International Organization for Transitional Justice and Peace

Silent Suffering: The Unseen Victims of Afghanistan’s Endless Violence Speak Out for Justice

Somber farewell in Kabul: Mourners gathered at a funeral for victims of a tragic suicide bombing at a wedding hall in August 2019. Source: The New York Times

Over four decades, Afghanistan faced persistent violence. Despite hopes for change following the presence of the US-led international coalition since September 11, 2001, and the subsequent establishment of an elected government, the cycle of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and human rights violations continued, leaving thousands of victims among civilians.


Among them is Shahla (a pseudonym), an Afghan victim, who shares that her spouse, Khalil (a pseudonym), suffered injuries and permanent disability in a suicide attack on November 15, 2013, near the venue of the Consultative Loya Jirga on the US-AF security agreement, alongside Kabul Polytechnic University. Shahla states, “He was in a coma for a month, gradually recovering. But now he can’t see with one eye, found stutters, and one of his legs has shortened, walking with a cane.

Images depict the wreckage of cars destroyed in the suicide attack being transported. Source: AFP

Shahla, who was a former manager at Kabul University, recalls hearing the explosion upon returning from work. Unimaginably, her spouse, a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office, was injured in the attack. While holding back tears, she reflects, “Along the way, we were crying, wondering how many people were killed in this suicide attack. Oh, how did I know that my husband, my closest companion, has faced this attack.


The Kabul Police spokesperson reported 10 killed and 13 injured, mostly civilians.


Shahla laments her life partners’s happy past, now replaced by despair. She reveals, “Before the regime change, he went to work and was respected. Now, he no longer works and is no longer necessary. She continues, “They made me housebound, saying that it’s no longer possible for you to be a manager because you’re a woman, and must stay at home.” She describes losing her job as the “worst feeling” after her husband’s disability, a blow that hit her “very hard.”


Over the two decades of war in Afghanistan has inflicted thousands of casualties on civilians uninvolved in the violence. Prominent examples of international crimes, such as widespread suicide attacks and bombings by groups like the Taliban, remain unaccountable. The Taliban denies these acts, labeling them as “martyrdom” and attributing them to foreign “occupation,” while consistently denying war crimes and crimes against humanity allegations.


In a gathering in Qandahar on February 23, 2022, Sarajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban’s Minister of Interior, claimed that 1,050 of his followers have executed “martyrdom” attacks, with 1,500 aspiring to join their ranks. Haqqani, who also met and sympathized with the families of those who perpetrated suicide attacks, including in the Intercontinental Hotel, where they hold their ceremony, labeled the perpetrators as “Islamic and homeland heroes,” and promised land and financial assistance. Shahla, deeply impacted by watching the ceremonies, recalled, “I left the room, where I cried as much as I could. It’s very difficult, really very difficult,” expressing her strong aversion to the Taliban. When I asked Khalil what he would do if he were there, he struggled to answer, his voice breaking: “We hate them, and they hate us. We don’t face them, and they don’t face us.”

A published photo by the Taliban's Ministry of Interior in 2021 shows the veiled face of Sirajuddin Haqqani expressing solidarity with a family member affected by suicide attacks and bombings. Source: Former Afghan MOI on X

According to Shahla, while Khalil was a civilian, he has become a victim of this attack. They seek justice with anxiety and fear prevailing. She says, “Talking is too much when one could have spoken up. But unfortunately, you can’t say anything, and you have to shut up to avoid confrontation.” However, Shahla calls for the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, saying, “There should be at least empathy and assistance with these people. Justice must be ensured. [My spouse] was an innocent and impartial human being. The blood of the innocent that has been shed must be questioned from those [Taliban] who caused it.”


A Watson Institute report on the human cost of the long war in Afghanistan from 2001 to September 1, 2021, shows that the war has claimed a total of 176,206 lives. Approximately 50,762 of these were civilians, personnel from humanitarian organizations, journalists, and media workers.


Meanwhile, former Afghan Senator Lailuma Ahmadi asserts that the Taliban has committed numerous crimes in the past and continues to do so. She urges human rights defenders to intensify efforts to hold them accountable for crimes and human rights violations in Afghanistan.


Despite this, the killing and injuring of civilians in violence and human rights abuses have always been serious concerns for the global community and human rights organizations. The ITJP’s chairperson states, “Victims of crimes must not be forgotten over time and under the influence of other developments”. He emphasizes that perpetrators of crimes, regardless of their power, must be held accountable to prevent the recurrence of crimes in the future.


However, the United Nations, in its recent report on August 22, 2023, declared that during its two-year rule, the Taliban were responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, mistreatment, arbitrary arrests, and the detention of 800 individuals from the previous government, including former government officials and members of security and defense forces. This is in addition to numerous reports by human rights organizations and media outlets after the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan, indicating extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, torture, and widespread violations of human rights, including the rights of protesting women and prosecutors.


The Taliban, however, denies committing crimes and human rights violations, consistently dismissing reports in this regard as “baseless” and biased. In response to a report by the ITJP on August 8, 2023, regarding the killing and torture of 26 prosecutors and their family members and supporting the relocation of endangered prosecutors to third countries, Zabihullah Mujahid stated that the concerns of American and international organizations are “baseless” and called it an effort to “withdraw cadres from Afghanistan and facilitate human trafficking.” In this situation, it is unclear what the fate will be for Shahla, who is both seeking justice for her disabled life partner and enduring the loss of her duty and fundemental rights, carrying the burden of providing for her family.



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