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War Crime in Afghanistan

Former Taliban fighters mill about the courtyard of Shebargan Prison, northern Afghanistan, December 1, 2001, a week after they surrendered to the Northern Alliance following their defeat in Kunduz.
Credit: Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

In November 2001, as many as 2,000 Taliban prisoners are believed to have been killed in container trucks by US-allied Afghan troops, and buried in a mass grave in Dasht-e-Leili, Afghanistan. These Afghan troops were operating jointly with American forces, who were allegedly present at the scene of the crime. PHR investigators discovered the mass grave in 2002.

Under the auspices of the UN, PHR conducted an initial examination of part of the site, exhumed fifteen remains, and conducted autopsies on three individual remains, finding that the likely cause of death was consistent with suffocation.

Since 2002, PHR has been calling for the site to be secured, protection of the witnesses, and a full investigation of the alleged massacre. Despite these appeals, Afghan eyewitnesses were tortured, murdered, and disappeared, and sections of the mass grave site have been dug up and removed.

Seven years of investigation and advocacy by PHR led to major articles in Newsweek, McClatchy Newspapers, and The New York Times, the latter of which revealed that George W. Bush’s Administration impeded at least three federal probes into these alleged war crimes.

In response to these revelations, President Barack Obama  ordered his national security team to collect all the facts about the Dasht-e-Leili case and report back to him.

>> Learn More: Timeline of the Events of the Investigation

PHR Responds to White House Comment on Reported Afghan Massacre (July 31, 2013)

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today responded to a White House official’s remarks indicating the conclusion of its investigation into the 2001 incident at Dasht-e-Leili that may have claimed as many as 2,000 lives.

President Obama Called to Act on Promise to Investigate Dasht-e-Leili Massacre (December 13, 2011)

In a letter dated December 9, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) asked President Obama to make good on his promise to investigate the massacre of prisoners by the Northern Alliance, US allies.

Hans Hogrefe to be Honored for Contributions to Human Rights (July 11, 2011)

Hans Hogrefe, PHR’s Chief Policy Officer and Washington Director, will be honored by the Stewart Mott Foundation and the Open Society Foundation for his contributions to human rights.

Afghanistan Should Repeal Amnesty Law Offering Immunity for War Crimes (March 17, 2010)

A new Afghan law giving amnesty to people who have committed serious human rights violations is a major step backward, and Physicians for Human Rights urges the country's legislature to repeal the measure.

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It’s About Civilian Protection (October 7, 2015)

Even in a world inured to violence, the U.S. airstrike on a Doctors without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, which killed both staff and patients, was shocking.

A Time for Truth in Afghanistan (August 19, 2014)

Afghans have endured injustice for decades. Victims languish in an environment where abuses are committed with impunity, fueling resentment and the country’s conflict itself.

On 10 Year Anniversary of ‘Convoy of Death’, President Obama Must Keep His Promise to Investigate (December 20, 2011)

This December marks the 10-year anniversary of the “Convoy of Death.” During Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, 2,000 prisoners who had surrendered to the US and the Afghan Northern Alliance were shot or suffocated to death in sealed truck containers while being transferred by Northern Alliance forces. The dead prisoners – some of who had been tortured - were then buried in a mass grave in a northern Afghanistan desert at Dasht-e-Leili.

Fatou Bensouda to take the helm as ICC’s new prosecutor (December 15, 2011)

Earlier this week, Gambian lawyer Fatou Bensouda was chosen to be the new Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. She will be the second person, and the first African, to hold this position. Bensouda was the likely choice for the position given her professional qualifications, including serving as Deputy Prosecutor to Luis Moreno-Ocampo during his nine-year tenure as Chief Prosecutor of the Court. Given the extent of the ICC’s work in Africa – all seven of the countries with cases before the court are African – the choice of an African prosecutor seems especially appropriate.

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Report on Conditions at Afghanistan's Shebarghan Prison (January 2002)

On the basis of direct observation, contact with the prisoners, and interviews prior to and subsequent to this inspection, PHR's 3-member team reported that conditions at Shebarghan were in grave violation of international standards for those held in detention or as prisoners of war. The facilities were entirely inadequate for the care of the number of people held there, the food insufficient in quantity and nutrition, the water supply unclean, sanitation virtually absent, clothing meager, and barred walls open to the elements exposed the inhabitants to winter conditions.

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