Taliban fighters massacred nine ethnic Hazara men after taking control of Afghanistan’s Ghazni province last month, Amnesty International has said in a new report.
In the findings published on Thursday, witnesses gave accounts of the killings which took place from July 4 to 6 in the village of Mundarakht, Malistan district. The accounts undermine the Taliban’s claims that it has changed.
The Hazara community is Afghanistan’s third-largest ethnic group, with mostly Shia Muslims. They have long faced discrimination in the Sunni majority country and were previously persecuted by the Taliban.
According to the Amnesty report, six of the men were shot and three were tortured to death, including one man who was strangled with his scarf and had his arm muscles sliced off.
On July 3, fighting intensified in Ghazni province between Afghan government forces and the Taliban. Villagers told the human rights watchdog that they fled into the mountains to traditional iloks, their summer grazing land, where they have basic shelters.
There was little food for the 30 families that fled. The next morning, on July 4, five men and four women returned to the village to gather supplies. On their return, they found that their homes had been looted and that Taliban fighters were lying in wait for them, Amnesty said.
One man, Wahed Qaraman, 45, was taken from his home by Taliban fighters who broke his legs and arms, shot him in the right leg, pulled his hair out, and beat his face with a blunt object, the report said.
Another man, Jaffar Rahimi, 63, was severely beaten and accused of working for the Afghan government after cash was found in his pocket. The Taliban strangled him with his scarf. Three people that buried Rahimi said his body was covered in bruises, and that the muscles of his arms had been carved off.
Sayed Abdul Hakim, 40, was taken from his home, beaten with sticks and rifle butts, had his arms bound, and was shot twice in the leg and twice in the chest.
One witness, who assisted with the burials, told Amnesty: “We asked the Taliban why they did this, and they told us, ‘When it is the time of conflict, everyone dies, it doesn’t matter if you have guns or not. It is the time of war.’”
During the two-day killing spree, three other men – Ali Jan Tata (65), Zia Faqeer Shah (23), and Ghulam Rasool Reza (53) – were ambushed and killed at a Taliban checkpoint as they left the iloks, and attempted to pass through Mundarakht to reach their homes.
Ali Jan Tata was shot in the chest, and Rasool was shot in the neck. According to witnesses, Zia Faqeer Shah’s chest was so riddled with bullets that he was buried in pieces.
Three more men were killed in their home village. Witnesses told Amnesty that Sayeed Ahmad, 75, insisted the Taliban would not harm him as he was an elderly man, and that he intended to return to feed his cattle. He was killed with two bullets to the chest and another in his side.
When the Taliban took control of Mundarakht on July 3, the group killed Zia Marefat, 28, with a shot to the temple as he walked alone to the ilok. Karim Bakhsh Karimi, 45, was also shot, “execution-style, in the head”.
The killings likely represent only a tiny fraction of the death toll inflicted by the Taliban, as the group has cut mobile phone service in many areas they have recently captured, controlling which photographs and videos are shared from these regions, Amnesty said.
Agnes Callamard, secretary-general of Amnesty International, said the “cold-blooded brutality of these killings is a reminder of the Taliban’s past record, and a horrifying indicator of what Taliban rule may bring”.
“These targeted killings are proof that ethnic and religious minorities remain at particular risk under Taliban rule in Afghanistan,” Callamard said.
Amnesty urged the UN Security Council to adopt an emergency resolution demanding that the Taliban respect international human rights law.
It also called on the UN Human Rights Council to launch “a robust investigative mechanism to document, collect and preserve evidence of ongoing crimes and human rights abuses”.
After seizing control of Kabul, the Taliban has sought to portray itself as more moderate than when it imposed a brutal rule in the 1990s. In a news conference on Tuesday, a Taliban spokesman said the group had no plan to carry out retaliatory attacks on anyone who served in previous governments, worked with foreigners or was part of the national security forces.
But a confidential UN threat assessment report said the group’s fighters were going door-to-door searching for opponents and their families, and also screening people on the way to Kabul airport.