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Afghanistan: Perfect storm of human rights challenges require urgent redress, says UN expert

24 October 2023

NEW YORK (24 October 2023) – Afghanistan is facing a convergence of challenges, including a deteriorating human rights situation due to the Taliban's repressive policies and practices, a culture of impunity, an ongoing humanitarian and economic crisis, recent deadly earthquakes, and the possibility of massive involuntary returns, all of which require urgent action to avoid further suffering and potential instability in the country and the region, a UN expert said today.

“A grave picture has emerged, providing a glimpse of what may lie ahead for the human rights of many Afghans, particularly women and girls, and also for other groups including human rights defenders, journalists, ethnic and linguistic minorities, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, former government officials and military and security personnel,” said Richard Bennett, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan.

Presenting his report to the General Assembly, Bennett said the recent  earthquakes had severely affected already vulnerable communities in Herat, and urged the international community to provide needed assistance. More generally, the expert noted that humanitarian and development categories should not be seen as binary options, but that situations should instead be approached through a survivor-centred, human rights lens.

“There is a culture of impunity for torture and inhumane treatment in detention centres, as well as for human rights violations against former government officials and military personnel, despite promises made to the contrary,” Bennett said.

The Special Rapporteur alerted the General Assembly to the ongoing detention of Afghans exercising their rights to peaceful protest and freedom of expression, including human rights defenders.

The expert stressed the need to resume the education of girls beyond the sixth grade and women's tertiary education, noting that the Taliban had repeatedly stated that the suspension was temporary.

“The Taliban’s actions may amount to gender persecution,” Bennett said. “Systematic discrimination, oppression and segregation of women and girls require further examination of the evolving phenomenon of ‘gender apartheid’.”

He also raised the issue of the quality of education, noting that the Taliban's policy of narrowing the focus of education to "madrassa-style" or religious education not only deprives children of a broader range of skills and knowledge, but combined with unemployment and poverty, could lay the foundation for radicalised ideas, increasing the risk of homegrown terrorism and regional and global instability.

While welcoming the recent release of journalists, including Mortaza Behboudi, Bennett warned that the arrests had already contributed to a chilling effect and further shrunk Afghanistan’s collapsed civic space.

“Various groups of Afghans have expressed to me their concern that the international community is creeping towards ‘normalisation’ of the situation and that their human rights concerns are being sidelined in favour of larger geopolitical interests,” the expert said. “It is my hope that Member States can prove them wrong by decisively standing up for human rights and standing with Afghan women and girls.”

ENDS

Mr. Richard Bennett is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan. He officially assumed duties on 1 May 2022. He has served in Afghanistan on several occasions in different capacities including as the Chief of the Human Rights Service with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN human rights country page: Afghanistan

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