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Military action against Afghanistan must abide by international law

8 October 2001

Minority Rights Group International said today that it was gravely concerned for the safety of civilian lives following the current US/UK air strikes on Afghanistan and urged that any military action should abide by international humanitarian law. The US and UK, as well as the Taliban and the opposing forces of the Northern Alliance, must take adequate precautions to protect civilian life as required by international law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their 1977 Protocols. Attacks on civilians or attacks on military objects that have a disproportionate impact on civilians must be avoided.

Afghanistan is a nation of minorities, all of whom have suffered greatly in decades of violent conflict. In the last few years, fighting between the Taleban and forces of the Northern Alliance have resulted in horrific extra-judicial killings, for example when thousands of ethnic Hazara civilians were reported killed following the Taliban takeover of the city of Mazar-e-Sharif in August 1998. An escalation in conflict will place many civilian lives in danger and provoke a further flight of refugees to the neighbouring countries of Pakistan and Iran. Any political proposals for the future of Afghanistan must take into account the interests of all ethnic groups and include their active participation.

There were already over a million internally displaced people in Afghanistan and the threat of military strikes had already prompted a reported 100,000 people to flee Kandahar alone. Air drops of food parcels are a completely inadequate response to the scale of humanitarian tragedy that is unfolding. All countries should further honour their obligations under the UN Refugee Convention and provide a safe haven to refugees fleeing persecution in Afghanistan.

The September 11 attacks on the USA were appalling and those responsible should be brought to justice. Action by the international community should have this as its primary aim and avoid any measures whose primary effect will be the suffering of civilians, in Afghanistan or elsewhere.