UN report accuses Soviets of massive rights abuses in Afghanistan
A forthright United Nations report on human rights in Afghanistan accuses Soviet forces in the country of a ``deliberate policy'' of bombarding villages, destroying food supplies, massacring civilians, and disregarding the Geneva Conventions. The report was prepared by Felix Ermacora, an Austrian law professor who has participated in UN inquiries into human rights in Chile and South Africa. It is to be presented to the UN Human Rights Commission, currently meeting here.
The report accuses the Afghan government of holding some 50,000 political prisoners and says torture in its jails is ``commonplace.'' On Feb. 4 Afghanistan signed a new UN convention outlawing torture.
Mr. Ermacora's report amounts to the first direct criticism of the Soviet Union by a UN human rights inquiry, and diplomats said it could have important consequences. They suggested that it might complicate efforts by UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar to negotiate a settlement of the crisis in Afghanistan.
At the same time, diplomats expressed hope that the report might persuade the Reagan administration to soften its criticism of the UN. The US has frequently accused the UN of ``selectivity'' in its criticism of rights abuses, particularly of abuses by the Soviet Union.
Neither the Afghan government nor the Soviet Union cooperated with Erma-cora, who was appointed to the inquiry 18 months ago after a resolution in last year's session of the UN Human Rights Commission. He spent 10 days in Pakistan last December, interviewing Afghan refugees and visiting four hospitals.
Diplomats said Ermacora removed all references to Soviet troops when he was finishing his report, replacing ``Soviet'' with the word ``foreign.'' Even so, diplomats agreed his report was blunt in its overall criticism of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, which he said had engaged in a ``deliberate policy'' aimed at depriving the Afghan guerrillas of support.
The result, he said, had been a slump in rice and cotton production, destruction of the irrigation system in the Kandahar Province, and ``serious food shortages'' in areas not under government control.
``Many lives have been lost, many people have been incarcerated in conditions far removed from respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, many have been tortured and many have disappeared,'' the report said.
One reported massacre took place on Sept. 13, 1982, when 105 villagers took refuge in an irrigation tunnel in the village of Padkhwab-e-Shana, in Logar Province. ``Troops'' mixed ``whitish'' powder with a liquid, poured it into the tunnel, and set fire to it. Among the charred bodies, said the report, were those of 12 children.
Ermacora said the ``whitish'' material appears to have been a chemical. Later in his report he cited the 1925 Geneva protocol banning the use of chemical weapons. This seems certain to reopen the controversy about whether the Russians are using chemical weapons in Afghanistan.
The report also said the Geneva Conventions have been routinely abused by the Afghan and Soviet forces. Prisoners have been bayonetted, hospitals bombed, and cattle and water poisoned.
Ermacora called on the Afghan government to readmit the International Committee of the Red Cross, expelled in 1982.
The report was also blunt on the question of torture. One former Afghan security official said he used ``eight techniques'' on prisoners, including electric shock and forcing them to drink urine.
In another passage, Ermacora said the revolutionary nature of Babrak Karmal's Afghan government means it is not representative, and possibly even in ``contradiction'' of the UN human rights instruments on self-determination.
It is almost unprecedented for a UN report to criticize the internal political system of a member nation. Diplomats here suggest this will complicate Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar's efforts to negotiate the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.
P'erez de Cu'ellar has proposed a diplomatic package that implies recognition for the Karmal government. But planned UN-sponsored talks were postponed recently, allegedly because of this week's elections in Pakistan.