Don’t let Afghan soldiers do war crimes: rights body

New York, June 30 (IANS) Afghan President Ashraf Ghani should denounce remarks by the chief of the army offering soldiers protection from punishment for war crimes, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

Ghani, commander-in-chief of the Afghan armed forces, should recommit the country’s security forces to respect the laws of war and put commanders on notice that suggesting otherwise will lead to disciplinary measures.

The June 14 statement by Afghanistan’s army chief suggesting that the laws of armed conflict do not apply to government troops was the latest in a series of such statements by senior Afghan military and civilian officials, Human Rights Watch said.

Disavowing the laws of war encourages abuses by all parties to the conflict and places civilians at greater risk of harm, the rights body said.

“President Ghani should state clearly that abiding by the laws of war is a legal requirement, not a policy option,” said Phelim Kine of Human Rights Watch.

“Commanders who reject the laws of war not only unnecessarily risk the lives of civilians and their own troops, but also make themselves subject to prosecution for war crimes.”

On June 14, Afghan National Army Chief Gen. Qadam Shah Shahim told troops during a visit to the 209th Shaheen Corps in the northern province of Badakhshan that they “no longer have any restrictions to use artillery against the enemy”.

He told them: “You have no restrictions on night raids against specific enemy targets. You will no longer be sent to prison for your sacrifices. You will not be interrogated.”

Other senior officials have previously issued instructions not to take prisoners and to execute those in custody, acts that Human Rights Watch said were war crimes.

All parties to the armed conflict in Afghanistan were obligated to abide by international humanitarian law or the laws of war, it said.

The laws of war place restrictions on the methods and means of combat, including the requirement to discriminate between civilians and combatants and otherwise minimize civilian harm.

It also requires the humane treatment of all persons in custody, including civilians and captured combatants. Violations by one party to the conflict do not justify or excuse violations by the other side.

Foreign donors who fund Afghan military operations have yet to publicly criticize statements by senior Afghan officials advocating possible war crimes, Human Rights Watch said.

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