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Statements Multiple Mechanisms

Afghanistan: UN human rights experts denounce idea of “reformed” Taliban

14 August 2023

GENEVA (14 August 2023) – Two years after seizing power in Afghanistan, the Taliban continues to violate many human rights including implementing a system of total discrimination, exclusion and subjugation of women and girls, UN experts said today. The gap between promises and practices by Afghanistan’s de facto authorities has widened and the idea of a “reformed” Taliban has been exposed as mistaken, the experts said. To mark that two years have passed since the Taliban’s take-over of Afghanistan, they issued the following statement:

“Two years ago, the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan. Since then, the policies they have imposed on the Afghan population have resulted in a continuous, systematic and shocking rescinding of a multitude of human rights, including the rights to education, work, and freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Consistent credible reports of summary executions and acts tantamount to enforced disappearances, widespread arbitrary detention, torture, and ill treatment, as well as arbitrary displacement have caused increased concern. The hardest hit are women and girls, ethnic, religious and other minorities, people with disabilities, displaced persons, LGBTQ+ persons, human rights defenders and other civil society actors, journalists, artists, educators, and former government and security officials.

Despite reassurances by the Taliban de facto authorities that any restrictions, particularly in terms of access to education would be temporary, the facts on the ground have demonstrated an accelerated, systematic, and all engulfing system of segregation, marginalization and persecution.

In comparison to last year, the Taliban has even further implemented a system of discrimination with the intention to subject women and girls to total domination so egregious, that the collective practices constitute gender persecution, a crime against humanity,  and has necessitated a discussion about the codification of “gender apartheid”. In December, the Taliban de facto authorities barred women from working at NGOs and this April from working at the UN. Now, reportedly, de facto authorities in several provinces have instructed schools recently that girls over 10 years old are not allowed to study, while previously the ban started at Grade 6. Women have even been denied the ability to seek comfort in some of their own spaces such as beauty salons that were frequented and run by women, as these have been recently ordered to close. Both Afghan women and men, including many community leaders and teachers have voiced their profound disappointment at the inability of girls and women to continue with their education.

More widely, promises for a more inclusive form of government did not materialize; the amnesty for former government and military officials is being violated; guidelines to stop torture and ill treatment in detention centers are too often ignored, minorities are marginalised and suffer discrimination despite promises of inclusion, and lawyers, judges, prosecutors and other actors involved with the legal system face grave security risks. The de facto authorities have introduced the use of cruel and undignified punishments, such as stoning, flogging and burying under a wall in contravention of international human rights standards. The concept of a “reformed” Taliban has been exposed as mistaken.

Our message to the Taliban could not be clearer, they need to:

  1. Immediately reverse course on the treatment of women and girls; allow women to work and run businesses, including the employment of women to deliver essential services to women and girls, and allow all women and girls to enjoy all human rights, including freedom of movement and participation in political and public life, as well as to ensure equal and meaningful representation of women in decision-making processes,  
  2. Immediately reopen schools at all levels and universities for girls and women and fulfill the right to education, which includes access to quality and comprehensive education;
  3. End reprisals against former government and security officials as well as civil society members and fully uphold the declared general amnesty;
  4. Stop arbitrary detention, acts tantamount to enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, including as part of judicially sanctioned punishments, and in this regard, allow free, unhindered access for human rights monitors and humanitarian actors to monitor all places of detention;
  5. Reverse actions that have resulted in the shrinking of civic space and ensure that civil society organisations, journalists and other media workers can function without undue hindrance; 
  6. Enforce strict measures to prevent discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, and to guarantee their representation and meaningful participation in decision-making processes.

A faltering economy, eroded livelihoods, drought-like conditions and additional climate shocks have also put the social, economic and cultural rights of Afghans under pressure and caused a heightened need for humanitarian assistance. An estimated 16 million children in Afghanistan are not receiving basic food or health care essential to their wellbeing and development. The economic downturn drives harmful, discriminatory, oppressive, and violent practices, such as forced and child marriage, abuse and economic and sexual exploitation, the sale of children and body organs, forced and child labour, trafficking, and unsafe migration. The ban on Afghan female aid workers has also impacted the effectiveness of the humanitarian response.

While the humanitarian and human rights situation have continued to deteriorate for the last two years, the UN warns about “critical funding gaps” for its humanitarian response. This could lead to discontinuation of community-based classes, reduced food assistance, and closure of health facilities, among other consequences. Moreover, these dire conditions, compounded by a plethora of restrictions, and a lack of employment opportunities may lead to harmful coping mechanisms such as joining criminal or armed groups. Many Afghans continue to leave the country out of desperation. While countries that are receiving Afghans should be commended, many Afghan refugees reside in host countries in desperate circumstances.

It does not need to be this way. But to effect change, it is time for the international community to commit to the people of Afghanistan with renewed vigour and increased unity, and take decisive actions by:

  • Ensuring political engagement with all Afghan interlocutors manifests a human rights centered and gender integrated approach;
  • Bridging the funding gap of the humanitarian response plan, and devising ways to provide aid that directly reaches the Afghan people, including displaced populations and host communities, while utililising exemptions within sanction regimes;
  • Supporting investigation and accountability mechanisms for human rights violations to avoid their recurrence and address impunity;
  • Recognizing the treatment of women and girls by the Taliban as gender persecution;
  • Granting refugee status to all Afghan women and girls on the basis of human rights violations against them stemming from the discriminatory policies and practices instituted by the de facto authorities;
  • Stepping up its commitment to Afghan refugees and migrants by ensuring that refugee status can be granted on the basis of gender persecution, that refugees and migrants are received in a dignified manner and that they are protected against refoulement and mistreatment;
  • Backing initiatives by Afghan women leaders and thinkers, and civil society groups, operating inside and outside Afghanistan to explore practical avenues to promote human rights values and principles.

The experts: Mr. Richard Bennett,Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan; Ms. Mary Lawlor,Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Fernand de Varennes;Special Rapporteur on Minority issues, Ms. Irene Khan;Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Ms. Reem Alsalem;Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, Ms. Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Ms. Ivana Radačić (Vice-Chair), Ms. Elizabeth Broderick, Ms. Meskerem Geset Techane, and Ms. Melissa Upreti,Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Ms. Ana Peláez Narváez, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; Ms. Alexandra Xanthaki,Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Ms. Paula Gaviria Betancur, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Mr. Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including is causes and consequences; Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz,Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. Fabián Salvioli,Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Mr. Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Ms. Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur), Mr. Matthew Gillett (Vice-Chair on Communications), Ms. Ganna Yudkivska (Vice-Chair on Follow-Up), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo, and Mr. Mumba Malila,Working Group on arbitrary detention; Ms. Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Ms. Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Ms. Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, Ms. Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms Gabriella Citroni (Vice-Chair), Ms Angkhana Neelapaijit, Ms. Grażyna Baranowska, Ms. Ana Lorena Delgadillo Pérez, Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin , Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism .

The experts 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 organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact [email protected]

UN Human Rights, Country Page: Afghanistan

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])
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