The Taliban have taken control of Afghanistan. The Hazara people are at serious risk of genocide right now. It is important that early warnings are taken seriously by the international community.
The trauma and experience of war is not the same for everyone in Afghanistan. Some ethnic groups might trace it back 40 years. Others, particularly Hazara, would disagree as their collective memory of stretches back hundreds of years. Hazara have experienced several mass killings (arguably genocide) that never made the official records or history books. The first recorded Hazara mass killings date back to the 1890s. The founder of Afghan state, Abdur Rahman Khan, arranged the killing of around 50% of the Hazara population: they were either slaughtered or forced to leave their lands. Jonathan L. Lee wrote:
“According to some estimates more than 50 per cent of the male Hazara population died as a direct or Indirect result of the wars. Thousands of women were forcibly married to Pashtuns in a deliberate attempt to destroy Hazara social and religious hierarchies. The Hazara populations of (various parts of Afghanistan) were expelled and their land distributed to Muhammadzais, Ghilzai maldar and government loyalists.”
The people now known as Hazara, were originally Bhuddists: they built the famous Bamiyan Bhuddas. They eventually converted to Islam, but they became Shi’a Muslims. The Taliban are principally Sunni Muslims. The distinction is like the division between Catholics and Protestants which, historically, has been the source of significant difficulties.
DFAT says that around “60% of the entire Hazara population were eliminated in different ways, most often by killing, selling into slavery or forcing into exile by the Abdur Rahman Khan.
According to Henry Walter’s 1880 book “The Races of Afghanistan” Hazara occupied all the land which formed the Paropamisus of the ancients: it covered most of the area now called Afghanistan and Pakistan. No longer: historical mass killings and atrocities have resulted in Hazara being forcibly displaced. A significant number of Hazara refugees now live in Australia, Europe and America.
The term “genocide” was originated by Raphael Lemkin (a Jewish-Polish lawyer), as “the criminal intent to destroy or to cripple permanently a human group. The acts are directed against groups as such, and individuals are selected for destruction only because they belong to these groups.” With that meaning, the UN Genocide Convention came into effect in January 1951.
One significant element of genocide is that perpetrators committed an act with an “intention to destroy” a particular group. It is not hard to understand why the crime of genocide was adopted by the UN, given the horrors of the Holocaust.
The intention to destroy Hazara was expressed plainly in the 1990s when Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, a former Taliban spokesperson, said:
“Hazara! Where are you escaping? If you jump into the air we will grasp your legs, if you enter the earth, we will grasp your ears. Hazara are not Moslems. You can kill them. It’s not a sin. Oh Hazara, become Moslems and pray God as us. We won’t let you to go away. Every border is in our control.”
Similar thoughts were expressed a century earlier, during the 1880s by Abdur Rahman Khan, who wrote to his secretary of the Sharia Law Court: “What do you know about the nature of this tribe [Hazara]? Their belief will never get right.”
There is a historical order and structure in the elimination of Hazara started by Abdur Rahman Khan and continued and maintained by the Taliban today. For example: “Taliban militiamen searched house to house for males of fighting age who belonged to the Hazara ethnic minority. Hazara were gunned down in front of their families and had their throats slit in the same way Muslims slaughter goats for holiday feasts.” In June 2021 Taliban searched room to room only killing Hazara workers leaving other employees unharmed.
In March 2001, the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Bhuddas, which had been built centuries before by Hazara.
In 2018, Daesh sectarian-violence against the Hazara minority escalated. According to the USCIRF, the ISKP attacks on the Shia have been more lethal than others and left some 300 fatalities in 2018.
Between 1 January and 30 November 2019, UNAMA documented seven IS- claimed attacks against Shias, causing 112 deaths and 361 injuries. The attacks were carried out against education centres, hospitals and tuition institutions.
In July 2021, Taliban killed a Hazara shepherd immediately after he identified himself as Hazara.
Recent Amnesty reports, about crimes committed against Hazara by Taliban, said:
“In Mundarakht, they were stopped at a Taliban checkpoint, where they were executed. Ali Jan Tata was shot in the chest, and Rasool was shot in the neck. According to witnesses, Zia Faqeer Shah’s chest was so riddled with bullets that he was buried in pieces. The men’s bodies were thrown into the creek alongside Sayed Abdul Hakim.”
The past few years have been deadly for the Hazara minority in Afghanistan.
The historical, and recent, killings of Hazara have been overlooked by the International community for many years. Those who survived the 1890s war against Hazara fled to central Asian countries. The historical atrocities against Hazara were not talked about.
There has been a record number of deaths and injuries in Afghanistan this year: so far, more than 5000, mostly women and children.
With return of Taliban to power, fear for the Hazara minority escalates. It is possible that the future will hold another genocide for Hazara.
The Genocide Convention set out the legal obligation of state parties to prevent and punish genocide. The Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility supports two special advisors who can report directly to the UN Secretary-General. The special advisors “raise awareness of the causes and dynamics of genocide, to alert relevant actors when there is a risk of genocide, and to advocate and mobilize for appropriate action.”
The onus is on the international community to help prevent potential crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide.
If a state fails to protect its population, the international community must be prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner and in accordance with the UN charter.
We cannot ignore the danger faced by Hazara in Afghanistan right now. About 5000 Hazara live in Australia as refugees. If we are not seen to be helping the Afghans trying to escape the Taliban right now, we will undoubtedly cause great anguish and mental harm to the Hazara who live here and contribute to our community. And we need to offer them more than temporary protection: if we are serious about avoiding genocide, and if we want their commitment to our Society, we need to give the Afghan refugees permanent protection, right now.