ResourcesPress Release

Warlord General Dostum's Return to Kabul Sparks Controversy

Rights Group Calls for Strengthening Rule of Law in Afghanistan

For Immediate Release

Cambridge, MA — In response to the return of a notorious warlord to Afghanistan from Turkey, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) renews the call it has made repeatedly over the past seven years for a full investigation of an alleged massacre of as many as 2,000 Taliban prisoners who surrendered in November 2001 to US and Afghan forces and who are believed to be buried in the desert of Dasht-e-Leili.

On August 16, General Abdul Rashid Dostum — who is widely reported to be partly responsible for the massacre and for a subsequent cover-up — returned to Kabul to campaign for the re-election of President Hamid Karzai in the August 20 elections. It is widely reported that President Karzai has offered General Dostum a government post in exchange for his support.

"Real and lasting peace in Afghanistan will be made possible by strengthening the rule of law and ending the culture of impunity," stated PHR CEO Frank Donaghue.

"Letting General Dostum return to any position of power before there is a thorough and transparent investigation into whether or to what extent he may have been involved in the alleged 2001 massacre, will be seen by the Afghan people as confirmation that warlords like Dostum have impunity for their crimes," continued Donaghue. "General Dostum has admitted that these prisoners surrendered jointly to US special forces and to Northern Alliance troops under his command. As Physicians for Human Rights has said for 7 years since the organization's experts discovered the alleged mass grave, the site must be secured, witnesses must be protected, and Afghanistan must join the international community in probing how these prisoners died and why General Dostum and the Bush administration reportedly impeded investigation into these alleged war crimes. PHR looks forward to appropriate action from President Obama after he receives a report from his national security team, whom he ordered to gather all the facts and report to him on whether the international laws of war were violated."

"Not only is General Dostum alleged to have committed the original war crime; he is also reportedly responsible for serious tampering with evidence," stated PHR Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin. "A Physicians for Human Rights forensic expert in 2008, working under the auspices of the UN, discovered that large pits have been dug in the area of Dasht-e-Leili where bodies are suspected to be buried. Analysis of satellite images performed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science at PHR's request, shows the apparent presence of heavy earth-moving equipment at the site in August 2006. McClatchy Newspapers reported on December 11, 2008 that according to witnesses, General Dostum and his commanders "have taken all the bones and thrown them into the river." And, according to US Government documents that PHR uncovered in 2006, witnesses to this incident were "tortured, killed, or simply disappeared."

"Afghanistan must work with the international community to ensure appropriate protection of the site and any remaining physical evidence, as well as the safety of any witnesses," said Donaghue. "These would be necessary steps toward fulfilling President Obama's mandate to collect all available information about the alleged war crimes and the reported cover-up."

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. PHR was founded in 1986 on the idea that health professionals, with their specialized skills, ethical commitments, and credible voices, are uniquely positioned to investigate the health consequences of human rights violations and work to stop them. PHR mobilizes health professionals to advance health, dignity and justice and promotes the right to health for all. PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological and physical torture by US personnel against detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram airbase, and elsewhere.

Editors, please note:
To access the online video by PHR (War Crimes and the White House: The Bush Administration's Cover-Up of the Dasht-e-Leili Massacre) and to obtain high-resolution photos courtesy of Physicians for Human Rights, please visit

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

Media Contact

Kevin Short

Deputy Director, Media & Communications1.917.679.0110

Get Updates from PHR