(New York) – Taliban officials in several Afghan provinces have forcibly displaced residents in part to distribute land to their own supporters, Human Rights Watch said today. Many of these expulsions have targeted Hazara Shiite communities, as well as those associated with the former government, as a form of collective punishment.
In early October 2021, the Taliban and associated militias forcibly evicted hundreds of Hazara families from southern Helmand province and northern Balkh province. These followed previous expulsions from the provinces of Daikundi, Uruzgan and Kandahar. Since the Taliban came to power in August, the Taliban have asked many Hazaras and other residents of these five provinces to leave their homes and farms, in many cases with only a few days’ notice and without any possibility of present their legal claims to the land authorities. A former United Nations political analyst said he saw eviction notices telling residents that if they did not comply, they “had no right to complain about the consequences.”
“The Taliban forcibly expel the Hazaras and others on the basis of their ethnicity or political opinions to reward Taliban supporters,” said Patricia Gossman, associate director for Asia at Human Rights Watch. “These expulsions, carried out with threats of force and without any legal procedure, are serious abuses that amount to collective punishments.
Media reported that Hazara residents of Qubat al-Islam district in Mazar-e Sharif, Balkh province, said gunmen from the local Kushani community were working with local Taliban security forces to force families leaving, and had given them only three days to do so. Taliban officials have claimed the evictions were based on a court ruling, but the evicted residents claim they have owned the land since the 1970s. Conflicts over competing claims arose out of power struggles in the 1990s.
Residents of Naw Mish district, Helmand province, told Human Rights Watch that the Taliban sent a letter to at least 400 families in late September ordering them to leave. With little time, families were unable to take their belongings or finish harvesting their crops. One resident said the Taliban detained six men who tried to challenge the order; four remain in detention.
Another resident said that in the early 1990s, local authorities distributed large tracts of land to their relatives and supporters, exacerbating tensions between ethnic and tribal communities. Obtaining a land claim depended on who was in power, and those who lost in previous decisions have now called on the Taliban to back their claims. An activist from Helmand said the property was being redistributed to Taliban members in official positions. They “cannibalize land and other public goods” and redistribute them to their own strength, he said.
The largest displacements took place in 15 villages in Daikundi and Uruzgan provinces, where the Taliban evicted at least 2,800 Hazara residents in September. Families have moved to other neighborhoods, leaving their belongings and crops behind. A former resident said that “after the Taliban took control, we received a letter from the Taliban informing us that we had to leave our homes because the land is in dispute. A few representatives went to district officials to request an investigation, but about five of them were arrested. Human Rights Watch was unable to determine whether they were released.
The former resident added that the Taliban had established checkpoints on the roads leaving the villages and “had not let anyone take even their crops with them.” Following media coverage of the evictions, Taliban officials in Kabul withdrew eviction orders from some Daikundi villages, but as of October 20, no residents had returned.
In Kandahar province, in mid-September, the Taliban gave residents of a government-owned residential complex three days to leave. The property had been distributed by the previous government to officials.
International law prohibits forced evictions, defined as the permanent or temporary withdrawal of individuals, families or communities against their will from their homes or lands, without access to appropriate forms of legal or other protection.
The Hazaras are a predominantly Shiite Muslim ethnic group who were the target of massacres and other serious human rights violations by Taliban forces in the 1990s. They were victims of discrimination and abuse by Afghan governments successive for over 100 years.
The forced evictions in Afghanistan come at a time of record internal displacement caused by drought, economic hardship and conflict, with 665,000 people newly displaced in 2021, even before the Taliban took power. About four million people are displaced across the country.
“It’s especially cruel to move families around during harvest and just before winter comes,” Gossman said. “The Taliban should stop forcibly evicting the Hazaras and others and settle land disputes in accordance with the law and a fair process. “