50th Session of the Human Rights Council
Oral update on Afghanistan
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Thank you Mr. Vice-President,
The people of Afghanistan are experiencing some of the darkest moments of a generation. In the wake of years of conflict, and since the takeover by the Taliban in August last year, the country has been plunged into a deep economic, social, humanitarian and human rights crisis.
I visited Afghanistan in March this year and met with representatives of the de facto authorities. I also met with some extraordinary women, including doctors, journalists, civil servants and NGO workers, to discuss the scourge of gender inequality in the country.
These women’s courage in demanding their rights was striking – theirs is a struggle amidst unimaginable challenges, yet they are still bravely calling for their right to be heard.
Their situation is critical. The ban on quality secondary schooling for girls, directly affecting 1.1 million secondary school girls, continues, depriving them of a future. Since March, several other decrees have also been passed, impacting women’s and girls’ rights. The enforcement of a strict hijab rule continues; barriers are in place for women’s access to employment, including for female NGO workers performing their duties; there are no opportunities for women to participate in public and political life; and their freedom of movement has been severely restricted.
Let me be clear: what we are witnessing today in Afghanistan is the institutionalised, systematic oppression of women.
Limiting women’s freedom of movement negatively impacts almost all aspects of their lives, including the ability of women and their children to access and to participate in health services, livelihood and humanitarian aid.
Afghan women are rapidly facing the worst-case scenario many feared. While Afghanistan has ratified a number of international treaties including the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the de facto authorities remain far from complying with those international obligations, in both policy and practice, to respect and protect the rights of women and girls.
Courageous Afghans - both women and men - are striving to build an equal and just society where the rights of all are respected. As the women told me during my visit: “We want to speak to the Taliban ourselves. We know what our people need.” I call on the de facto authorities to honour their commitment to women’s rights, to urgently create a meaningful dialogue with Afghan women, and to listen to their voices.
During my visit, I recognised the significance of the general amnesty granted to the former officials of the former Government and members of the security forces, as an important step towards reconciliation after so many decades of war. I am however concerned that the Human Rights Service of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) continues to receive credible reports of arbitrary arrests and detention, ill-treatment and extra-judicial killings – particularly of persons associated with the former government and its institutions.
UNAMA also continues to record the impact of attacks on civilians. In April alone, a spate of improvised explosive devices attacks resulted in civilians being killed and injured at schools, places of worship, markets and while on public transportation. Ethnic and religious minorities have also been directly attacked. I remind the de facto authorities of their responsibility to protect all Afghans subject to their control.
I also remain concerned about the information received of alleged human rights violations and abuses against civilians in the northern provinces, including Panjshir, which have recently seen clashes between the de facto security forces and fighters affiliated with the National Resistance Front. There are serious allegations, which require verification, that civilians have been exposed to violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, and torture. I call upon both parties to this conflict to observe restraint and to fully respect international human rights law and applicable international humanitarian law.
Further to this, despite the de facto authorities’ repeated public commitments to respect human rights, civic space has shrunk rapidly and dramatically since their return to power. Restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression, the right to peaceful assembly, and the right to participate in public affairs have all had a chilling effect on individuals and communities.
Civil society actors, including women’s rights activists and human rights defenders have been subjected to killings, enforced disappearances, incommunicado detention, attacks, harassment, threats and arrests. While some have been released, others remain deprived of their liberty, separated from their loved ones and deprived of their right to speak out.
I urge the de facto authorities to open up civic space. A free and independent press where journalists can operate safely will be fundamental in this regard.
Intersecting humanitarian and economic crises continue to have a devastating impact on the lives of all Afghans. Today, with mounting unemployment rates, 93 percent of all households are facing a high level of food insecurity with differential, devastating impact on those most vulnerable –female-headed households, aged persons, people with disabilities and children.
Access to basic services including healthcare is also diminishing. According to the World Health Organization, some 18.1 million people are in need of health services, including 3.19 million children under five.
Compounding all of this is the glaring absence of functioning national mechanisms to monitor human rights violations, severely limiting the ability to provide basic protection for the Afghan people, especially vulnerable groups such as children, people with disabilities, internally displaced people, minorities, and LGBTQI communities.
I am deeply troubled by the recent dissolution by the de facto authorities of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the key national mechanism providing support for Afghans facing violations of their human rights. I urge the establishment of an independent human rights mechanism that can receive complaints from the public, and which can bring problems and solutions to the attention of the de facto authorities.
UNAMA will continue to work with the de facto authorities to promote and protect human rights for all the Afghan people. I saw first-hand my colleagues’ crucial work – each day, they are documenting human rights violations and abuses, outlining human rights trends, raising individual cases and advocating for those responsible to be held to account. They are working to develop engagement and to promote solutions to the significant human rights challenges that the country faces with the de facto authorities.
I also welcome the appointment of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan. I look forward to his first report to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly later this year, following his recent visit to the country.
I take this opportunity to reiterate some of the key points I made during and following my visit to Afghanistan.
To move Afghan society towards peace, the representation of all Afghans in policy and decision-making processes will be crucial. This includes listening to the voices of women and girls. It includes heeding the calls of religious and ethnic minorities, in particular those who have historically faced discrimination, marginalization and violence.
Such inclusive alliances – where the most vulnerable participate in decisions that affect them – have the power to prevent future conflict, and to promote stability both in Afghanistan and beyond its borders.
I urge the international community to ensure that further funds are immediately made available to allow Afghans to sustainably move beyond the current economic and humanitarian crises - otherwise the widespread human suffering in Afghanistan will persist.
The path out of crisis for the people of Afghanistan cannot be paved with the efforts of a few. It will require concerted work by the de facto authorities, renewed space for civil society and support by the international community, to uphold the human rights – and the human dignity – of all Afghans.
Let us all commit – with urgency – to make this happen.