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November 29, 2001
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Not much difference between Taleban and Northern Alliance: Rights groups

Basharat Peer in New Delhi

The Northern Alliance, with the help of United States air power, may have dislodged the oppressive Taleban regime, but rights groups are not greatly enamoured about the Alliance's record in the matter of human rights.

Throughout the civil war in Afghanistan, the major factions, especially the Taleban and the groups that comprise the Northern Alliance, committed serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian laws, rights groups have said.

One such group, Human Rights Watch, cites reports of summary executions, burning of houses and looting, principally targeting ethnic Pushtoons and others suspected of supporting the Taleban, in areas held by Northern Alliance factions.

The Northern Alliance has also drawn criticism for recruiting children, including those under the age of fifteen, as soldiers to fight against the Taleban.

Various parties that comprise the Northern Alliance amassed a deplorable record of attacks on civilians when they ruled Afghanistan - after the fall of the Najibullah regime in 1992 up to when the Taleban captured power in 1996, a HRW report has said.

"In 1994 alone, an estimated 25,000 persons, most of them civilians, were killed in Kabul in rocket and artillery attacks. There was virtually no rule of law in any of the areas under the control of the Alliance's factional leaders."

"In Kabul, Jamiat-I-Islami, Ittihad, and Hizb-I-Wahdat forces engaged in rape, summary executions, arbitrary arrest, torture, and 'disappearances'."

In Bamiyan, Hizb-I-Wahdat commanders routinely indulged in extortion going to the extent of torturing their victims, the HRW report says.

According to a report by Amnesty International on rights violations in Afghanistan during 1992-1995, when the Northern Alliance was in power in Kabul, the government headed by Burhanuddin Rabbani initiated moves to subvert the legal and social systems to conform to local interpretations of Islamic law.

"The deputy minister of justice had announced that punishments such as amputation of feet or hands, flogging and stoning to death would be introduced. Following this, vigilante groups were reported to have carried out such punishments, apparently believing that they were acting according to official policies," the report says.

Amnesty described the takeover of Kabul by the Northern Alliance as putting the civilian population of Afghanistan at risk.

"The Afghan population is at the mercy of armed political groups with an appalling human rights record. We have the gravest concern for the people of Kabul who are now at high risk of reprisal attacks and killings," Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International opined.

The rapid advance of the Alliance into Kabul without any arrangement, by international agencies, to safeguard civilians is seen by Khan as a clear indication that the military agenda has overtaken human rights concerns.

Amnesty pointed to the brutal execution of defeated Taleban troops and said, "Human rights abuses committed by the Taleban cannot be used to justify new abuses by the Northern Alliance. These killings must stop."

The strongest condemnation of the Northern Alliance comes from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), the group that comprises of and represents the women of Afghanistan.

"The entering of the rapist and looter NA in the city is nothing but a dreadful and shocking news for about two million residents of Kabul, whose earlier wounds (1992-96) have not healed yet," was how RAWA reacted to the Northern Alliance take over of Kabul.

Till date not a single Afghan commander has been held accountable for violations of international humanitarian laws. Nor has the United Front, the new avatar of the Northern Alliance, indicated any willingness to bring to justice any of its commanders with a record of human rights abuse.

"It would not be practical," was how Northern Alliance's Ambassador to the United States Mohammed Eshaq reacted to the demand that Northern Alliance commanders guilty of rights abuses be taken to court.

Rights groups have recommended that the world community discourage and refuse to support any group or coalition that includes commanders with a poor human rights record and bring such persons to justice.

They urged the Northern Alliance to end recruitment and use of children under the age of eighteen as soldiers and take immediate steps to demobilise children currently in its ranks.

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