A study by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy declared, “The Afghan government outlawed the group and worked to suppress it, largely in order to avoid further sectarian strife and proxy warfare in the war-ravaged country.” It added that recruitment by the Revolutionary Guards has continued, but it had gone “underground.”
The Fatemiyoun Brigade was set up by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in 2014 to send Shia Afghan immigrants and refugees in Iran to fight in the Syrian civil war on the side of Bashar al-Assad’s government. Guards’ officials have confirmed this fact. Zahir Mojahed, spokesperson for the Fatemiyoun Brigade, claimed in January 2018, that more than 2,000 members of the Afghan militia had been killed in Syria and more than 8,000 had been injured.
According to Afghan officials, the IRGC lures Afghan immigrants with promises such as fixed salaries and residency permits for their families. Interviews with the family members of those killed in action and the survivors confirm this. Religious loyalties of the potential recruits are also used, as they are made to believe that they will be defending Shia holy shrines in Syria.
The US Department of Treasury accused Iran of recruiting, training, and deploying child soldiers, which is a war crime, in October 2018. Recruitment of Afghan nationals to fight in Syria may amount to a violation of their human rights under both international law and the laws of both countries. In fact, recruiting Afghan nationals violates Article 145 of the Iranian constitution, which says, “No foreigner will be accepted into the army or security forces of the country.”
There are also documented cases of the Guards recruiting Afghan children to fight in Syria. In October 2017 Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported, “Afghan children as young as 14 have fought in the Fatemiyoun division.” Allegedly, when Human Rights Watch researchers reviewed photographs of tombstones in Iranian cemeteries where the authorities buried combatants killed in Syria, they identified eight Afghan children.
As well, a 15-year-old Afghan boy said in an interview in January 2019 that he was tricked into fighting in Syria by the false promise that he would be given a job in a holy shrine.
According to Article 2 of the National Conscription Law, only individuals over 18 can be conscripted to serve in the military. Recruitment of children under 18 is also banned under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Statute of the International Criminal Court. Iran is a signatory to both.
Abdulvahid Farzei, vice president of the Afghan Bar Association, says that the Islamic Republic’s actions violate international conventions and laws because Article 7 of the Afghan constitution states that the government “shall observe the United Nations Charter, inter-state agreements, as well as international treaties to which Afghanistan has joined, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The state shall prevent all kinds of terrorist activities, cultivation and smuggling of narcotics, and production and use of intoxicants.” Farzei says that since both Iran and Afghanistan have signed up to this declaration and other human rights conventions, they must follow and observe them.
Iran has violated the rights of young Afgans, and sacrificed them for its own interests, according to Farzei. One must turn to international law, he emphasizes, to stop Tehran because Afghanistan is mired in a deep crisis and dealing with a range of serious problems including challenges to national security. “the government is weak and, as a result, nothing in this regard has been done,” he said.
Iran’s conduct is wrong on multiple levels, Najla Rahal, a lawyer based in the Afghan capital of Kabul, insists. “Sending Afghan immigrants to the war not only violates Iranian laws, but it also exploits the destitute by deceiving them,” she says.
“This is not only unacceptable from a legal point of view, it is also morally wrong.” She adds that Afghan nationals have gone to live in Iran seeking refuge from the Taliban, the war in Afghanistan, insecurities, and unemployment. Legally, the Islamic Republic has no right to exploit these refugees’ situation, and Kabul is by law allowed to take action to put an end to this.
Rahal also believes that because Afghans were used to fight ISIS in Syria, ISIS has launched terrorist attacks in Afghanistan in revenge.