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Why aren’t attacks on mosques in Afghanistan a crime against humanity?

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Recent mass murders of Muslims in attacks on mosques in Afghanistan have resulted in casualties numbering in the hundreds.

This first occurred on October 9, with nearly 100 dead, and then again on Friday in Kandahar, which led to the deaths of almost fifty people. These are targeted attacks, during Friday prayers, designed to commit genocide against Shi’ite Muslims.

Despite all that, such attacks are generally ignored by the international community. Countries that have backed the kind of extremism that leads to attacks on Shi’ites, such as Pakistan’s support for extremists like the Taliban, generally prefer not to condemn these attacks. Yet the same countries tend to speak out about “Islamophobia” in the West and condemn attacks on mosques in places like New Zealand. 

Why aren’t attacks on mosques in Afghanistan considered a crime against humanity? This is one of the enduring questions that linger over how the international community confronts genocide.

Targeted attacks against religious and ethnic minorities, which the Hazara Shi’ites are, usually would be defined as genocide. In addition, the kind of ethnic cleansing and discrimination against Hazaras that groups like the Taliban, Al Qaeda and now ISIS have conducted, would tend to fit into the definition of genocide.  

This begs question of where the war crimes trials are in the Hague or other locations for members of ISIS and other groups that have targeted religious and ethnic minorities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and many other countries. ISIS, for instance, genocided Yazidis in Iraq, ethnically cleansing half a million of the community and selling women and children into slavery. What ISIS did was similar to the Holocaust. They rounded up the Yazidis, separated men, and women and sold the women, and machine-gunned the men, like the Einsatzgruppen did to Jews in places like Belarus and Ukraine.  

Other groups such as Boko Haram have carried out similar crimes in Nigeria, kidnapping women and attacking mosques. However, there appears to be an international consensus that groups such as Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Al-Shabab, and the Taliban are never guilty of crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, or genocide. They are not even put on trial for war crimes. Various excuses exist for why this is the case. The groups involved are often considered terrorist groups and non-state actors. There are no special tribunals created to prosecute these crimes. These are states and they don’t have a head of state that can be charged.  

This blind spot could be rectified since there is nothing that separates the actions of these groups from others who have been investigated for genocide and crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was established by the UNSC in 1993 and had jurisdiction over crimes committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991. It investigated grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, violations of the laws or customs of war, genocide, and crimes against humanity. It indicted former heads of state, generals and local militia leaders.  

At the end of the day the reason there is no international tribunal to help protect minorities in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, or other countries when those people are being preyed upon by groups like ISIS is because there is no interest among large countries to have these kinds of tribunals anymore. The 1990s was an era where the rule of law in the international order was important to US hegemony. The US under George H.W Bush wanted a new world order after the Cold War. The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia was established in 1997 to investigate the Cambodian genocide. Omar Bashir in Sudan was indicated on warrants in 2009 and 2010.

But these days the world is led by authoritarian regimes who don’t care about genocide. These include countries like Turkey and Pakistan that are responsible for fanning the winds of extremism that lead to attacks on Hazara Shi’ites. Most of the 50,000 foreigners who joined ISIS, many of whom engaged in acts of genocide, transitted through Turkey to Syria in 2013-2015. Some of them subsequently went back to Turkey and then to Idlib province. Some of them were found to have taken kidnapped members of the Yazidi minority with them. That would be equivalent to Eichman not just fleeing the Nazis but taking Jews with him to Argentina to continue his abuses.  

The attacks on Hazaras in Afghanistan are targeting killings of a minority. These attacks have gone for decades. While some media excuse and glorify these attacks as “terrorism” the reality is they have no political terrorist purpose to them. They are similar to other ISIS attacks on mosques, churches and places of worship. They are solely a form of killing minorities. There is no other motive, which tends to separate these acts from forms of terrorism that may seek a political objective. Unlike in the case of Afghanistan, the crimes of ISIS have been discussed as genocide, but ISIS members have not been put on trial for genocide. This means there is no legal precedent for the crimes against humanity perpetrated by ISIS. Even high profile ISIS members who have been captured, such as the so-called “Beatles” who are accused of murdering a number of westerners in 2014, have not been charged with crimes against humanity. They have generally only been charged and renditioned because they targeted Americans. Their crimes against Yazidis have not been prosecuted. That appears similar to charging the Nazis with bombing Coventry or executing Allied troops, but not for the crimes Auschwitz.  

In the final analysis the recent uptick of attacks on Shi’ites in Afghanistan, timed to coincide with prayers, are not being fully prosecuted because of the countries that have quietly backed the Taliban, many of which also accept religious extremism, and because the international community has walked away from attempts at enforcing international laws.  


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