The recent attack on a Kabul hotel that killed at least 12 civilians is a grim reminder of the Taliban's contempt for the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian law (IHL) -- the laws of war -- which ban targeting noncombatants.
Among the five Afghans and nine foreign citizens killed in the May 13 attack on the Park Palace Hotel were people who had spent much of their lives working to improve the lives of the country's poorest and most vulnerable. Over the years, the Taliban have developed a code of conduct (layha) that supposedly includes rules on sparing civilians, but they exclude from that category government employees, humanitarian workers and many others who under IHL do qualify as noncombatants. On May 14, the Taliban released a statement purporting to justify the hotel massacre, saying that "Every foreigner from invading country [sic] especially NATO is considered an invader." That same statement categorized Afghans who work with foreigners, including aid workers, as "hirelings."
Those statements are essentially a Taliban admission of culpability for a war crime. One survivor of the attack describes how the attacker hunted down and executed hotel guests, repeatedly shooting some of the wounded to make sure they were dead.
In the rush to report horrific events like these, numbers can obscure the real, human identities of the victims and the tragedy of their brutal deaths.
• The Afghans included Dr.Jawid Sahai and Mohammad Mohammady from the humanitarian organization Action Aid which works to provide health care and education in Afghanistan. Another victim was a dual British-Afghan national who worked for the British Council. Two other Afghans have yet to be identified. • Paula Kantor was the former director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), an independent research institute, where she also wrote extensively on rural poverty, child labor and women and development. • The Indians included Matthew George, an accountant at the Indian Embassy in Kabul; Rajesh Kumar Bhatti, an auditor on a UN mission; Martha Farrell, who was part of a training program conducted by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture; and Dr. Satish Chandra a technical consultant with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). • Sandro Abati of Italy, was a consultant working on an Afghanistan investment project. His fiancé, Aigerim Abdulayeva of Kazakhstan, also died in the attack. • Two Pakistani nationals, Ismail Awan, an adviser in an Afghan power supply company and Abdul Sattar, finance manager at an Afghan construction company, were also killed . These killings were followed three days later by a suicide attack near Kabul airport, apparently aimed at a European Union Police Mission (EUPOL) vehicle. Two Afghan civilians--teenaged girls--and one Briton were killed. Eighteen civilians were seriously injured, among them 8 women and 3 children. Here as well, the Taliban claimed responsibility, justifying their attack on a "foreign convoy."
According to a participant in talks between Taliban and Afghan government representatives in Qatar earlier this month, neither side spoke about the need to protect civilians in the conflict. That's a shame.
According to United Nations statistics, noncombatants are dying in greater numbers every year, with the Taliban and other insurgents responsible for 72 percent of those deaths through suicide attacks and the use of IEDs and other indiscriminate weapons. The Taliban should end targeted killings of civilians, and all parties should curb indiscriminate attacks that kill civilians. Putting an end to the terrible toll on civilians is vital for the genuine success of any peace talks.