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Press briefing notes Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Briefing notes on Afghanistan

17 August 2021

A man pulls a girl to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 16, 2021. © REUTERS/Stringer

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville

Location: Geneva

Date: 17 August 2021

The desperate scenes at Kabul airport yesterday underlined the gravity of the situation after the Taliban seized all the major population centres in Afghanistan.

Fortunately, the capital and the other last major cities to be captured such as Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharif were not subjected to prolonged fighting, bloodshed or destruction. However, the fear instilled in a significant proportion of the population is profound, and – given past history – thoroughly understandable.

Taliban spokespeople have issued a number of statements in recent days, including pledging an amnesty for those who worked for the Government. They have also pledged to be inclusive. They have said woman can work and girls can go to school. Such promises will need to be honoured, and for the time being -- again understandably, given past history -- these declarations have been greeted with some scepticism. Nevertheless, the promises have been made, and whether or not they are honoured or broken will be closely scrutinized.

As the Secretary-General said in his statement to the Security Council yesterday, all parties, including the Taliban have an obligation to protect civilians and to uphold human rights. They must respect and protect both international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

As the High Commissioner noted a week ago, and the Secretary-General also pointed out yesterday, there have been chilling reports of human rights abuses, and of restrictions on the rights of individuals, especially women and girls, in some parts of the country captured over the past few weeks. Such reports continue to be received. Unfortunately, for the time being, the flow of information has been considerably disrupted, and we have not been in a position to verify the most recent allegations.

There have been many hard-won advances in human rights over the past two decades. The rights of all Afghans must be defended. We are particularly concerned about the safety of the thousands of Afghans who have been working to promote human rights across the country, and have helped improve the lives of millions.

We call on the international community to extend all possible support to those who may be at imminent risk, and we call on the Taliban to demonstrate through their actions, not just their words, that the fears for the safety of so many people from so many different walks of life are addressed.


For more information and media requests, please contact:
Rupert Colville + 41 22 917 9767 / [email protected] or
Liz Throssell + 41 22 917 9296 / [email protected]

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