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Afghanistan: Taliban’s arbitrary arrests and detention of women and girls over dress code must end immediately, UN experts say

02 February 2024

GENEVA (2 February 2024) – UN experts* today expressed deep concern at numerous reports that scores of women and girls in Afghanistan have been arbitrarily detained and subjected to ill-treatment since early January for allegedly violating the Taliban’s dress code for women.

“We urge the Taliban to cease all arbitrary deprivation of liberty targeting women and girls based on the strict dress code they have imposed, and immediately release any women and girls who may still be detained,” the UN experts said.

They called on the de facto authorities to comply with Afghanistan’s international human rights obligations, including under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and work towards upholding the principles of human rights, non-discrimination and the rule of law.

The operations initially began in western Kabul, a predominantly Hazara populated area, but rapidly spread to other parts of the city, primarily Tajik populated areas, and other provinces, including Bamiyan, Baghlan, Balkh, Daykundi and Kunduz. Arrests and detentions were made in public places, including shopping centres, schools and street markets.

Women and girls were forcibly taken into police vehicles and accused of wearing a “bad hijab”, and held incommunicado, with the Taliban reportedly claiming that they were wearing colourful and tight clothing against their instructions. In May 2022, they ordered all women to observe “proper hijab”, preferably by wearing a chadari (a loose black garment covering the body and face) in public and made male relatives responsible for enforcing the ban or face punishment.

“Women and girls were reportedly held in overcrowded spaces in police stations, received only one meal a day, with some of them being subjected to physical violence, threats and intimidation,” the experts said. “Legal representation and access to justice or reparation was not availed to them”.

They noted that the release of women and girls was dependent on male family members and community elders providing assurances, often in writing, that they would comply with the prescribed dress code in the future.

“In addition to punishing women for what they wear, assigning responsibility for what women wear to men violates women’s agency and perpetuates an institutionalised system of discrimination, control of women and girls, and further diminishes their place in society,” the experts said.

They noted that while some women and girls were released after a few hours, others had been detained for days or weeks and, due to a lack of transparency and access to justice, it is not known how many are still detained, perhaps incommunicado.

“This current wave of deprivation of liberty further restricts the already severely limited freedoms of expression and movement of women and girls, and violates their human rights and agency,” the experts said.

The experts found that the situation of women and girls has deteriorated immensely since the Taliban took power in August 2021, with increasing restrictions on education, employment, expression, association, privacy, movement, agency, and participation in public life. “Those responsible for imposing this widespread and systematic discrimination should be held accountable for their actions,” they said.

*The experts: Mr. Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan; Ms. Reem Alsalem; Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls; Ms. Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Ms. Claudia Flores, Ms. Ivana Krstić, Ms. Haina Lu, Ms. Laura Nyirinkindi, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Ms. Ana Peláez Narváez, (Chair), Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); Ms. Bandana Rana (Chair of the CEDAW Task Force on Afghanistan), Ms. Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur), Mr. Matthew Gillett (Vice-Chair on Communications), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo, Mr. Mumba Malila Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

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 of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

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