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As the U.S. Rushes to Support to the Northern Alliance, Human Rights Watch Declares the Group Is Responsible for Widespread Human Rights Violations

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While much of the US media lauds the Taliban opposition group the Northern Alliance as heroic, human rights andwomen’s groups point out that their record is anything but clean. After the crisis of September 11 Northern Allianceleader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed two days before the attacks, has been presented as friend to the US. A_New York Times_ piece marveled at the very limited permission given to women in Northern Alliance-heldterritory to study and work and wear a less restrictive covering than the burqa. The piece brushed aside the factthat many warlords of the Northern Alliance are themselves religious fighters who not only restricted womenconsiderably when they held power from 1992 to '96 but plunged the country into civil war, compiling a record ofethnically motivated mass murder, rape and other atrocities and leaving the population so exhausted that theTaliban's promise of law and order came as a relief.

In a series of reports condemning unqualified US support of the opposition to the Taliban in Afghanistan, HumanRights Watch has warned that US involvement with in the struggle in Afghanistan may encourage further human rightsabuses. A major report of October 5 found that throughout the civil war in Afghanistan, factions on all sidescommitted serious abuses and violations of international law, including killings, direct attacks on civilians,summary executions, rape, and using children as soldiers. When the Northern Alliance controlled most of the northfrom 1996-1998 they committed massive abuses. In late 1999, for example, internally displaced Afghans who fled fromvillages recounted summary executions, burning of houses, and widespread looting during the four months that theNorthern Alliance held the area.

Last week we spoke to a representative of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), whichopposes both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. RAWA urges the disarming of both the Taliban and the NorthernAlliance, and says Afghanistan needs massive amounts of humanitarian aid, followed by democratic elections.

The Human Rights Watch recommends that the US, Russia, and Iran and any other states should refuse to providemilitary, political, diplomatic, or financial assistance to the Northern Alliance.


  • Joost Hiltermann, Head of Human Rights Watch Arms Division.

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