Documents GULF

2009 Human Rights Report: Afghanistan

2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

Afghanistan is an Islamic republic; population estimates range from 24 to 33 million. In August citizens voted in their second presidential and first-ever contested election; after his challenger withdrew from a run-off election, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) declared Hamid Karzai president for a second term. Citizens who participated in the election faced threats of insurgent violence; at least 31 persons were killed on August 20, election day, including 11 IEC members. The elections were marked by serious allegations of widespread fraud; a Taliban offensive to disrupt the elections through public threats, fear-mongering, and violence; low turnout; and insufficient conditions for participation by women.

The country’s human rights record remained poor. Human rights problems included extrajudicial killings, torture, poor prison conditions, official impunity, prolonged pretrial detention, restrictions on freedom of the press, restrictions on freedom of religion, violence and societal discrimination against women, restrictions on religious conversions, abuses against minorities, sexual abuse of children, trafficking in persons, abuse of worker rights, the use of child soldiers in armed conflict, and child labor.

The security situation in the country deteriorated significantly during the year because of increased insurgent attacks, with civilians continuing to bear the brunt of the violence. Armed conflict spread to almost one-third of the country, including previously unaffected areas in the north and northeast. The marked deterioration in security posed a major challenge for the central government, hindering its ability to govern effectively, extend its influence, and deliver services, especially in rural areas. The security environment also had an extremely negative effect on the ability of humanitarian organizations to operate freely in many parts of the country, particularly in providing life-saving care. Insurgents deliberately targeted government employees and aid workers. Efforts to contain the insurgency by military and nonmilitary means continued. Reports of human rights violations were actively exploited and sometimes manufactured by the Taliban and other insurgent groups for propaganda purposes.

According to the Ministry of Interior (MOI), 1,448 Afghan military personnel and 1,954 government employees, primarily police, died as a result of the insurgency, including deaths by suicide attacks, roadside bombs, small-arms attacks, and targeted assassinations.

Civilian casualties increased sharply due to insurgent actions. According to the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) Annual Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, the year was the deadliest for civilians since 2001, with 2,412 civilian casualties, compared with 2,118 in 2008, an increase of 14 percent. Taliban and antigovernment elements were responsible for 67 percent of civilian casualties, killing 1,630 civilians, compared with 1,160 in 2008, an increase of 41 percent since 2008. The MOI reported 2,590 civilians killed and 3,646 injured during the year. Taliban and antigovernment elements continued to threaten, rob, attack, and kill villagers, foreigners, and nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers. As in 2008, suicide and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks killed more Afghan civilians than any other tactic.

Progovernment forces also bore responsibility for civilian casualties. Airstrikes, whether seeking high-value targets or providing close air support on battles located in areas with high concentrations of civilians, remained responsible for the largest percentage of civilian deaths by progovernment forces; during the year UNAMA recorded 65 incidents of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) airstrikes in which reportedly more than 359 civilians were killed, down 28 percent from 552 killed in 2008.

 

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In addition, insurgents killed civilians during conflict, and insurgent groups increased politically targeted killings during the year (see section 1.g.).

Taliban and insurgent attacks escalated in both number and complexity during the year. According to the June report of the UN Secretary General, in the first half of the year, security incidents in Kandahar city and the airport district of Damam increased by 80 percent compared with 2008. On February 17, a suicide bombing in Kandahar killed 80 men and boys and injured 90 individuals. On August 25, in Kandahar, a truck bomb killed at least 65 and injured more than 100 persons, mostly civilians; although Taliban spokesmen denied involvement, it was widely believed the Taliban were responsible for the attack, which may have targeted a foreign business.

Kabul became a key terrorist target during the year. On August 15, five days before the presidential elections, a suicide car bomb exploded outside the main gate of NATO headquarters and the Ministry of Transportation, killing seven and wounding 91 persons; Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mojahed claimed the Taliban was responsible for the blast. On September 6, two rockets landed in Kabul, killing four civilians, including one woman and two children, and wounding three others. On September 17, Taliban killed 20 persons with a suicide car bomb at a major intersection. On October 8, Taliban killed 17 individuals in a bomb attack on the Indian Embassy. On October 28, insurgents killed 11 persons, including five UN staffers, and injured at least nine others, in an attack on a Kabul UN guesthouse. On November 16, Taliban fired rockets into a bazaar northeast of Kabul, killing 16 and wounding 37. Insurgents staged a total of 36 suicide and IED attacks and fired 19 rockets in Kabul during the year.

Violence occurred in many parts of the country, escalating in the last quarter of the year. On August 31, according to Ariana Television, an IED in Kunduz province killed two children and injured four others. On September 1, in Jowzjan province, a bomb killed one child. On September 2, in Laghman province, a suicide bomb exploded outside a mosque, killing 23, including National Directorate of Security (NDS) Deputy Director Abdullah Laghmani, and wounding 54 others, including women and children. On the same day, Taliban insurgents hanged a man in Baghlan province on suspicion of spying for foreign forces and the government. On September 7, an explosion in Uruzgan province killed four and injured 20 persons, including four Afghan National Police (ANP) officers. On September 29, a crowded intercity bus traveling from Herat to Kandahar struck a roadside bomb in Maiwand, Kandahar, killing 30 and injuring 39; no group claimed responsibility for the attack. On November 16, Taliban raided a police station in the Arghandab district near Kandahar, killing eight officers and wounding three.

On November 27, gunmen attacked and killed Makhdoum Abdullah, the provincial head of Afghanistan’s Red Crescent Society in Takhar, as he was walking home. President Karzai ordered an investigation into the attack.

There were other insurgent attacks that targeted civilians or injured or killed them during attacks on coalition or Afghan security and/or government targets.

On December 27, Taliban attacked the town of Langar, Badghis province, burning the girls’ school and looting the health clinic. Three police officers were killed in the attack.

On September 15, construction workers discovered a mass grave in Kunduz province containing the remains of at least 26 bodies believed to date from the Soviet-backed government era. According to UNAMA’s local human rights officer, provincial authorities marked the sites but did not conduct an investigation.

In July a foreign government began an investigation of a mass grave site in Jowzjan province that allegedly contained remains of 2,000 Taliban fighters killed in conflict in 2001. In December 2008 Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) reported that most of the evidence from the Jowzjan site had been removed.

According to PHR, there were 84 known mass grave sites in the country. There were no new developments regarding the April and June 2008 discoveries of mass graves.

There were no updates regarding the August and September 2008 insurgent killings (see section 1.g.).

There were no developments regarding the investigation of a May 2007 killing of 10 persons by police in Jowzjan province or in the October 2007 case of 15 prisoners executed at Pol-e-Charkhi prison under executive order amid allegations of lack of due process.

 

b. Disappearance

There were reports of insurgent groups and criminals perpetrating disappearances and abductions during the year in connection with the ongoing insurgency (see section 1.g.).

 

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution prohibits such practices; however, there were reports of abuses by government officials, local prison authorities, police chiefs, and tribal leaders. NGOs reported that security forces continued to use excessive force, including beating and torturing civilians.

Human rights organizations reported local authorities tortured and abused detainees. Torture and abuse methods included, but were not limited to, beating by stick, scorching bar, or iron bar; flogging by cable; battering by rod; electric shock; deprivation of sleep, water, and food; abusive language; sexual humiliation; and rape. An April Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) report stated that torture was commonplace among the majority of law enforcement institutions, especially the police, and that officials used torture when a victim refused to confess to elicit bribes or because of personal enmity. Observers report that some police failed to understand the laws regarding torture.

In May the local media widely reported that local officials in the Chora district in Uruzgan arbitrarily arrested and reportedly tortured five individuals. Officials released the individuals after three days of detention in exchange for money and weapons.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) and NGOs reported that police frequently raped female detainees and prisoners. For example, on September 15, Radio Arman reported that authorities had arrested three police officers in Dai Kundi province for the rape of a 13-year-old girl. An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for the September 2008 rape of an 11-year-old girl in Jowzjan province; UNAMA confirmed that the soldier remained in custody at year’s end.

There were reports of torture and other abuses by Taliban and other insurgent groups. Media reports and firsthand accounts accused Taliban of employing torture in interrogations of persons they accused of supporting coalition forces and the central government. The Taliban contacted newspapers and television stations in such cases to claim responsibility.

According to the AIHRC, many of the children in detention centers and orphanages were exposed to physical abuse. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), cases of authorities threatening and mistreating juvenile detainees occurred throughout the year.

 

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained poor; however, the government took some steps to improve conditions within the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) prisons and detention centers. Most prisons and detention centers, particularly MOI detention centers, were decrepit, severely overcrowded, and unsanitary and fell well short of international standards. The AIHRC, ICRC, and other observers continued to report that inadequate food and water, poor sanitation facilities, insufficient blankets, and infectious diseases were common conditions in the country’s prisons. Infirmaries, where they existed, were underequipped. Prisoners with contagious diseases and prisoners with mental illness rarely were separated from other prisoners. However, UNAMA observed significant operational improvements in conjunction with international support to train and mentor prison staff in the provinces. International observers noted that the MOJ and Central Prison Directorate (CPD) leadership were actively striving to improve staff working conditions and prisoner living conditions with the goal of meeting the UN minimum standards for prisoners and detainees.

The government reported 34 provincial prisons and 203 district detention centers. The government also reported 30 juvenile rehabilitation centers. No official information was available on the number of prisoners the NDS held or the number of facilities the NDS ran. The CPD reported 109 female detainees and 356 female prisoners in 23 detention centers and provincial prisons.

Children younger than six whose mothers had been convicted of a crime often lived in prison with their mothers, particularly if they had no other relatives. This practice was dramatically reduced under the direction of the CPD and in conjunction with the opening of the Children’s Center Home in Kabul, operated by local NGO Women for Afghan Women. Women were not imprisoned with men. Authorities generally did not separate prisoners awaiting trial from the rest of the inmate population. Juveniles awaiting trial in rehabilitation centers were not usually separated from those convicted, nor were they separated in terms of age, nature of the charge against them, or other criteria.

The ANP sometimes lacked sufficient detention facilities. For example, in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province, ANP authorities detained 16 boys and two girls in a prison at a rented property of cave-type structures that lacked adequate ventilation, running water, or sanitation. They were reportedly adequately fed, and the boys received some education.

On August 18, on the 90th anniversary of the country’s independence, President Karzai released 700 prisoners, including 23 women, and reduced the sentences of 239 prisoners. Their violations ranged from drug and alcohol abuse to adultery, rape, theft, robbery, fraud, forgery, manslaughter, and murder; sentences ranged from six months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment.

The MOI and the MOJ permitted the AIHRC, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the ICRC to visit all prisons the MOI and the MOJ operated. In November the ICRC was permitted access to a Taliban prison for the first time since 2001; they visited three members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) detained in Badghis province. Security constraints occasionally prevented ICRC delegates from visiting some places of detention. NGOs reported powerful local leaders and insurgents, including Taliban, continued to operate private prisons. In some cases tribal leaders may have held persons accused of crimes in private detention. The ICRC and the AIHRC did not have access to prisoners and hostages detained by insurgents.

 

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention; however, both remained serious problems. According to a January UN report, many citizens were detained without enjoying essential procedural protections.

 

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

Three ministries have responsibility both in law and in practice for providing security in the country. The ANP, under the MOI, has primary responsibility for internal order but increasingly was engaged in fighting the insurgency. The ANA, under the Ministry of Defense (MOD), is responsible for external security. The NDS had responsibility for investigating cases of national security and also functioned as an intelligence agency. In some areas certain individuals, some of whom reportedly were linked to the insurgency, maintained considerable power as a result of the government’s failure to assert control. NATO remained in control of ISAF, which worked closely with the national security forces.

Official impunity was pervasive. Many observers believed ANP personnel were largely unaware of their responsibilities and defendants’ rights under the law. Credible sources, including detainees, reported local police in many parts of the country extorted a “tax” at checkpoints and inflicted violence (including sexual violence against boys) at police checkpoints. Police also reportedly extorted bribes from civilians in exchange for release from prison or to avoid arrest. Police abuses generally have declined following international police training efforts. Observers alleged that the high acquittal rate in courts reflected the lack of training of judges, poor investigations, lack of evidence, and possible bribes to legal officials. Lack of formal education and low literacy rates among the ANSF and the judiciary hampered the consistent delivery of justice.

International support for recruiting and training new ANP personnel continued, with the goal of professionalizing the police force, including the ongoing implementation of the CPD staff prison reform and restructuring program. The international community worked with the government to develop awareness and training programs as well as internal investigation mechanisms to curb security force corruption and abuses. Training programs for police emphasize law enforcement, the constitution, police values and ethics, professional development, the prevention of domestic violence, and fundamental standards of human rights, in addition to core policing skills. The MOI reported that during the year, every new police officer received training in human rights. In every province two officers were responsible for human rights reporting. In Kabul 50 officers were responsible for human rights reporting, including internal police matters. Nevertheless, human rights problems persisted.

In October the government implemented a criminal case management system to ensure that suspects were appropriately charged, that evidence was appropriately passed from police investigators to prosecutors to courts, and that prisoners were not held past the duration of their sentence.

The Helmand Huquq (Human Rights) Department of the MOJ expressed willingness to train community leaders and justice providers with information about the constitution and its provisions against discrimination (including violence), but Helmand Huquq officials were unable to travel throughout the country due to the poor security situation.

NGOs and human rights activists noted that societal violence, especially against women, was widespread; in many cases the ANP did not prevent or respond to the violence.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention

Arbitrary arrest and detention remained problems.

The law provides for access to legal counsel and the use of warrants, and it limits how long detainees may be held without charge. Authorities often did not inform detainees of charges against them. Police have the right to detain a suspect as long as 72 hours to complete a preliminary investigation. If they decide to pursue a case, the file is transferred to the Prosecutor’s Office, which must interrogate the suspect within 48 hours. The investigating prosecutor can continue to detain a suspect without formal charges for 15 days from the time of arrest while continuing the investigation. With court approval, the investigating prosecutor may detain a suspect for an additional 15 days. The prosecutor must file an indictment or release the suspect within 30 days of arrest. Investigation may continue even if an indictment cannot be completed within the 30 days. In practice many detainees did not benefit from any or all of these provisions. The media and human rights organizations reported arbitrary arrest in most provinces. Observers reported that prosecutors and police detained individuals on average for nine months without charging them, sometimes for actions that were not crimes under the law, in part because the judicial system was inadequate to process detainees in a timely fashion. UNAMA reported that police detained individuals for “moral crimes,” breaches of contractual obligation, family disputes, and to extract a confession. There was little consistency in the length of time detainees were held before trial or arraignment. Postsentence detention also was reportedly common. According to a UNAMA report, in cases in which a prison sentence and a fine were handed down, impoverished prisoners sometimes remained in prison after their sentence had been completed. The AIHRC in Paktya province reported that it petitioned monthly for the release of approximately 50 to 60 persons detained because of lack of follow-up on their cases.

According to the MOJ, 20 to 30 children were detained on national security-related charges in juvenile rehabilitation centers during the year; all were male, eight younger than 15. Observers reported 11 more children detained in Baghlan, Herat, Helmand, and Kunduz not reflected in the MOJ data. The juvenile code presumes children should not be held to the same standard as adults.

Detained children were typically denied their basic rights and many aspects of due process, including presumption of innocence, the right to be informed of charges, access to defense lawyers, and the right not to be forced to confess. Some of the children in the criminal justice system were victims rather than perpetrators of crime; particularly in cases of sexual exploitation, perpetrators were seldom imprisoned as cases were seldom prosecuted, and some victims were perceived as shameful and in need of punishment, having brought shame on their family by reporting the abuse. Some children were allegedly imprisoned as a family proxy for the actual perpetrator, presumably a bread-winner.

“Zina,” a criminal act under the penal code, defined as heterosexual penetration between persons not married to one another, technically means adultery or fornication. In practice police and legal officials often invoked zina to justify the arrest and incarceration of women for social offenses such as running away from home, defying family wishes on the choice of a spouse, fleeing domestic violence or rape, or eloping. Police often detained women for zina at the request of family members. UNAMA reported cases of zina in nearly every province. Authorities imprisoned some women for reporting crimes perpetrated against them and some as “proxies,” serving as substitutes for their husbands or male relatives convicted of crimes. Authorities placed some women in protective custody to prevent violent retaliation by family members.

Authorities frequently did not rearrest defendants even after an appellate court convicted them in absentia. There was no bond system; authorities justified posttrial detentions because defendants released pending appeal often disappeared.

There were 963 practicing prosecutors; many of them lacked any formal legal training. More than 850 defense lawyers, 80 of whom were women, were registered and licensed in the country’s independent bar association. The MOJ had 50 legal aid providers in 13 provinces. According to the MOJ, 14,857 persons were detained in correctional facilities nationwide, of whom 10,593 had been tried and convicted; the remaining 4,264 were awaiting trial.

The Criminal Law Reform Working Group, which included local legal experts and international rule of law advisors, completed its revision of the criminal procedure code and submitted it to the Taqnin, the legislative drafting department of the MOJ, for further consideration. At year’s end the Taqnin had not taken steps to respond to the Criminal Law Reform Working Group’s recommendations.

The criminal procedure code sets limits on pretrial detention, but authorities did not respect such limits, and lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem, in part because the overburdened system could not process detainees in a timely fashion. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), ICRC, AIHRC, and other observers reported that arbitrary and prolonged detentions frequently occurred throughout the country.

 

Amnesty

According to Radio Free Europe, in September President Karzai pardoned Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a 24-year-old former journalism student serving a 20-year sentence for blasphemy for downloading and distributing material from the Internet that the courts deemed anti-Islamic. At year’s end he was living outside the country in an undisclosed location. International media and human rights groups had widely criticized this conviction as a violation of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The Law on National Reconciliation and Amnesty, which was published in December 2008, grants amnesty to persons engaged in conflict during the past 25 years.

 

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but in practice the judiciary was often underfunded, understaffed, and subject to political influence and pervasive corruption. Bribery, corruption, and pressure from public officials, tribal leaders, families of accused persons, and individuals associated with the insurgency threatened judicial impartiality. The Counter Narcotics Tribunal in Kabul, whose member salaries the international community supplemented and who worked within a secure compound, was an exception, and international organizations reported no evidence of corruption or political influence involving its officials. Other courts administered justice unevenly, according to a mixture of codified law, Shari’a (Islamic law), and local custom.

The formal justice system was relatively strong in the urban centers, where the central government was strongest, and weaker in the rural areas, where approximately 72 percent of the population lives. Nationwide, fully functioning courts, police forces, and prisons were rare. The judicial system lacked the capacity to handle the large volume of new and amended legislation. A lack of qualified judicial personnel hindered the courts. Municipal and provincial authorities, including judges, had minimal training and often based their judgments on their personal understanding of Shari’a, tribal codes of honor, or local custom. Lack of access to legal codes and statutes hindered judges and prosecutors.

The Supreme Court has overall responsibility for the national court system. The president appoints Supreme Court members with the approval of the lower body of the House of Representatives (Wolesi Jirga). Judges for the primary and appellate courts are appointed by recommendation of the Supreme Court and approval of the president. There were widespread shortages of judges; the Supreme Court reported there were 77 judges, including seven women. A national security court tried terrorists and other cases, although details on its procedures were limited.

In areas not under government control, the Taliban enforced a parallel judicial system. The Taliban issued punishments including cutting off fingers, beheadings, beatings, and hangings. On May 9, Taliban leader Mullah Omar issued “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s Rules for Mujahideen,” which stated that beheadings were an explicit violation of the rules, possibly a response to ISAF’s commitment to reducing civilian casualties. Nevertheless, on December 6, Radio Salam Watandar reported that the bodies of two police officers were found beheaded in Lashkar Gah, Helmand province. According to the report, Taliban had abducted the police officers in November in Helmand province. The code also called for a reduction in the number of suicide attacks; however, the Taliban more than doubled the number of IED attacks during the year.

Courts primarily decided criminal cases in major cities, as mandated by law, although civil cases often were resolved in the informal system. Because of the unreliable formal legal system, in rural areas local elders and shuras (consultative gatherings, usually of men selected by the community) were the primary means of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes; they also levied unsanctioned punishments. Some estimates suggested 80 percent of all cases went through shuras, which did not adhere to the constitutional rights of citizens and often violated the rights of women and minorities.

 

Trial Procedures

Trial procedures rarely met internationally accepted standards. The administration and implementation of justice varied in different areas of the country. By law all citizens are entitled to a presumption of innocence. In practice the courts typically convicted defendants after sessions that lasted only a few minutes. Defendants have the right to be present at trial and to appeal; however, these rights were not always applied. Trials were usually public. All criminal trials are decided by judges, as there is no right to a jury trial under the constitution. A defendant also has the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense when resources allow. This right was inconsistently applied, in part due to a severe shortage of defense counsel. Defendants frequently were not allowed to confront or question witnesses. Citizens often were unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys were entitled to examine the physical evidence and the documents related to their case before trial; however, observers noted that in practice court documents often were not available for review before cases went to trial.

When the accused is held in custody, the primary court must hear the trial within two months. The appellate court has two months to review the case of an incarcerated person. Either side may appeal; the accused defendant who is found innocent may remain detained in the legal system until the case moves through all three levels of the judiciary: first court, appeals, and the Supreme Court. The decision of the primary court becomes final if an appeal is not filed within 20 days. Any second appeal must be filed within 30 days, after which the case moves to the Supreme Court, which must decide the case of the defendant within five months. If the appellate deadlines are not met, the law requires that the accused be released from custody. In many cases courts did not meet these deadlines.

Under Shari’a relatives of victims can pursue a case against a suspected offender. A judge can offer restitution or, in the case of murder, execution, which the relatives can carry out only if a member of the family consents. Under Shari’a, if the family of the victim forgives the perpetrator, the judge must issue a pardon.

In cases lacking a clearly defined legal statute, or cases in which judges, prosecutors, or elders were unaware of the law, judges and informal shuras enforced customary law; this practice often resulted in outcomes that discriminated against women. This included the practice of ordering the defendant to provide compensation in the form of a young girl to be married to a man whose family the defendant had wronged.

 

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports that the government held political prisoners or detainees. There were reports that a number of tribal leaders, sometimes affiliated with the government, held prisoners and detainees. There were no reliable estimates of the numbers involved.

 

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens had limited access to justice for constitutional and human rights violations, and interpretations of religious doctrine often took precedence over human rights or constitutional rights. The judiciary did not play a significant role in civil matters due to corruption and lack of capacity. Land disputes remained the most common civil dispute and were most often resolved through the informal justice system.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits arbitrary interference in matters of privacy; however, the government did not respect these prohibitions in practice, and there were no legal protections for victims.

Government officials forcibly entered homes and businesses of civilians without judicial authorization. UNAMA reported that community members alleged theft of possessions during home searches the military conducted. UNAMA also reported that searches by members of the military or security officials involved conduct toward women that contravened local customs and angered local communities.

The law provides for wiretapping in certain cases, but there was no reported government abuse; wiretapping was permitted to track money laundering and narcotics trafficking.

The government’s willingness to recognize the right to marry varied according to nationality, gender, and religion. The family court could register a marriage between a Jewish or Christian woman and a Muslim man, but the court required the couple to accept a Muslim ceremony. A non-Muslim woman had to convert to Islam before marrying a Muslim man. The court could not register a marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man. These situations rarely occurred, however, as more than 99 percent of the population was Muslim. The courts registered marriages between non-Muslims, however.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Other Abuses in Internal Conflicts

Ongoing internal conflict caused civilian deaths, abductions, prisoner abuse, property damage, and the displacement of residents.

 

Killings

The security situation in the country deteriorated significantly during the year, and civilian casualties rose accordingly. Increases in coalition operations and insurgent attacks caused civilian casualties to rise. Persistent Taliban and antigovernment activity, interfactional fighting between regional warlords, and criminal activity resulted in hundreds of unlawful killings and civilian casualties.

UNAMA reported that Taliban and antigovernment forces killed 1,630 civilians, progovernment forces killed 596 civilians, and unknown actors killed 186 civilians, for a total of 2,412 civilian casualties, an increase of 14 percent over the 2,118 civilian deaths recorded in 2008. Taliban and antigovernment elements remained responsible for 67 percent of civilian casualties.

Insurgent suicide attacks increased significantly, with 281 suicide attacks during the year, compared with 138 suicide attacks in 2008. UNAMA recorded 773 IED attacks during the year, which insurgents used extensively and increasingly; suicide and IED attacks combined caused 1,054 civilian deaths, or 44 percent of the total civilian causalities. The Taliban and other insurgent groups were responsible for nearly three times as many casualties as progovernment forces.

Insurgents targeted national and government officials, foreigners, and local NGO employees.

Insurgents targeted and killed government officials during the year. The MOI reported 964 police were killed and 1,787 were injured as a result of insurgent attacks. On August 27, in Kunduz, an IED killed Qari Jan Gir, the head of the Justice Department of Kunduz, and on August 30, in six separate incidents in four provinces, insurgents killed 11 police officers and at least six civilians. Targeted killings included an attack on May 4 that killed the mayor of Mehterlam city in Laghman as well as six civilians; and on June 21, a series of attacks on government buildings in Jalalabad and Gardez that killed nine persons. On December 15, a remotely detonated roadside IED killed Koshk District police chief Colonel Abdul Karim and three other police near the district headquarters. Karim was the second Koshk district police chief and the fourth district police chief in Herat province to be killed during the year. The Taliban claimed responsibility. The ANP arrested seven persons in connection with the case.

On July 19, in the period before the election, gunmen killed Jan Mohammad, a candidate for provincial council in Kunduz, while he was campaigning. This was the first time a provincial council candidate had been assassinated in Kunduz Province.

According to the International Crisis Group, at least 31 persons were killed on election day. Security officials reported that 11 civilians and 20 police and soldiers were killed in election-related violence.

During the year antigovernment elements continued to attack progovernment religious leaders. According to the MOI, the Taliban killed at least 71 clerics and committed at least 17 acts of violence inside mosques and other religious facilities. Tolo TV reported that on September 9, insurgents killed a mullah in a mosque in Ghazni province after he spoke out against insurgent forces.

According to UNICEF, from January to June, there were 470 confirmed targeted attacks on education (schools, teachers, staff, and pupils), resulting in 30 deaths and 186 injuries to schoolchildren, teachers, and other school employees. According to data from the Ministry of Education (MOE) referenced by Human Rights Watch, from April to August, insurgents attacked 102 schools using explosives or arson and killed 105 students and teachers. There were no updates on the May or June 2008 killings of teachers (see section 6).

ISAF airstrikes remained responsible for the largest percentage of civilian deaths by progovernment forces; during the year UNAMA recorded 65 airstrikes in which reportedly more than 359 civilians were killed, a 28 percent decrease from 2008. The decline in civilian casualties reflected ISAF’s changed tactics as part of a major commitment to minimize civilian casualties in the armed conflict. Nevertheless, during the year there were several high-profile incidents. On May 4, in Bala Baluk, Farah province, a coalition airstrike targeting the Taliban reportedly killed more than 60 women and children; following its investigations into the event, the U.S. military acknowledged that it had failed to comply with guidelines for protecting civilians. On September 4, a coalition airstrike targeting insurgents who had hijacked two fuel trucks south of Kunduz killed more than 30 civilians and injured nine who were offloading fuel from the trucks. On December 26, a coalition attack allegedly killed 10 civilians in Nanreng district in Kunar province; credible reports indicated that the civilians were armed and possibly underage. No further information was available at year’s end.

 

Abductions

The MOI reported 368 abductions during the year, at least one of which resulted in the death of a hostage. The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO) reported insurgents and others kidnapped 20 aid workers during the year, a decline from 38 in 2008; all abductees were local staff. ANSO reported that most abductions were temporary and most abductees were released unharmed, usually due to the efforts of community elders. One person was reportedly killed while resisting an abduction attempt. Observers alleged that noninsurgency-related kidnapping was a form of dispute resolution.

Security officials arrested six suspects in the 2008 kidnapping of Humayun Shah Asifi, a relative of the late King Zahir Shah; the investigation continued at year’s end.

 

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture

Land mines and unexploded ordnance continued to cause deaths and injuries, restricted areas available for farming, and impeded the return of refugees. The United Nations Mine Action Center for Afghanistan (UNMACA) reported that land mines and unexploded ordnance killed or injured an average of 40 persons each month, a significant decline from 57 per month in 2008.

Numerous groups including UNMACA and Halo Trust organized and trained mine detection and clearance teams that operated throughout the country. UN agencies and NGOs conducted educational programs and mine awareness campaigns for more than 1.5 million persons, primarily women and children, in various parts of the country. At year’s end land mines and unexploded ordnance imperiled approximately 2,000 communities.

 

Child Soldiers

The legal recruitment age for members of the armed forces is 18. There continued to be unconfirmed reports that children younger than 18 falsified identification records to join the national security forces and the ANP. There were no reports of forced child conscription by the government into the national security forces.

The government, with international assistance, vetted all recruits into the armed forces and police, rejecting applicants under the age of 18.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that insurgent recruitment of underage soldiers was on the rise. There were numerous credible reports that the Taliban and other insurgent forces recruited children younger than 18, in some cases as suicide bombers and in other cases to assist with their work. For example, in Uruzgan the Taliban reportedly used children to dig hiding places for IEDs. There were many reports of insurgents using minor teenage boys as combatants in Paktya province. In July in Helmand province, authorities apprehended a child before he allegedly would have been equipped to become a suicide bomber. NDS officials held several children in the juvenile detention facility in Helmand on insurgency-related charges. Although most of the children were 15 or 16 years old, reports from Ghazni province indicated that insurgents recruited children as young as 12, particularly if they already owned motorbikes and weapons. NGOs and UN agencies reported that the Taliban tricked, promised money to children, or forced them to become suicide bombers.

Sexual abuse of boys by members of the ANP and the ANA was widely alleged but unconfirmed.

 

Other Conflict-related Abuses

The December report of the UN Secretary-General stated that attacks against the aid community slightly increased during the year, becoming a nearly daily occurrence in the last quarter. On October 29, in an attack on a Kabul UN guesthou