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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Oral update on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan

13 September 2021

48th Session of the Human Rights Council
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

13 September 2021

Madam President,

I present this update pursuant to resolution S-31/1, adopted at the Council's Special Session on Afghanistan on 24 August.

Since that discussion, the people of Afghanistan have faced violence and yet further profound upheaval.

On 26 August, a harrowing suicide attack claimed by an ISIL group killed at least 142 civilians gathered outside Kabul airport in the hope of leaving the country – including children – and injured at least 250. In addition, 13 U.S. military personnel were killed, as well as at least 28 Taliban fighters. Three days later, a U.S. drone strike, claiming to target IS-K members, killed ten civilians.

I am concerned by reports of civilian casualties and human rights abuses, as a result of the fighting in Panjshir valley, as well as the growing hardship caused by the dire humanitarian situation there. 

Facing deepening humanitarian and economic crisis, the country has entered a new and perilous phase, with many Afghans profoundly concerned for their human rights, particularly women, ethnic and religious communities.

Although the Taliban has issued public statements purporting to grant amnesty to former security personnel and civil servants; prohibiting house-to-house searches; and assuring women’s rights under Islamic law, information that we have cross-checked to the extent possible, and which we assess to be well-founded, indicates that practice on the ground has often contradicted these stated commitments. Their implementation has also varied greatly between provinces.

My Office has received credible allegations of reprisal killings of a number of former ANSF personnel, and reports of civilians who worked for previous administrations and their family members being arbitrarily detained. In some cases, the officials were released, and in others, they were found dead.

In addition, we have received multiple allegations of the Taliban conducting house-to-house searches looking for specific government officials and people who cooperated with US security forces and companies. These searches have reportedly taken place throughout the city of Kabul, as well as Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Gardez, Maimana, Samangan and elsewhere. A number of similar incidents have affected UN staff, who report increasing attacks and threats.

Deeply troubling information has also reached us regarding Taliban raids on offices of some non-governmental organisations and civil society groups.

Importantly, and in contradiction to assurances that the Taliban would uphold women's rights, over the past three weeks women have instead been progressively excluded from the public sphere. In many areas, they are prohibited from appearing in public spaces without a male chaperone. In numerous professional sectors women face increasing restrictions.

Taliban representatives have limited girls’ access to education, with girls over 12 prohibited from attending school in several locations.  

The Taliban have dismantled many Departments of Women’s Affairs across Afghanistan, taking over their offices and equipment, and gaining access to sensitive files and threatening their personnel. Women's civil society groups have been accused of lewdness and spreading anti-Islamic ideas in the communities.  Women have been in some instances instructed to stay in their homes, purportedly for their own safety, because Taliban forces were "not trained to deal with women".

A growing number of protests have taken place in Kabul and Ghor, Ghazni, Takhar, Herat, Niimroz and Balkh provinces. Taliban forces have reportedly used increasing violence against protesters and journalists, including live ammunition, batons and whips. On 7 September, two men were shot and killed, and seven others wounded during a protest in Herat. That same day in Kabul, reports indicate that protestors were beaten, and that several women and up to 15 journalists were detained. On 8 September, during a protest in Kabul, the Taliban detained at least five journalists and severely beat two of them for several hours. 

All Afghans are entitled to fundamental rights and freedoms. Moreover, Afghan women and girls have equal rights to men and boys. Their access to all basic services, including education, as well as their active and meaningful participation in all spheres of public, economic, social and political life, is essential for the development of Afghanistan, and the United Nations will maintain the utmost vigilance in this respect.

 Madam President,

I am dismayed by the lack of inclusivity of the so-called caretaker cabinet – which includes no women, and few non-Pashtuns. The overwhelming majority of Afghans do not seek further decades of conflict and division. They long for peace and stability, in a country where they and their children can prosper, and where they can contribute to a governance system that encourages meaningful participation of women and youth, and brings together the country’s ethnic and religious communities.

I am also profoundly alarmed by the escalating humanitarian crisis.  I call on all States to assist the United Nations and other actors with the provision of humanitarian assistance to the country, while remaining mindful that the provision of such assistance must be rooted in the respect and protection of human rights. I welcome the focus on these urgent issues afforded by the Secretary-General's high-level meeting this afternoon.

I continue to urge all States to use their influence with the Taliban to encourage respect for human rights, with special attention to the rights of women and girls, as well as members of ethnic and religious minority communities.

Reprisal killings and other human rights abuses should be met with immediate accountability, including for individuals ordering and directing such attacks. The existence and operation of an independent national human rights institution is also critically important. These steps are not only a matter of fundamental human rights; they are central to promoting genuine reconciliation among all actors, which is vital to Afghanistan's future. They provide the Taliban with the opportunity to demonstrate whether they are, in fact, committed to the well-being of all Afghans, across the country.

The rights of all Afghan refugees must be upheld. I acknowledge the efforts of numerous States to evacuate and relocate, among others at risk, human rights and women’ s rights defenders in urgent need of protection. I also emphasize the need to support neighboring countries that are sheltering large numbers of Afghan refugees.

I reiterate my appeal to this Council to take bold and vigorous action, commensurate with the gravity of this crisis, by establishing a dedicated mechanism to monitor the evolving human rights situation throughout the country and keep the Council closely apprised of developments. In the meantime, my Office, acting under my mandate in resolution 48/141, will continue to work to the full extent of our capacity to monitor the rights of the Afghan people and assist, wherever possible, in protecting and advancing those rights.

Thank you, Madam President.