he can’t stay as chowkidar at night, so his son will do it then. His son has stopped going to school because he needs to work to support his family.[50]

Doctor M. said that he was busy in the neighborhood vaccinating residents when the explosion happened. Immediately afterward he received a call from his father, asking him if he was all right and telling him to search for his cousin Khalid who was in the area at the time. He also called his clinic and learned that his colleagues had been killed:

In the clinic I saw the dead bodies of my colleagues. I could only see the face of one—I could not stand to see the others. I was so upset I could only say, “Ena lellah wa ena elaihe rajeoon.” This means, “We are from God and we return to him.” Then I went home because my entire family was looking for my cousin Khalid and his colleague. Finally, our friends from the department of forensic medicine called and said, “There are two or three new dead bodies brought here. Please come and check to see if they are from your family.”

My uncle went and saw there were three bodies. One was my cousin Khalid. Another one was Hussain, brother-in-law of my other cousin, and the third one was Qadeer, our neighbor. I hope God does not cause such misfortune to anybody else. All of us still feel so distraught. My uncle always says, “I wish I had lost everything, but that my son Khalid would be alive.”[51]

Haji Mohammad lives and owns a shop near the police station in District Six:

It was 12:30 in the afternoon when the explosion took place. My house has two stories and all the windows were broken. I got pieces of glass in my head.… My brother had a stroke due to the explosion. He is still disabled. He has problems with one of his hands, a leg, and also his tongue.… I am helping his family. His son is small. Now, when my children hear the sound of an explosion, they are very afraid such incidents would be repeated again.[52]

III. Attacks on Civilians Claimed by the Islamic State of Khorasan Province

Attack on Imam Zaman Mosque in Kabul, October 20, 2017

On October 20, 2017, armed men carried out coordinated attacks on the Imam Zaman Mosque, a Shia mosque in west Kabul, killing 65 people and injuring 45 more. Initially, a suicide bomber threw two grenades into the female section of the mosque, killing six women and injuring four. He then blew himself up among male worshippers gathered for evening prayers. Additional attackers, reportedly wearing police uniforms, then entered the mosque and fired on worshippers. Gun battles continued for several hours. An armed group proclaiming allegiance to ISKP claimed responsibility.[53]

A man carries copies of the Quran inside the Imam Zaman Mosque in Kabul a day after the suicide attack during Friday evening prayers, October 21, 2017.

© 2017 Wakil Koshar/AFP/Getty Images

Sugra Hussein told Human Rights Watch that her husband, Abdul Hussein, had decided to go early to the mosque that evening to find a good place:

A half-hour later we heard the explosion. We rushed to the mosque, but they had taken the wounded and dead to the hospitals. We searched for him from one hospital to another but could not find him. Then someone from Ali Abad Hospital who had taken the SIM card from his smashed phone called us saying he was wounded. We went there. He was in surgery but the doctors told us he would survive. I went home as my son would stay with him through the night. But my son came very early in the morning. I asked him, “Why did you leave your father alone?” He told me, “My father is shaheed shood, martyred.”… We have lost the head of our family.… We are helpless. My children can’t go to school now, I can’t afford their fees.[54]

Her son Mahdi added:

When we saw my father his face had been burned and both hands shattered.… When he regained consciousness he told me, “Son, I am fine, go home.”… But as the effect of the anesthesia wore off he began complaining about the pain.… I knew he was dying in front of me but I couldn’t do anything. His pain was growing and I was just watching—I couldn’t do anything, nor could the doctors.… It’s very hard when your father is alive during the day and dead by night. It is not just our pain, it is the pain of the nation.[55]

Ali Reza, a resident of the neighborhood where the mosque is located, said that the iqama, the second call to prayer before the prayer begins, had just begun when the explosion happened:

There was a huge fire in front of me. I fell down and two or three times I tried to get up but could not. I saw a lot of people killed and injured. Men and women were running and looking for their loved ones.… My father came to the mosque and took me out. Fragments had hit my right leg, left arm, and there were a lot of wounds on my body due to pieces of broken glass.… I had surgery to remove the fragments but I think there is still a piece in my leg. I still feel pain in my leg and arm.[56]

Mahram Ali described seeking treatment for his father:

As soon as I heard the sound of the explosion, I went to the mosque. My father’s left side was injured. I took him to Sayid-ul Shahada Private Hospital that is close by. They could not do anything, so my brother-in-law took him to Isteqlal Hospital. I returned to the mosque to help others. But my brother-in-law called me to tell me that as soon as my father arrived at the hospital, he died. I was distraught. That was a very bad night. My children still ask, “Where is our grandfather?” I tell them he has gone on a journey. They say, “Why didn’t he take us?”[57]

Mohammad T. and his wife, Huma (pseudonym), lived in the mosque compound where he worked as the caretaker. The explosion took place during evening prayers, when Huma was in the women’s section of the mosque. She said:

When the explosion happened, I went to the men’s section. My brother had been killed, and I could not find my son. I thought he had been killed and his body torn to pieces.… I did not know what to do. Then a woman came to me and said, “Let’s go to the hospital. Your son is injured, but he is alive.”… But now since the attack, my son gets irritated and angry easily. He has bad dreams. He went to stay in our village in Ghor province because he is afraid to stay here. But we want him to come back and continue going to school.[58]

Attack on Jawadiya Mosque in Herat, August 1, 2017

Herat has endured less violence than Kabul, and as of 2018, ISKP did not have a well-developed cell in Herat. But the group has carried out some attacks in Herat, notably the August 1, 2017 bombing of the Jawadiya Mosque that killed at least 31 people and injured 65. ISKP claimed responsibility.[59] One witness told Human Rights Watch that the scene was “like the judgment day—it was so chaotic. Bodies were lying on top of each other. It was so bad that even imagining such a scene could traumatize you.… May no one experience that horrific night we went through.”[60]

A man surveys the destruction a day after the suicide bomb attack at the Jawadiya Mosque in Herat, August 2, 2017.

© 2017 Jalil Rezayee/EPA

Mariam, a 25-year-old woman with three children ages 1, 5, and 7, lost her husband, Mohammad Asif, in the attack. She told Human Rights Watch she now has no means of support and had been relying on help from other survivors and her husband’s relatives to feed her family.[61] Her friend Sima, who was injured in the attack, said:

We had just started the Friday prayer and were standing. Suddenly I heard a loud sound. The people in the front said to leave as quickly as possible. Then there was another explosion. A door fell hard against my shoulder. I had to walk out on the broken glass—I was taking glass out of my feet for many days after. No one should see such a day! I was treated at the hospital and went home, but I am not well. My husband has been ill for some time, so I must work, but I cannot now. I need psychological help.[62]

Jalil A. said the assailants entered the mosque and started methodically shooting at people:

They were masked and leaned their backs on the walls and had big guns, I think AK-47s [assault rifles]. They were shooting straight, not left and right, hitting the first row, the second row, and the third row. As the worshippers bent for genuflection, they started shooting.… The lights were off and everyone was on the ground. [When it ended] I crawled over dead bodies.… Later, I got up without noticing that I was wounded.… My hands and my face and chest had received shrapnel. I am a tailor, mostly working by my hands. But my wounded hand has not yet fully recovered. I cannot lift things and cannot apply pressure.… The governor granted 25,000 afghanis [US$360] to the wounded people, but I didn’t receive any.[63]

Attack on Al-Zahra Mosque in Kabul, June 15, 2017

A policeman stands on a bloodstained street following the suicide attack at the Al-Zahra Mosque in Kabul, June 16, 2017.

© 2017 Omar Sobhani/Reuters

On June 15, 2017, several gunmen attacked the Shia Al-Zahra Mosque in the Dasht-e Barchi neighborhood of western Kabul. A suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a kitchen outside the main prayer hall, after a guard prevented him from entering the main hall.[64] At least six people were killed and more than ten wounded. ISKP claimed responsibility.[65] Mohammad Musa, whose father, businessman Haji Ramazan Hussainzada, was killed in the explosion, said:

My brother was with my father. Upon finishing their prayers, they heard gunfire outside the mosque. They could see three attackers shooting into the mosque. Two of them were in front of the mosque. Then the third came behind the mosque near the kitchen, when he faced my father and brother. The attacker blindly shot everybody. Abdullah, who was the tea maker, was killed. My father was hit by a bullet to the chest near the shoulder. Then the attacker blew himself up.[66]

Haji Ramazan Hussainzada died on the way to the hospital. Mohammad Musa’s brother eventually received treatment abroad and survived.

Attack on Baqir-ul Ulum Mosque in Kabul, November 21, 2016

The Baqir-ul Ulum Mosque in Kabul after a suicide attack, November 21, 2016.

© 2016 Rahmat Gul/AP Photo

On November 21, 2016, a suicide bomber detonated explosives inside a Shia mosque in the Dar-ul Aman neighborhood of Kabul, killing at least 32 people and wounding dozens. The worshippers had gathered to mark the Shia ceremony of Arbaeen, the end of the 40-day mourning of Ashura. ISKP claimed responsibility for the attack. Musa J., the caretaker and muezzin of the mosque, described being injured in the attack:

I was near the inside door of the mosque, and the explosion took place five or six meters away from me. I was thrown along with the door and the window into the yard. After a while, when I became conscious, I saw broken glass everywhere. I wanted to get up and move but I couldn’t because my leg was injured. I recovered, but afterward my son who is 5 pleaded with his mother, “Stay with me at school because if an explosion takes place, I’m scared and I can’t escape.… If there is an explosion, how can I find you?”[67]

Attack on the Enlightenment Movement Protest, July 23, 2016

On July 23, 2016, a twin suicide bombing in Deh Mazang Square in central Kabul targeted protesters, predominantly Hazaras, who were demonstrating against a government decision to reroute a power project, bypassing a Hazara majority area of the country.[68] At least 85 people were killed and 413 injured.[69] ISKP claimed responsibility in a statement that included anti-Shia rhetoric linked to reports of Hazaras fighting for the Syrian government in Syria’s civil war.[70] The Taliban condemned the attack.[71]

An Afghan protester cries out near the scene of the suicide attack that targeted a demonstration of mainly Shia Hazaras at Deh Mazang Square in Kabul, July 23, 2016.

© 2016 Wakil Koshar/AFP/Getty Images

The two bombers detonated their explosives, which were packed with ball bearings, among the hundreds of protesters. The first explosion at 2:34 p.m. took place between an improvised stage and a restaurant on the corner of the square. According to a UNAMA investigation report, “The wide blast radius and the projection of ball bearings explain why victims included demonstration participants as well as non-participants including women and children.”[72] The second blast at 2:38 p.m. was more limited, as the attacker’s vest only partially detonated.[73]

Sima, whose son Ahmad was killed in the attack, said:

We heard from Tolo TV that there had been an explosion among the protesters. We were very frightened and called his number, but it rang and he didn’t pick up. I went to Isteqlal Hospital where they had brought many dead bodies and injured people. I asked his friends and they told me that Ahmad was wounded and was at another hospital. They said we should come in the morning. But then I learned that actually he had been killed.[74]

Gulsom, Ahmad’s wife, described the effect of Ahmad’s death on their children:

When my daughter was born, I named her Parastish. It’s a synonym for hamd [praise], the root of her father’s name. Now Ahmad is gone, but Setayish is recalling him so often. Two days ago, her uncle came from Mazar-e Sharif and Setayish ran toward him, thinking that it was Ahmad. Sometimes she comes to me and asks, “Everyone’s father is returning, why not mine?” I have told her that her father has gone to a very far place. A few days ago, it was her birthday and I asked her what she wished for. She looked at me and said, “Call my father and tell him to return.”[75]

IV. Attacks for Which No Group Has Claimed Responsibility

Suicide Truck Bomb in Kabul, May 31, 2017

A member of the Afghan security forces stands at the site of a truck bomb attack in Kabul, May 31, 2017.

© 2017 Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

On May 31, 2017, a suicide bomber detonated a sewage tanker truck packed with explosives in central Kabul at about 8:25 a.m., during the morning rush hour. The explosion created a crater five meters wide and more than three meters deep near Zanbaq Square. The truck had been stopped at a checkpoint outside the Green Zone, the fortified Kabul neighborhood where many foreign embassies and government buildings are located. It was the deadliest single attack in Kabul in any period of the war. UNAMA documented 583 civilian casualties from the explosion—92 killed and 491 injured. However, media sources estimated the number killed at closer to 150, since most of those who died close to the blast site may never be identified. The blast caused injuries and damage to buildings four kilometers away. No group claimed responsibility.

Roshan Telecom’s main office was almost directly opposite the blast site. The building collapsed, and at least 30 Roshan employees were killed and more than 50 injured.[76] Shoaib (pseudonym) described what happened:

I went to the office as usual and it was a little early when I arrived. The cleaners were there, so I thought I would sit in the yard, but then they finished so I sat at my desk and read emails, when suddenly the ceiling of the office came down and the air conditioner hit the back of my head. The force blew me against the wall. The desk actually shielded me, so I was not badly injured except for my head, which had a 15-centimeter gash, and some pieces of glass hit my chest. For fifteen minutes I was not very conscious, but after that I heard noises from my colleagues.… A lot of them were injured and killed. Many people in the yard were also killed.[77]

Screenshot of footage of the tanker truck about to turn right at the checkpoint in central Kabul, May 31, 2017.

© 2017 TOLOnews

Shoaib discussed some of the difficulties he has faced since the blast:

Afterward, at home, I was not able to sleep because I felt the shock of the incident again. I met with some psychologists and they told me to leave Kabul and go to a quiet place, but I cannot afford it. I would lose my job and could not support the family. Two weeks after the incident, the office called and said that the president’s office is supposed to give us 50,000 afghanis [US$720] if we had been injured. But my name was not on the list and neither was my colleague’s. Unlike me, he had time to follow it up and get his money.[78]

Another Roshan employee, Hashim (pseudonym), said:

I found myself under dust, furniture, and window glass. It was hard to breathe or stand.… I was injured from the head and bleeding.… My body, clothes, and even my shoes were full of blood, and I could hardly walk. Walking out of the office I saw a colleague’s body, furniture, glass all around. I realized I was walking toward an inferno.… After I recovered, I came to know that six people from my department were killed and one colleague had lost his right arm. Later, I found out how massive that explosion was with only a wall between it and the place I was sitting.[79]

Hashim said that the government’s offer to help with cash proved “more painful” because even when he compiled all the required documents, he was unable to get any money:

Some of my colleagues received [a cash payment] and when I went to claim mine they said that I was required to bring the hospital confirmation. I took the hospital confirmation clearly stating that I was injured, but they again asked us to bring them the confirmation of Ministry of Health as well. I took the list of injured where I was listed, but they said the list was not yet confirmed, although I know some people had gotten money by then. It’s clear to me that it is a waste of time to follow it up. I am trying to find a new opportunity and place to live in peace. I hate Kabul city now.… I think peace is something that my country will never experience.[80]

Soroya (pseudonym) has seven children, and her husband, who was killed in the attack, was the only breadwinner:

My husband, Aman, was a driver for Roshan Telecom. He was not officially working there, but he recently had an informal contract with them. It was his second month with Roshan Telecom when he was killed.[81]

Since his death, the family has had to borrow money and rent rooms in the house for income and so that Soroya will not be on her own.

Razia spoke about the death of her brother Hussain:

He was supposed to get married soon. We were planning to have his engagement party after Eid.… Recently, he was working as an electrician at the Canadian Embassy.… On May 31, I was at work when I heard the explosion. Whenever an explosion happened, I used to call my brother, but this time nobody was answering my calls. My brother had been working the night shift and was supposed to return home by bicycle. I went to the site and saw broken glass everywhere. The road was full of blood and ashes.

At the hospital, they told me that no injured from the Canadian Embassy had been transferred there. Then I decided to look for him at the morgue. When they uncovered the corpses, I saw my brother and collapsed. We took him home. His shroud was full of blood. Now I must cover all the family expenses. Aside from this, I am harassed so often, because everyone knows that I am alone. Because of that incident, life is now bitter and dark.[82]

BBC journalist Ayoub Arwin was traveling by car with three other colleagues to their office in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in the Green Zone, and passed through the checkpoint 15 seconds before the tanker truck. Their car was propelled forward by the force of the explosion. The driver was killed and Arwin suffered head injuries. His other colleagues sustained minor injuries. “We were only 15 seconds ahead of the truck,” he said. “If we had been any closer, I would not be here now. I was just lucky.”[83]

Attack on the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, August 24, 2016

Screenshot of Twitter posts from photojournalist Massoud Hossaini, who was trapped inside the American University of Afghanistan during the attack on August 24, 2016.

At about 7 p.m. on August 24, 2016, when fall semester evening classes at the American University in Kabul were just getting underway, a suicide bomber detonated a truck filled with explosives at the campus perimeter walls. The explosion also severely damaged a school for visually impaired students next door, killing a guard.[84] Gunmen then entered the campus through the gap, initiating a 10-hour siege during which eight students, two professors, three security guards, and three police officers were killed. More than 50 people were injured, almost all civilians. Afghan special forces, with the assistance of US and Norwegian troops, finally secured the campus at about 5 a.m. the next day. Throughout the siege, trapped students sent messages to friends and relatives describing how the attackers had moved through the university buildings, targeting students and faculty who tried to barricade the doors.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four students who were injured in the attack. Nargis, who was in her final year, said:

As soon as the explosion took place, our security staff turned off the lights so that the students could escape in darkness. I was on the first floor and when they threw hand grenades, all the glass broke and pieces of it injured my shoulder. My classmates and I hid under the desks, but our security people told us to escape. We ran and I fell down once under the feet of others. My leg and back were injured, and I got glass in my legs. At that time, I did not feel the pain as I was afraid. For days after the attack, I had psychological problems, and still its effects are with me. The loss of my classmates and my teacher, Professor Khpulwak, has had very bad impact on me. I had a class with him at 6:30 p.m., and then he was killed. I attended so many funerals for those who were killed.[85]

A. helped direct students to escape routes across the campus until he was shot in the legs and back. He said:

Our professor had just given us a prayer break, so my classmate and I had just gone to pray when suddenly there was an explosion. Everyone was screaming, so I told them they need to wait to see if there is a second explosion, and to stay away from the window because of the glass.… Then I started directing people how to escape. We made our way behind the C Building and library to get to the emergency exit. Then I told people to run.

[My classmate and I] were last. My classmate was on his phone, trying to talk to his family. I told him not to, that they would see him. Just as I entered, I heard gunfire behind and instantly everything changed. He went down. Everything was spinning. I went down. I was lying on the ground injured, thinking, “I am about to die,” when I thought about my mother. She has lost her other sons already. I thought, “I cannot die, I cannot do that to her, I have to do my best to live.”… People were still passing me to get to the gate. One helped me stand, but I couldn’t so I told him to just let me down. Finally, some police reached me. I told them not to pull me [because it would cause further injuries], and they got a wheelchair and got me out.[86]

A. required multiple surgeries over the next year.

A medic assists an injured man following the attack on the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, August 24, 2016.

© 2016 Andrew Quilty

Anil Qasemi was also injured in the attack, and only recovered enough from his injuries to return to his studies part-time in 2017. He described how he was thrown through a window two stories up when one of the attackers had tossed a grenade into the classroom. He said:

I thought I was going to die as I lay on the grass outside.… Somehow, with a severe shrapnel wound to my head and other injuries, I managed to heave my body to a safe place until help came.[87]

Sajjad Haidari was also injured in the attack. He said:

We had been in a math class for about 10 minutes when I heard the sound of gunfire, then a loud explosion. Everything was shaking, there was a lot of dust, and the window glass was broken. Some students shouted, “The university has been attacked. Get out!” Our class was on the second floor. We were just getting down to the first floor when we saw the attackers had entered the building. They fired toward us, and the guards shouted, “Go back to your classrooms!” All of us thought we would die.

In the classroom we climbed out the windows to the balcony. One of the attackers was looking down from the third floor. I had one leg out the window and on the balcony. I said to myself that if they enter the class, I will jump down, but it was very high. Then the attacker on the third floor fired at me and hit me in the left arm, and I fell to the floor. Meanwhile, the attacker on the second floor was shooting at people, so I stayed in a corner and waited until he stopped firing. I thought he had run out of bullets so I ran. Then I heard shooting, bullets hit my backpack, and I fell down on my face. The attackers left. I hid by the corner of the wall so that the attacker on the roof would not see me. Then I escaped out an exit door that had been left open.[88]

Sajjad Haidari’s father added that the books in his son’s backpack saved his life. He required seven operations, costing his family about US$15,000.

Recommendations

To All Insurgent Forces

  • In accordance with the laws of war, cease all intentional attacks on civilians and civilian objects. Armed forces can only target military objectives, enemy combatants, or civilians directly participating in hostilities. Civilian government officials are immune from attack, like other civilians. Civilian objects such as schools, hospitals, places of worship, and homes may not be attacked unless they are at that time being used for military purposes.
  • Cease all attacks that do not or cannot discriminate between civilians and combatants, or are expected to cause disproportionate harm to civilians or civilian objects. Attacking forces must take all feasible steps to minimize harm to civilians.
  • Cease perfidious attacks, in which the attacker feigns protected civilian status to carry out an attack, such as using an ambulance to conceal bombs.
  • Appropriately punish commanders who order or are otherwise responsible for serious laws of war violations.

To the Government of Afghanistan

  • Formalize through regulation or legislation the current ad hoc system or create a new program for providing assistance to civilian victims of insurgent attacks. Assistance should not be limited to the victims of major attacks or their families, but any insurgent attack. Launch a campaign to inform the general public about the procedure for obtaining financial assistance or other support. Ensure the equitable distribution of support, and promptly investigate complaints of corruption and discrimination in the process.
  • Develop and implement measures to provide psychosocial support to survivors of attacks, whether by insurgents or government and allied forces. Such services should include counseling or other support for victims of trauma.

To the United Nations

  • Provide technical assistance to Afghanistan, through the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, in drafting a comprehensive victims compensation policy.

To Afghanistan’s International Donors

  • Support programs that provide financial and other assistance to civilian victims of attacks by all warring parties. Focus on psychosocial services as part of a broader effort to improve mental health care for all communities in Afghanistan.

 

Acknowledgments

This report was written by Patricia Gossman, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director, edited the report. James Ross, legal and policy director, and Joseph Saunders, deputy program director, provided legal and program review. Liesl Gerntholtz, Women’s Rights Division director; Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director; Kriti Sharma, Disability Rights Division researcher; and Letta Tayler, senior researcher on terrorism and counterterrorism, provided additional review. Shayna Bauchner, Asia coordinator, provided editorial and production assistance. The report was prepared for publication by Jose Martinez, senior coordinator, and Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager.

Fereshta Abbasi and Rohullah Sorush assisted in conducting interviews in Kabul for this report.

We would like to thank the Civilian Protection Advocacy Group, particularly Aziz Ahmad Tassal, for assistance with this report. We would also like to thank photojournalist Andrew Quilty for many of the photos in this report and for his work on the accompanying video.

 

Appendix: Partial List of Insurgent Attacks That Have Killed Civilians since July 2016

2018

April 22: Bombing at a voter registration center in Kabul, killed at least 61 and injured 115. ISKP claimed responsibility.

March 23: Bombing outside Ghazi Ayub Khan Stadium, Lashkar Gah, killed at least 14 and injured 40. No group claimed responsibility.

March 21: Suicide attack on a Nowruz celebration at a Shia shrine in Kart-e Sakhi, Kabul, killed 33 and injured 65. ISKP claimed responsibility.

January 27: Suicide ambulance bomb in central Kabul, killed 103 and injured 200. Taliban claimed responsibility.

January 24: Suicide attack and gun battle at the Save the Children office in Jalalabad, killed 6 and injured 27. ISKP claimed responsibility.

January 20: Suicide attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, killed at least 21 and injured 11. Taliban claimed responsibility.

2017

December 28: Suicide attack inside the Shia Tabayan cultural center in Kabul, killed 42 and injured 77. ISKP claimed responsibility.

October 20: Suicide attack inside the Imam Zaman Shia Mosque in Dasht-e Barchi, Kabul, killed 69 and injured 60. ISKP claimed responsibility.

August 25: Suicide attack inside the Imam Zaman Shia Mosque in Khair Khana, Kabul, killed 35 and injured 65. ISKP claimed responsibility.

August 1: Suicide attack on the Jawadiya Mosque in Herat, killed at least 31 and injured 65. ISKP claimed responsibility.

July 24: Suicide car bomb attack on a Ministry of Mines and Petroleum employee shuttle bus in Kart-e Seh, Kabul, killed 35 and injured 57. Taliban claimed responsibility.

June 15: Suicide bombing at the Al-Zahra Mosque in Kabul, killed 6 and wounded more than 10. ISKP claimed responsibility.

June 3: Suicide attack on a funeral of the son of a prominent political figure outside Kabul, killed 20 and wounded 87. No group claimed responsibility.

May 31: Tanker truck bomb at Zanbaq Square, central Kabul, killed an estimated 150 and injured over 491. Deadliest attack in Kabul to date. No group claimed responsibility.

March 8: Gunmen attack on the Sardar Daud Khan Military Hospital in Kabul, killed at least 48 civilians and wounded 22. ISKP claimed responsibility.

January 10: Suicide attack outside the parliament administration building in Kabul, killed 34 and injured 75. Taliban claimed responsibility.

2016

November 21: Suicide bombing at the Shia Baqir-ul Ulum Mosque in western Kabul, killed 32 and injured more than 80. ISKP claimed responsibility.

August 24: Suicide attack by gunmen on the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, killed at least 12 and injured more than 50. No group claimed responsibility.

July 23: Twin suicide bombings in Deh Mazang Square, Kabul, during a protest by the Enlightenment Movement, killed at least 85 and injured 413. ISKP claimed responsibility.

 

[1] Borhan Osman, “The Cost of Escalating Violence in Afghanistan,” International Crisis Group, February 7, 2018, https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-asia/afghanistan/cost-escalating-... (accessed April 23, 2018).

[2] UNAMA, “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Annual Report 2017,” February 2018, https://unama.unmissions.org/‌sites/default/files/afghanistan_protecti... (accessed April 2, 2018), pp. 1-2. A “complex attack” is one in which an attacker uses two or more modes of attack against a single target.

[3] Ibid.

[4] International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Customary International Humanitarian Law, ed. Jean-Marie Henckaerts and Louise Doswald-Beck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pt. I.

[5] Ibid., pt. VI.

[6] Ibid., rule 65.

[7] Markham Nolan with Gilad Shiloach, “ISIS Statement Urges Attacks, Announces Khorasan State,” Vocativ, January 26, 2015, http://www.vocativ.com/world/isis-2/isis-khorasan (accessed April 2, 2018).

[8] Borhan Osman, “The Islamic State in ‘Khorasan’: How It Began and Where It Stands Now in Nangarhar Afghanistan Analysts Network, July 27, 2016, https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/the-islamic-state-in-khorasan-how-i... (accessed April 2, 2018). The International Crisis Group writes: “Pakistani Taliban groups are loosely aligned under the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan, TTP), formed in December 2007 by senior leaders of some 40 militant groups. Led by South Waziristan-based Baitullah Mehsud until his death on 5 August 2009 in a US drone attack, and now by his former deputy Hakimullah Mehsud, the TTP is loosely allied to Punjab-based jihadi outfits, including the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the military’s jihadi proxies in Kashmir.” International Crisis Group, Pakistan: Countering Militancy in FATA, October 2009, https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/178-pakistan-countering-militancy-... (accessed April 2, 2018), p. 5.

[9] Pakistan’s 2009-2010 military operation in Waziristan involved aerial bombardment, massive civilian displacement, extrajudicial executions, mass arrests, house demolitions, and arbitrary detentions. The insurgents controlling the area had been engaged in conflict with the Pakistan military and were implicated in assassinations, bomb attacks, and other abuses against local civilians. More than 150,000 people fled to other areas of Pakistan and some to Afghanistan. The Pakistan army declared the area a closed military zone for the duration of the operation, barring journalists and human rights monitors from entering. See “Pakistan: Get Aid to Civilians Caught in Fighting,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 28, 2009, https://www.hrw.org/news/2009/10/28/pakistan-get-aid-civilians-caught-fi....

[10] David Mansfield, “The Devil Is in the Details: Nangarhar’s Continued Decline into Insurgency, Violence and Widespread Drug Production,” Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, February 2016, https://areu.org.af/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/1602E-The-Devil-is-in-the... (accessed April 23, 2018).

[11] Borhan Osman, “Descent into Chaos: Why Did Nangarhar Turn into an IS Hub?” Afghanistan Analysts Network, September 27, 2016, https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/descent-into-chaos-why-did-nangarha... (accessed April 2, 2018).

[12] According to Osman, “They described this state of affairs as a small-scale tit-for-tat reaction to Pakistan’s broader and longer-ranging, institutionalised support to the Afghan Taleban in their fight against the Afghan government.” Osman, “The Islamic State in ‘Khorasan,’” Afghanistan Analysts Network.

[13] Allegedly in partnership with governor Gul Agha Sherzai, the Sepai tribal elites started to exploit their elevated position with the government and US military in order to extort local resources, specifically casting their eyes on large pieces of land. The encroachment led to open conflict, ultimately drawing in US airpower in October 2013. See Osman, “Descent into Chaos,” Afghanistan Analysts Network; Fabrizio Foschini, “How Outside Interference Politicised the Achin Land Conflict,” Afghanistan Analysts Network, October 30, 2011, https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/how-outside-interference-politicise... (accessed April 2, 2018).

[14] Kate Clark and Borhan Osman, “More Militias? Part 2: The Proposed Afghan Territorial Army in the Fight against ISKP,” Afghanistan Analysts Network, September 27, 2017, https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/more-militias-part-2-the-proposed-a... (accessed December 10, 2017).

[15] Bill Roggio, “Former IMU Cleric Denounces Islamic State,” Long War Journal, August 30, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/08/former-imu-cleric-denoun... (accessed December 10, 2017); Borhan Osman, “Another ISKP Leader ‘Dead’: Where Is the Group Headed after Losing So Many Amirs?” Afghanistan Analysts Network, July 23, 2017, https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/another-iskp-leader-dead-where-is-t... (accessed April 2, 2018).

[16] Borhan Osman, “ISKP’s Battle for Minds: What Are Its Main Messages and Whom Do They Attract?” Afghanistan Analysts Network, December 16, 2016, https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/iskps-battle-for-minds-what-are-the... (accessed April 2, 2018).

[17] UNAMA, “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Annual Report 2015,” February 2016, https://unama.unmissions.org/‌sites/default/files/poc_annual_report_20... (accessed April 2, 2018), p. 56.

[18] Borhan Osman, “With an Active Cell in Kabul, ISKP Tries to Bring Sectarianism to the Afghan War,” Afghanistan Analysts Network, October 19, 2016, https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/with-an-active-cell-in-kabul-iskp-t... (accessed April 2, 2018).

[19] Center for Civilians in Conflict, “Caring for Their Own: A Stronger Afghan Response to Civilian Harm,” January 2013, p. 28.

[20] Ibid., pp. 40-41.

[21] The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded the ACAP program through the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) program, in coordination with the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled (MoLSAMD). The ACAP program ended in February 2018. A successor USAID program, Conflict Mitigation Assistance for Civilians (COMAC), became operational as of April 2018.

[22] ACAP, “Monthly Status Update—October 2017,” https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/acap_iii_‌mo... (accessed April 23, 2018).

[23] A 2014 study found that Afghanistan had “only one tertiary health facility (Kabul Mental Health Hospital), approximately three trained psychiatrists and ten psychologists ‘covering’ a population of more than 30 million people.” Samuel Hall, “Urban Displaced Youth in Kabul—Part One: Mental Health Matters,” 2016, http://samuelhall.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/UDY-Chapter-1-Mental-He... (accessed April 2, 2018). A 2011 World Bank report estimated that “half of the Afghan population aged 15 years or older [was] affected by at least one of these mental disorders: depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.” Ghulam Dastagir Sayed, “Mental Health in Afghanistan: Burden, Challenges and the Way Forward,” World Bank, August 2011, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/‌HEALTHNUTRITIONANDPOPULATION/Resou... (accessed April 2, 2018).

[24] ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, rules 150 and 151; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, art. 3.

[25] UN General Assembly, “United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy,” A/Res/60/288, September 20, 2006, http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/60/288 (accessed April 23, 2018). Studies on the effects of terrorist attacks show that the victims of these crimes often feel dehumanized and forgotten. See Laura Dolci, A Victimless Crime? A Narrative on Victims of Terrorism to Build a Case for Support (Oisterwijk: Wolf Legal Publishers, 2018).

[26] According to UNAMA, “Civilian casualties from suicide and complex attacks claimed by Taliban decreased by 22 per cent compared to 2016, while those resulting from such attacks claimed by Daesh/ISIL-KP increased by 18 per cent compared to 2016.” The report noted that the numbers could be higher, given underreporting from inaccessible and insecure areas. UNAMA, “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Annual Report 2017,” p. 29.; UNAMA, “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Annual Report 2016,” February 2017, https://unama.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/protection_of_civilians... (accessed April 2, 2018), p. 7.

[27] Mujib Mashal and Javid Sukhanyar, “‘It’s a Massacre’: Blast in Kabul Deepens Toll of a Long War,” New York Times, January 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/27/world/asia/afghanistan-kabul-attack.html (accessed March 10, 2018).

[28] Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, “Clarification of Islamic Emirate Statement concerning Attack on Ministry of Interior,” https://alemarah-english.com/?p=25114 (accessed March 1, 2018).

[29] Etilaat Roz, “One Day after the Bloody Explosion in Kabul, the Bodies of Five People Have Not Been Found” (“یک روز پس از انفجار خونین در کابل، بدن پنج نفری یافت نشده است”), http://etilaatroz.com/56587 (accessed April 23, 2018).

[30] Ibid.

[31] ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, rules 29, 61, and 65.

[32] Human Rights Watch interview with Roya (pseudonym), February 14, 2018.

[33] Human Rights Watch interview with Ali (pseudonym), February 14, 2018.

[34] Mujib Mashal and Jawad Sukhanyar, “After Kabul Hotel Attack, Security Plan Queried as Death Toll Rises,” New York Times, January 22, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/22/world/asia/kabul-hotel-attack.html (accessed April 23, 2018).

[35] Abdullah Alikhil, “Afghan Man Shot to Save Three Australian Women in a Taliban Attack in Kabul,” Special Broadcasting Service, February 20, 2018, https://www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/pashto/en/article/2018/02/10/afghan-... (accessed April 23, 2018).

[36] Mashal and Sukhanyar, “After Kabul Hotel Attack, Security Plan Queried as Death Toll Rises,” New York Times.

[37] Human Rights Watch interview with M. Ahmadi, November 20, 2017.

[38] Ibid. Afghanistan has extremely limited psychosocial services at government hospitals. A few private facilities may offer these services for a fee. The costs of medication in Afghanistan represent a hurdle to those seeking support. A few nongovernmental organizations have begun limited programs to offer counseling, but information about these programs is not widely available. Human Rights Watch interview with social worker, Kabul, February 14, 2018.

[39] Human Rights Watch interview with M. Ahmadi, November 20, 2017.

[40] Human Rights Watch interview with M. Daud, November 6, 2017.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with Sardar A., November 11, 2017.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with Milad D., November 13, 2017.

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammad A., November 13, 2017.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Mirwais Harooni, “Taliban Claim Attacks in Afghan Capital, At Least 15 Dead,” Reuters, March 2, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-blast/taliban-claim-attac... (accessed December 10, 2017).

[47] Human Rights Watch interview with Najla (pseudonym), December 6, 2017.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview with Safar M., November 16, 2017.

[49] According to a report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), “The Afghan government lacks funds to operate and sustain its health care facilities; hospitals are unable to provide adequate care; health care facilities lack qualified staff; and corruption throughout the system remains a concern. Because of these challenges, many Afghans seek health care services abroad.” SIGAR, “Afghanistan’s Health Care Sector: USAID’s Use of Unreliable Data Presents Challenges in Assessing Program Performance and the Extent of Progress,” January 2017, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/audits/SIGAR-17-22-AR.pdf (accessed April 2, 2018), p. ii. While urban hospitals provide basic care, and the hospital operated by the Italian nongovernmental organization Emergency is equipped to handle urgent trauma cases in Kabul, Afghans who need advanced medical treatment and who can afford the travel costs and fees seek treatment outside Afghanistan; India is a frequent destination. Those who can obtain visas go to Europe or elsewhere. See “Afghans Turn to India’s Hospitals for Treatment,” Deutsche Welle, November 29, 2013, http://www.dw.com/en/afghans-turn-to-indias-hospitals-for-treatment/a-17... (accessed April 23, 2018).

[50] Human Rights Watch interview with doctor (name withheld), Gulkhan Health Clinic, November 26, 2017.

[51] Human Rights Watch interview with Doctor M. (full name withheld), Gulkhan Health Clinic, November 26, 2017.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with Haji Mohammad, November 6, 2017.

[53] Mujib Mashal and Jawad Sukhanyar, “Twin Mosque Attacks Kill Scores in One of Afghanistan’s Deadliest Weeks,” New York Times, October 20, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/20/world/asia/afghanistan-kabul-attack-m... (accessed December 10, 2017).

[54] Human Rights Watch interview with Sugra Hussein, February 14, 2018.

[55] Human Rights Watch interview with Mahdi, February 14, 2018.

[56] Human Rights Watch interview with Ali Reza, November 30, 2017.

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with Mahram Ali, November 30, 2017.

[58] Human Rights Watch interview with Huma (pseudonym), November 30, 2017.

[59] UNAMA, “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Annual Report 2017,” p. 37.

[60] Human Rights Watch interview with Rezaee Ahmad, December 8, 2017.

[61] Human Rights Watch interview with Mariam, December 8, 2017.

[62] Human Rights Watch interview with Sima, December 8, 2017.

[63] Human Rights Watch interview with Jalil A., December 8, 2017.

[64] Sune Engel Rasmussen, “Suicide Bomber Strikes at Shia Mosque in Western Kabul,” Guardian, June 15, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/15/suicide-bomber-shia-mosque... (accessed December 10, 2017).

[65] “Four Killed in Attack on Mosque in Kabul,” Reuters, June 15, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-blast/four-killed-in-atta... (accessed December 10, 2017).

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammad Musa, November 20, 2017.

[67] Human Rights Watch interview with Musa J., November 20, 2017.

[68] An initial assessment recommended the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TUTAP) project route through Bamyan province, a Hazara-majority province in the Central Highlands, but in 2016 the government rerouted it via Salang Pass. The “Jonbesh-e-Roshnayi” (“Enlightenment Movement”) was started in early May 2016 as a way to voice the concerns of the Hazara community.

[69] UNAMA, “Special Report: Attack on a Peaceful Demonstration in Kabul, 23 July 2016,” October 2016, https://unama.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/23_july_suicide_attack_... (accessed December 10, 2017).

[70] Borhan Osman, “With an Active Cell in Kabul, ISKP Tries to Bring Sectarianism to the Afghan War,” Afghanistan Analysts Network.

[71] UNAMA, “Special Report: Attack on a Peaceful Demonstration in Kabul, 23 July 2016.”

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Human Rights Watch interview with Sima, December 20, 2017.

[75] Human Rights Watch interview with Gulsom, December 20, 2017.

[76] Zabiullah Jhanwal, “Roshan Telecoms Suffers Enormous Loss in Truck Bombing,” TOLOnews, June 5, 2017, https://www.tolonews.com/business/roshan-telecoms-suffers-enormous-loss-... (accessed April 2, 2018).

[77] Human Rights Watch interview with Shoaib (pseudonym), December 1, 2017.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Human Rights Watch interview with Hashim (pseudonym), December 4, 2017.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Human Rights Watch interview with Soroya (pseudonym), December 1, 2017.

[82] Human Rights Watch interview with Razia, December 15, 2017.

[83] Human Rights Watch interview with Ayoub Arwin, December 8, 2017.

[84] Ahmad Shuja, “Attack in Afghanistan Shutters Its School for the Blind,” commentary, Human Rights Watch dispatch, September 1, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/01/attack-afghanistan-shutters-its-scho....

[85] Human Rights Watch interview with Nargis, November 20, 2017.

[86] Human Rights Watch interview with A. (full name withheld), December 5, 2017.

[87] Human Rights Watch interview with Anil Qasemi, February 14, 2018.

[88] Human Rights Watch interview with Sajjad Haidari, February 14, 2018.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Doctors described victims collapsing, gasping for breath and foaming at the mouth.

© Weberson Santiago/VEJA

The First World War demonstrated the cruelty of chemical weapons and led to a ban on their use in 1925. Yet a century later, the Syrian government and others in the Syrian conflict have repeatedly used them to kill and injure men, women, and children.

This month, a deadly chemical attack on the town of Douma killed at least 42 people. Doctors described victims collapsing, gasping for breath and foaming at the mouth. In videos shared by activists, bodies of children, their mouths still foaming, lie beside those of adults.

We don’t hear directly from those who perished, nor can we truly imagine how they must have felt as the very air they breathed destroyed their lungs.

Human Rights Watch has analyzed at least 85 chemical weapons attacks in Syria – most by the government – since August 2013. Some employed sarin—the colorless, odorless, nerve agent. Most involved a readily available pale green chemical: chlorine. And ISIS has deployed a blistering agent known as sulfur-mustard gas. They all cause unspeakable suffering and death.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, whose harrowing mustard-gas and chlorine-gas deaths in the trenches of Europe inspired the ban. A Chemical Weapons Convention strengthened the ban 21 years ago, requiring parties to eliminate stockpiles and production capacity. The world celebrated when Syria, already engulfed in war, signed on five years ago.

Yet the government in Damascus has repeatedly broken its promise by deploying chemical weapons, undermining the very treaty it agreed to uphold. The governments of the United States, United Kingdom, and France blame it for the Douma attack, and conducted retaliatory strikes over the weekend. We are still awaiting a full investigation.

No government or armed group that uses chemical weapons should get away with it. Accountability—proving who committed an atrocity and bringing those responsible to justice -- is essential to stopping the use of chemical weapons.

Brazil could be a strong voice for enforcing the ban. We hold a seat on the executive council of the agency tasked with implementing it—the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The agency’s experts have concluded that Syria has used chemical weapons. Yet Brazil’s representative cast doubt on those findings and seemed to suggest, absurdly, in November that the agency should not accept testimony from victims of attacks unless they testify in the presence of alleged perpetrators.

That same month, Russia’s veto at the UN Security Council once again halted an independent investigation.

Casting doubt on the results of credible international investigations merely emboldens the Syrian government and others who have no qualms about killing and injuring civilians with toxic chemicals. 

Brazil should join the call for UN Secretary General António Guterres to bypass the Security Council and appoint independent investigators to identify those responsible for the Douma attack. And Brazil should condemn Syria’s repeated violations of the treaty and press for sanctions, as well as Syria’s suspension from the OPCW—until it complies with its obligations.

A hundred years after the end of World War I, the world needs to end impunity for chemical weapons attacks. Inaction should not be an option.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

*This news release has been updated to reflect two additional signatories, bringing the final number to 47.

(New York) – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should urgently appoint a team of investigators to identify those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Human Rights Watch and 46 other human rights and humanitarian groups said in a statement released today. Such a move would promote justice and deter the use of these prohibited weapons.

The UN Security Council has failed to replace the Joint Investigative Mechanism of the UN and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons due to repeated Russian vetoes. As a result, there is no longer a UN team with the independence, technical expertise, and mandate to identify the parties responsible for deadly chemical attacks in Syria. Most recently the chemical weapons attack on the town of Douma in the Damascus countryside on April 7, 2018, claimed dozens of lives.

“Secretary-General Guterres should heed this plea on behalf of the suffering civilians of Syria, who have been left in the lurch by a divided and dysfunctional Security Council,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “The secretary-general has the means and authority to take command of the situation as his predecessors did by establishing an investigative unit that will unmask those behind chemical attacks in Syria. We don’t need another veto, we need leadership.”

UN Secretary-General Should Activate Independent Mechanism to Attribute Responsibility for Chemical Attacks in Syria

On April 7, the world once again was shocked by the heart-wrenching images of Syrian men, women and children who appeared to have suffocated in their houses in Douma, a suburb of Damascus that has been under furious attacks for weeks by the Syrian-Russian military alliance.

While investigations are still pending, claims have been made that the Syrian government has again used chemical weapons against its own people. The Syrian and Russian governments have vehemently denied that a chemical attack occurred.

The use of chemical weapons constitutes a war crime. The international prohibition on the use, development, production, stockpiling, and transfer of chemical weapons is absolute and cannot be left to political wrangling.

Since 2013, the UN Commission of Inquiry has recorded over 35 chemical weapons attacks in Syria. After refusing to accept findings on Syrian government responsibility for last year’s attack on civilians in Khan Sheikhoun, Russia used its Security Council veto to block the UN from maintaining a UN-Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons joint investigative mechanism working independently and impartially to uncover the perpetrators for such attacks. On April 10, Russia again vetoed a resolution that would have established a UN mechanism to attribute responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria.

As a result, there is no longer a UN mechanism with the independence, technical expertise, and mandate working to promptly identify who is to blame for these chemical weapons attacks.

We, the undersigned organizations, urge UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to step up in defense of civilians everywhere by activating an independent UN mechanism to attribute responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria.

Previous UN Secretaries General created similar inquiries. We cannot afford more Security Council deadlock, paralysis, or vetoes. Taking this step is fully in line with the Secretary General’s authority and would help ensure that the perpetrators of these atrocities are exposed.

It is incumbent on the UN Security Council to hold perpetrators of these crimes to account and make clear to the world that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated.

Signatories:

  1. Adopt a Revolution
  2. American Relief Coalition for Syria (ARCS)
  3. Amnesty International
  4. Arms Control Association
  5. ASML/Syria
  6. Basmet Amal
  7. Baytna Syria
  8. Bridge of Peace Syria
  9. CCFD-Terre Solidaire
  10. CAFOD (Catholic Agency For Overseas Development)
  11. CARE International
  12. Christian Aid
  13. CIHRS (Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies)
  14. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
  15. Ghiras Alnahda
  16. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  17. GOAL
  18. Hand in Hand for Syria
  19. HelpAge International
  20. Human Appeal
  21. Human Rights Watch
  22. Humans of Syria
  23. IDA
  24. Islamic Relief UK
  25. Just Foreign Policy
  26. Karam Foundation
  27. Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (Concordia University)
  28. Nonviolent Peaceforce
  29. PAX for Peace
  30. Physicians for Human Rights
  31. Protection Approaches
  32. Relief & Reconciliation International AISBL
  33. Rethink Rebuild Society
  34. SCM
  35. Society for Threatened Peoples
  36. STAND (The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities)
  37. Syria Charity
  38. Syria Relief
  39. Syrian American Medical Society - SAMS
  40. Syrian Forum USA
  41. Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)
  42. Syrians for Truth and Justice-STJ سوريون من أجل الحقيقة والعدالة
  43. Trocaire
  44. Vision GRAM-International
  45. War Child UK 
  46. World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP)
  47. 11.11.11
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

As this week’s discussions have made clear, for almost all High Contracting Parties, the way forward has to center on reaching agreement on what constitutes acceptable human control. And weapons systems that do not meet that acceptable level should be prohibited.

Ahead of the next meeting of this Group of Governmental Experts, we encourage states and groups of states to submit working papers that are outcome-orientated. Put forward elements of text to delineate the principles of meaningful human control.

In November, states should commit to begin negotiations to draw the boundaries of future autonomy in weapon systems. Such a legally-binding instrument could be concluded by the end of 2019 here at the Convention on Conventional Weapons in the form of a new protocol.

This week our list of countries calling for a ban on fully autonomous weapons has grown from 22 to 26, and we warmly welcome the additions of Austria, China, Colombia, and Djibouti. This morning, for the first time, we heard China express its desire to negotiate and conclude a CCW protocol to prohibit the use of fully autonomous weapons. We note that in response to our queries, China has confirmed that its ban call is limited to use only.

We are more convinced than ever that a normative line must be drawn urgently to determine what is collectively acceptable when it comes to human control over weapons systems and the use of force.

States should be explicit that meaningful human control is required over the critical functions of target selection and engagement, and for each individual attack. Weapon systems that operate without such human control should be prohibited.

Our coalition includes the voices of engineers, roboticists, and scientists. They respectfully suggest that future discussions on a working definition of fully autonomous weapons focus on the critical functions of target selection and engagement to avoid any disruption of the civilian uses of autonomy. This would help to avoid any confusion about the dual use nature of emerging technologies relating to these weapons systems.

The CCW is not the only arena for action on this urgent issue of international concern. We urge all states to adopt national policy and legislation to prevent the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons. National action provides a solid base for international action.

Over the coming months campaigners around the world will be stepping up their work at the national level to increase public awareness of this multifaceted challenge and the need for action. We plan to do this in many different ways, from public seminars to press briefings to parliamentary hearings. We intend to engage directly with the public, which requires translating information on this subject into local languages, securing even more media coverage, and utilizing social media tools.

These activities will inevitably mean closer public scrutiny of country views on weapons systems that would operate without meaningful human control. It will also result in more questions about your position on the call to ban fully autonomous weapons.

We hope this national outreach will spur on your work here in Geneva this year. From our perspective, the most appropriate pathway for the GGE is to work, with a sense of urgency, towards a protocol that prohibits weapons systems that operate without meaningful human control in the critical functions of selecting and engaging targets, and over individual attacks.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I would like to speak to your question about precedent for the relationship between human control and international humanitarian law.

Disarmament law and international humanitarian law have a history of banning weapons over which there is no human control. A 1907 Hague Convention banning sea mines covered all sea mines unless they “become harmless one hour . . . after the person who laid them ceases to control them.” This exception suggested that sea mines are unacceptably dangerous without human control.

The more recent Mine Ban Treaty follows a similar pattern. It bans antipersonnel mines that are victim-activated and excludes command-detonated ones, i.e., those triggered by a human operator. Victim-activated landmines pose a greater threat because a human operator does not have control over when they detonate and whom they kill.

International bans on biological and chemical weapons were in large part motivated by the fact that the weapons’ effects are uncontrollable. Humans can determine the target and timing of an initial attack, but once the substance is released, it can spread beyond human control.

This precedent provides an excellent model for dealing with lethal autonomous weapons systems. Lethal autonomous weapons systems would select and engage targets without human control. For similar reasons as the international community banned antipersonnel landmines, chemical weapons, and biological weapons, it should ban future weapons that lack meaningful human control over the use of force.

Thank you.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

While states still need to resolve differences about the way forward, during the first three days of the 2018 Group of Governmental Experts meeting, consensus has already started to emerge on a fundamental principle. Virtually all states have expressed the position that human control over the use of force must be maintained. This widespread support for human control should focus future discussions and shows there is a basis on which to commence negotiations next year.

States have employed various terms to refer to this concept. Most have used the phrase “human control” although a few have mentioned human intervention or judgment. To emphasize that control should not be illusory, some states have added a qualifier, such as meaningful, effective, or appropriate. Human Rights Watch believes that the strongest formulation is “meaningful human control,” but regardless of the wording, there is clear evidence of a shared recognition that humans must be substantially involved in decisions about the application of force. Requiring meaningful human control over the selection and engagement of targets would address many of the concerns around fully autonomous weapons.

Allowing innate human qualities to inform the use of force is a moral imperative. Weapons systems do not possess compassion and empathy, key checks on the killing of civilians. Furthermore, as inanimate objects, machines cannot truly appreciate the value of human life and thus delegating life-and-death decisions to machines undermines the dignity of their victims.

Human control also promotes compliance with international law. For example, human judgment is essential to correctly balance civilian harm and military advantage and comply with international humanitarian law’s proportionality test. Machines cannot be pre-programmed to respond appropriately to all of the complex scenarios they may face.

Human judgment is similarly essential to upholding the right to life. Avoiding the arbitrary taking of life requires ensuring that the use of force is necessary and proportional in specific situations.

Finally, humans should retain control over the selection and engagement of targets in individual attacks because it promotes accountability for unlawful harm. It would be legally difficult and often unfair to hold a human responsible for the unforeseeable actions of an autonomous robot.

Several states have argued this week that the Group of Governmental Experts’ discussions should focus on weapons systems that raise ethical, legal, and other concerns. The Convention on Conventional Weapons, after all, is a framework for prohibiting or regulating the use of inhumane and indiscriminate weapons.

Human Rights Watch supports that position. States should not become distracted by lengthy discussions of acceptable technology. Instead, they should understand lethal autonomous weapons systems as a category of problematic weapons that require legal restrictions. Judging by the Group of Governmental Experts’ discussions so far, that category of weapons should be characterized by its lack of meaningful human control.

In conclusion, Human Rights Watch calls on states party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons to require meaningful human control over the selection and engagement of targets. The negotiation and adoption of a legally binding instrument that preemptively prohibits weapons lacking such control is a logical and effective way to achieve that goal.

Thank you.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Global launch of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in London on April 23, 2013.

© 2013 Campaign to Stop Killer Robots
It’s five years this month since the launch of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a global coalition of non-governmental groups calling for a ban on fully autonomous weapons. This month also marks the fifth time that countries have convened at the United Nations in Geneva to address the problems these weapons would pose if they were developed and put into use.

The countries meeting in Geneva this week are party to a major disarmament treaty called the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. While some diplomatic progress has been made under that treaty’s auspices since 2013, the pace needs to pick up dramatically. Countries that recognise the dangers of fully autonomous weapons cannot wait another five years if they are to prevent the weapons from becoming a reality.

Fully autonomous weapons, which would select and engage targets without meaningful human control, do not yet exist, but scientists have warned they soon could. Precursors have already been developed or deployed as autonomy has become increasingly common on the battlefield. Hi-tech military powers, including China, Israel, Russia, South Korea, the UK and the US, have invested heavily in the development of autonomous weapons. So far there is no specific international law to halt this trend.

Experts have sounded the alarm, emphasising that fully autonomous weapons raise a host of concerns. For many people, allowing machines that cannot appreciate the value of human life to make life-and-death decisions crosses a moral red line.

Legally, the so-called “killer robots” would lack human judgment, meaning that it would be very challenging to ensure that their decisions complied with international humanitarian and human rights law. For example, a robot could not be preprogrammed to assess the proportionality of using force in every situation, and it would find it difficult to judge accurately whether civilian harm outweighed military advantage in each particular instance.

Fully autonomous weapons also raise the question: who would be responsible for attacks that violate these laws if a human did not make the decision to fire on a specific target? In fact, it would be legally difficult and potentially unfair to hold anyone responsible for unforeseeable harm to civilians.

There are also security concerns. Without any legal restraints on fully autonomous weapons, militaries could engage in an arms race, vying to develop deadly technology that may lower the need to deploy soldiers – while possibly lowering the threshold to armed conflict.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which Human Rights Watch co-founded and coordinates, argues that new international laws are needed to preempt the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons. Many roboticists, faith leaders, Nobel peace laureates and others have reached the same conclusion, as is evident from their open letters, publications and UN statements: the world needs to prevent the creation of these weapons because once they appear in arsenals, it will be too late.

At the UN meeting going on now, one of two week-long sessions that will take place this year, countries are striving to craft a working definition of the weapons in question and to recommend options to address the concerns they raise. The countries have offered several possible ways to proceed. The momentum for a preemptive prohibition is clearly growing. As of Monday, the African Group and Austria have joined 22 other countries voicing explicit support for a ban. Other countries have aligned themselves with a French/German proposal for a political declaration, a set of nonbinding guidelines that would be an interim solution at best. Still others have explicitly expressed opposition to a preemptive prohibition and a preference for relying on existing international law.

Despite this divergence of opinion, the discussion on the first day had a significant common thread. Almost all countries that spoke talked about the need for some degree of human control over the use of force. The widespread recognition that humans must have control over life-and-death decisions is heartening. If countries agree that such control needs to be truly meaningful, a requirement for human control and a prohibition on weapons that operate without such control are two sides of the same coin.

These developments are positive, but the countries meeting this week clearly have much work ahead of them. To stay in front of technology, they should negotiate and adopt a new legally binding ban by the end of 2019. Only then will they have a chance to prevent the creation of a weapon that could revolutionise warfare in a frightening way.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People walk with their belongings as they flee the rebel-held town of Hammouriyeh, in the village of Beit Sawa, eastern Ghouta, Syria March 15, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters/Omar Sanadiki

(Brussels) - The Friends of Syria Group meeting in Brussels on April 24-25, 2018, should address the war crimes and impunity that characterize the Syria conflict and meet urgent protection and humanitarian needs, Human Rights Watch said today. 

The second conference on “Supporting the future of Syria and the region,” is hosted by the European Union and the United Nations. Conference participants should focus on three main areas: atrocity crimes and protecting civilians; protecting refugee rights and sharing responsibility for humanitarian needs; and ensuring that there will be no lost generation of Syrian children denied their right to education.

“Atrocity crimes, impunity, and disrespect for refugees should never be allowed to become the ‘new normal,’ but this has been Syrians’ daily reality for seven years,” said Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch. “Brussels conference participants need to raise the costs for atrocities, and to significantly increase their own support for refugees and the future of Syria’s children.”

The Friends of Syria need to confront the cynical calculus of the Syrian government and other parties that atrocities can be deployed as winning tools, that war crimes pay off, and that no one will be held responsible, Human Rights Watch said. The UN stopped counting the dead years ago, but more than 400,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Syria.

Conference participants should work to reduce the atrocities by increasing pressure against unlawful attacks with further sanctions against those directly responsible for atrocity crimes in Syria. Sanctions should also be imposed on other individuals and companies aiding and abetting war crimes, including arbitrary detention, torture, unlawful killings, use of prohibited weapons, and use of starvation of civilians as a weapon. Participants should agree to stop doing business with companies that provide the Syrian government with weapons and enable their unlawful use, including the Russian arms-maker Rosoboronexport, until they stop contributing to these violations.

To combat impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity, participants should beef up their own capacity to prosecute serious crimes under universal jurisdiction. They should also demand a UN Security Council referral of the Syria situation to the International Criminal Court, and secure and increase funding for the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) mandated by the UN General Assembly to preserve and analyze potential evidence for use in courts that may have a mandate over these crimes now or in the future.

The Friends of Syria should press for humanitarian access to besieged and displaced civilians, and insist on the urgent release of thousands of detainees and victims of disappearances. The countries should press Russia and Iran to use their leverage with the Syrian government to facilitate urgent releases and press anti-government groups to release detainees.

“The parties to the conflict in Syria and their international backers have shown appalling disdain for civilian lives,” Leicht said. “The true friends of Syria are the governments that act now on key issues like war crimes and accountability, humanitarian access, and detainees.”

Participating countries should also use the Brussels conference to commit to policy reforms that respect refugees’ rights and demonstrate meaningful solidarity with Syria’s neighbors, which are hosting more than 5.6 million of Syria’s 7 million refugees, Human Rights Watch said. The European Union, Canada, and the United States have resettled fewer than 100,000 Syrians from the Middle East.

The US has essentially cut off refugee resettlement and visa programs for Syrian refugees and the White House is seeking substantial cuts to aid to refugees overseas, an approach that undermines any commitment to protect and support those in need. The EU has focused on preventing arrivals through migration cooperation with countries like Turkey and Libya, despite known refugee-rights abuses in those countries. While the EU has increased resettlement pledges since 2015, these efforts remain limited and secondary to the bloc’s containment policies. Wealthy countries should dramatically step up their commitments to resettle Syrian refugees.

Participants at the Syria conference should do their share to protect refugees by increasing their financial and resettlement pledges as well as by making other safe and legal pathways available, including by allowing for family reunification of Syrian refugees. Members of the Friends of Syria group should ensure that agreements with host and transit countries like Libya and Turkey lead to meaningful improvements in the protection and treatment of refugees and other migrants and in no way condone or facilitate abuses.

They should insist that Syria’s neighbors not push back asylum seekers at their borders and fulfill their aid pledges to host countries in a timely and transparent manner. They should also press for an end to policies that facilitate abuse such as Lebanon’s barriers to granting Syrians legal residency, and Jordan’s denial of regular humanitarian access to tens of thousands of refugees stranded in a no-man’s land at a remote section of its border.

The Friends of Syria should also work to ensure Syria’s future by addressing the urgent plight of Syria’s children. Inside Syria nearly 2 million children are not in school, and a third of the country’s schools have been destroyed, damaged, or used for military or other purposes like shelters. Children in Syria face barriers to education including a lack of recognized identification documents or school certificates, and stigmatization of families who used to live areas under the control of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). And despite promises of universal enrollment and aid worth billions of US dollars for Syrian children who fled to other countries in the region, roughly 40 percent – more than 600,000 – are not in school.

Host countries have taken steps to open new school places for Syrian children and ease barriers to education. For instance, Jordan has opened school doors by waiving onerous documentation requirements and ensuring that urban refugees can officially regularize their status. But obstacles like poor quality of education and corporal punishment, and poverty pushing families to resort to child labor and child marriage persist and may even be increasing as secondary school enrollment rates plummet

Donors should make a commitment that their aid programs will support improved access and quality of education and include, as core components, access to education for secondary school age children and for children with disabilities, who are often left out. Donors and host countries should also put in place accountability mechanisms to ensure the timely and transparent delivery of education aid and better enrollment data. The status quo, in which pledged funds may be delivered late or not at all, undermines education programs. 

Education also offers a way to increase resettlement. Donors should expand university scholarship programs that allow Syrian refugees to move on from neighboring host countries. They should also work with educational institutions and the private sector to greatly increase safe and legal pathways for refugees through education visas and trainee and learning positions.

“Wealthy governments should agree to increase resettlement of Syrian refugees and funding to meet the humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey,” Leicht said. “And Syrian children, and Syria’s future, are depending on urgent, dramatic improvements in donors and host countries’ performance.”

Protection and Accountability

The Friends of Syria should act to secure the release of tens of thousands of arbitrarily detained prisoners, secure humanitarian access and protection for people in need, and end unlawful attacks and the use of illegal weapons by promoting accountability for atrocity crimes.

Enforced disappearances and grave abuses against detainees date back to the start of the conflict. The Syrian government has arbitrarily detained and disappeared hundreds of thousands of people, and anti-government forces and violent extremist armed groups have forcibly disappeared human rights activists and medical workers. A working group for the release of detainees that the Iranian, Turkish, and Russian governments agreed to support in December 2017 has not produced results.

With the support of Russia and Iran, the Syrian government has used a combination of indiscriminate attacks and unlawful sieges, including denying access to humanitarian assistance and using starvation as a method of warfare. Many civilians have been evacuated under local surrender agreements, but some who remained faced reprisals, including executions.

The joint Syrian-Russian military operation has repeatedly attacked civilians, hospitals, schools, bread-lines, and markets; indiscriminately attacked populated areas; and used unlawful cluster munitions, incendiary, and chemical weapons. The failure to hold those responsible for serious crimes to account has only fueled further abuses. In addition to the paralysis around a UN Security Council referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC), one of the few international efforts to support accountability for war crimes in Syria was shuttered when Russia vetoed the renewal of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM). The JIM was tasked with attributing responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria, but Russia used its veto after the JIM found the government responsible for the April 2017 sarin attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Brussels conference participants should:

  • Press the Russian and Iranian governments to use their leverage with the Syrian government to publish official lists of detainees who died in government detention and of all current detainees without any further delay, and to release all detainees held arbitrarily or for exercising their human rights;
  • Work with Gulf countries and Turkey to use their connections with anti-government groups to urgently provide information about and release detainees, including the Sakharov Prize laureate Razan Zaitouneh and her colleagues;
  • Insist on full and unimpeded humanitarian access to areas that are besieged and in need;
  • Press for international monitors to guarantee protection for civilians in areas retaken by the Syrian government, in screening and detention centers, and in areas being evacuated; 
  • Expand targeted sanctions regimes to include non-Syrian individuals and companies involved in the commission of war crimes alongside Syrian officials, individuals and companies;
  • Pledge not to purchase any arms from Rosoboronexport, and to deny the Russian arms company access to arms fairs on their territory until it halts sales and maintenance of arms to the Syrian government that are used in unlawful attacks;
  • Increase support for the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) established by the UN General Assembly, including through additional funding and capacities to investigate chemical weapons use, and commit to fully cooperate with the IIIM by sharing information and intelligence, including on chemical weapons;
  • Enhance their national capacities and legal powers to investigate and prosecute, under universal jurisdiction, serious crimes in Syria; and
  • Insist that the UN Security Council refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Refugees

About 6.1 million Syrians are internally displaced, and even more have fled Syria and become refugees – the vast majority, 5.6 million, in neighboring countries, with 3.5 million in Turkey; nearly 1 million in Lebanon, the most per capita of any country; 660,000 in Jordan; and 250,000 in Iraq. About 1 million Syrian asylum seekers have traveled to Europe since the beginning of the conflict, many through hazardous journeys, including by sea.

Neighboring host countries generously accepted Syrians seeking safety until 2015, but have increasingly closed their borders. Lebanon’s government has imposed harsh restrictions on Syrians’ ability to obtain legal residency or work, and has not permitted official refugee camps, obliging refugees to pay for basic expenses including shelter, food, and health care. Seventy-six percent of Syrian households were below the Lebanese poverty line of US$3.84 per person per day in 2017, and 87 percent were in debt, of nearly US$800 on average. Municipalities in Lebanon have imposed discriminatory curfews, charged arbitrary taxes and fees, and expelled Syrians en masse. Human Rights Watch found that harsh conditions for Syrians had led some to return to Syria.

Jordan has taken positive steps such as granting Syrians access to work permits, but summarily deported thousands of Syrians in 2017, and has refused entry to 55,000 people trapped in a remote desert no-man’s-land while severely restricting access for aid from its territory.

The countries of first arrival continue to lack sufficient international support for the Syrian refugees they are hosting. Donor countries provided only 53.5 percent of the UN’s consolidated funding appeal for the Syrian refugee crisis in 2017, and have resettled only a small fraction of the Syrian refugees who need durable solutions. Since 2015, the 28-member EU has resettled fewer than 30,000 Syrians under EU-wide programs. Since the start of the conflict, 52,000 have been resettled in Canada and 21,000 in the US. In 2017, UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, resettled just 32,500 Syrian refugees from Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, and submitted files for only 37,300 Syrians, a step to future resettlement. The US has essentially shut down resettlement and visa programs for Syrians; only 11 Syrian refugees were admitted in the first quarter of 2018. In early December 2017, the Supreme Court upheld US President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which imposes restrictions against nationals of eight countries, including refugees from Syria.

Wealthier countries should share responsibility by increasing their resettlement pledges, but instead have focused on blocking asylum seekers’ access. The EU has maintained its March 2016 agreement to stop irregular migration from Turkey, where Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented that authorities shoot Syrians trying to enter via smuggling routes, and has carried out mass deportations of Syrians. In all, 269 Syrians have been returned from Greece to Turkey under the EU-Turkey agreement, including 21 who were returned after their asylum claims were found inadmissible on the grounds that they should have sought asylum in Turkey.

The EU and Italy have funded and equipped Libyan forces to intercept asylum seekers and migrants despite overwhelming evidence of pervasive and routine brutality against asylum seekers and other migrants in arbitrary, inhuman, and degrading detention in Libya. With EU-backing, Italy has also taken steps to restrict search and rescue in the Mediterranean by well-equipped European volunteer vessels, including through legal action. Asylum seekers and other migrants who do arrive in Europe are contained in abysmal conditions that lead to mental health harms, including the 15,000 people trapped on the Greek islands, including in the so-called refugee hotspots that have a capacity of 6,292. In 2016, there were violent pushbacks at the Bulgaria-Turkey and the Macedonia-Greece borders, and Hungary carried out an abusive border regime and Croatia pushed back migrants during 2017.

Brussels conference participants should:

  • Support Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey to keep their borders open to Syrian asylum seekers, financially support their refugee assistance efforts, and significantly step up resettlement of Syrian refugees in those three countries;
  • Ensure the right to family reunification for people granted protection after arriving spontaneously;
  • End pushbacks of asylum seekers and refugees at their borders;
  • End the EU and Greek policy of containing asylum seekers on the Greek Aegean islands, where conditions have remained appalling since the EU-Turkey deal of March 2016;
  • Ensure that Syrian asylum seekers arriving on EU territory have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, and that all asylum claims are fairly examined on their individual merits;
  • Stop enabling Libyan forces to intercept migrants in international waters and condition migration cooperation with Libyan authorities on demonstrable improvements in respect for international refugee and human rights law, including ending arbitrary detention in degrading conditions;
  • Insist that Turkey stops shooting Syrian asylum seekers as they try to enter, and ends border pushbacks and deportations; and
  • Call on Jordan to grant access to refugees stranded on the border with Syria, and press Lebanon to lift residency and work restrictions and end municipal evictions of Syrians.

Access to Education 

Some Syrian refugee children have never been inside a classroom. Inside Syria, more than one-third of schools have been destroyed or damaged by fighting – including apparently deliberate or indiscriminate airstrikes – or are used for military or other purposes. The number of out-of-school children has increased from 1.75 million to more than 2 million since 2016 by some estimates. In the three countries with the most Syrian refugee children, more than 600,000 children are estimated not to be in formal education.

Turkey is transitioning from a dual system in which Syrian children could attend schools in Arabic, to one in which they are integrated into Turkish public schools. Enrollment of Syrian students has increased significantly, but at least 350,000 out of 960,000 school-age children were still not in formal education as of December 2017. In Lebanon, 285,000 non-Lebanese children – mostly Syrians – are enrolled in formal public and private education, leaving an estimated 200,000 children out of school. Human Rights Watch found that Lebanon’s harsh residency policy, education costs, child labor, corporal punishment, and discrimination keep children out of the classroom. In Jordan, only 130,000 out of 230,000 school-age children were in formal education, for similar reasons.

Secondary-school age children face particular barriers to education, including increased costs, increased pressure to work and earn an income for family members or to marry, requirements for certification to enroll, and little support to succeed in a challenging foreign curriculum taught in foreign languages in Lebanon and Turkey. Fewer than one in four Syrian children of secondary school age is enrolled in Turkey and Jordan. In Lebanon, where the UN refugee agency has registered 80,000 children ages 15 to 18, only 3,902 were in secondary education. Lebanon’s Reaching All Children with Education plan set a target of just 4,907 non-Lebanese children enrolled in secondary education by 2021.

Children with disabilities are often blocked from enrolling in school, often due to policy barriers and a lack of integrated public school education. Human Rights Watch has found that schools in Lebanon systematically deny admission to children with disabilities, including Syrian refugees. Educational data about Syrian refugee children with disabilities is often not recorded or available, thwarting efforts to make needed improvements.

Post-secondary education is inaccessible for many Syrian refugees due to high fees – with Syrians charged at the same rate as other foreign students – and requirements for original secondary school completion certificates or original certificates of prior university study, which are often virtually unobtainable. But post-secondary education is an opportunity to increase resettlement from Middle Eastern host countries, in line with the draft Global Compact on Refugees’ call for new pathways to admit people with international protection needs through educational opportunities including scholarships and student visas. Vocational institutions, universities and businesses with training programs are untapped partners for improving Syrian refugees’ welfare and creating skilled workers in the country of resettlement.

To prevent a lost generation of Syrian children, participants at the Brussels conference should:

  • Adopt policies and provide sufficient funding to address key obstacles to education, including harsh residency policies that restrict access to schools and contribute to poverty and child labor, lack of teacher training, lax enforcement of prohibitions on corporal punishment, restrictions on non-governmental education providers, and limited support for school transportation and other education costs;
  • Improve the tracking and publication of transparent and updated data about the number of children attending school and donor funding for education, and ensure that funding is for multi-year periods and delivered well before the start of the school year;
  • Ensure that the education response targets all children and includes children with disabilities and secondary education as core components; and
  • Advance international compacts with educational institutions and the private sector to significantly increase the availability of education visas and private sector trainee and learning positions for Syrian children and young adults with protection needs.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This month marks five years since we launched the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. We are a global coalition of more than 60 non-governmental organizations working to retain meaningful human control over the use of force by banning the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons. We started this effort due to our shared commitment to address the far-reaching and profound ethical, human rights, legal, operational, proliferation, technical, and other serious concerns raised by these weapons.

This month also marks the fifth time since 2014 that states, UN agencies, the ICRC, and our campaign have convened here at the United Nations in Geneva to consider the challenges raised by lethal autonomous weapons systems. We have spent the lead-up to this meeting talking to as many states as possible about the need to prepare and participate substantively in this Group of Governmental Experts.

We have also been doing our homework in the interim, preparing a Briefing Note to guide delegations. We would like to draw your attention to its three main recommendations:

  1. Commit to negotiate a legally-binding ban treaty without delay to draw the boundaries of future autonomy in weapon systems. We welcome the expressions of support for this objective this morning, including for this time from Austria and the African group of states;
  2. Specify the necessary human control required over the critical functions of selecting and engaging targets and over individual attacks. Be explicit that meaningful human control is required over individual attaks and that weapon systems that operate without such human control should be prohibited;
  3. Adopt national policy and legislation to prevent the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapons.

In our campaign’s view any measures less than new international law will not be to be effective, binding, or lasting. States must express their firm determination to avoid dehumanizing the use of force by moving to negotiate new international law now, without further delay.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am