UN Special Rapporteur Says Engagement With Taliban Possible Only If Human Rights Upheld

Friday, 03/01/2024

Richard Bennett, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Afghanistan, emphasised on Thursday that engagement with the Taliban must be fundamentally rooted in the respect for human rights, particularly the rights of women.

Bennett presented a distressing overview of the human rights conditions in Afghanistan, denouncing the extensive torture and discrimination faced by women and ethnic groups.

During the 55th session of the Human Rights Council, Bennett delivered a six-month report characterising the human rights situation in Afghanistan as extremely critical. He underscored the importance of prioritising the Afghan populace, advocating for their needs and rights to lead the agenda.

Bennett voiced the apprehensions of the Afghan people regarding the potential normalisation of relationships with the Taliban by various countries, without any substantial improvement in the country's humanitarian crisis.

Highlighting Afghan Women's Rights

Bennett called for attention to the Taliban's egregious human rights violations, urging the international community to employ judicial measures to ensure gender, ethnic, and religious justice in Afghanistan.

He reminded the members of Afghanistan's commitment to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and called upon member states to hold the Taliban accountable at the International Court of Justice in The Hague for violating this convention.

He reported that the Taliban's suppression and exclusion of women and girls amount to "sexual harassment," a crime against humanity under international law. While some have labeled these actions as "gender apartheid," Bennett chose not to use this term explicitly. Nevertheless, he stressed on the Taliban's systematic discrimination aimed at asserting total control over Afghan women and girls.

The UN Special Rapporteur demanded accountability from the Taliban for their policies and deeds and urged for global efforts to swiftly support Afghan women and girls. He also highlighted the increasing instances of suicide and depression among women and girls, exacerbated by the enforcement of the Taliban's strict dress code, labelling it as a significant stressor for women in Afghanistan.

Violations of Civil Liberties

Bennett observed that the Taliban's intolerance towards dissent has significantly restricted civic space in Afghanistan. He called for the immediate release of detained educators, human rights advocates, journalists, and artists, including Fahim Azizi, Manizha Siddiqi, and Sadiqullah Afghan, from Taliban custody.

Torture and Inhumane Punishment

The Special Rapporteur confirmed the Taliban's policy of detaining and torturing security forces, noting their disregard for a general amnesty previously declared for former government officials and security forces. He detailed instances of torture, prisoner mistreatment, and degrading punishments that violate human dignity, including public executions and lashings, which contravene Afghanistan's international obligations.

Pressure on Ethnic and Religious Minorities

Bennett highlighted the increased pressures faced by ethnic and religious minorities in Afghanistan, particularly the Hazara Shia community, which has seen a rise in targeted attacks by ISIS. It seems that the efforts of Hazara activists and their allies in bringing international attention to the discrimination against this community, including through "Hazara genocide" campaigns have been important in their plight for justice.

Children's plight under Taliban Rule

Bennett addressed the ban on education for girls above the sixth grade and the deteriorating conditions for Afghan children. He pointed out that this educational ban has led to an increase in child labour, forced and underage marriages.

Expressing shock at the high rates of suicide among young girls in southern Afghanistan, Bennett revealed that some reports indicate that half of these suicides occur among young girls.

At the Human Rights Council session, member countries unanimously criticised the Taliban's human rights record. Even Pakistan, a long-standing ally of the Taliban, expressed concern over the deteriorating human rights conditions under their rule. Other Muslim nations, including Iran, Turkey, and Indonesia, demanded an end to the Taliban's discriminatory policies against women in education and employment, challenging the Taliban's justification of these policies as aligning with Sharia and Afghan cultural values.

Bennett concluded by noting that the Taliban's stance on Sharia law complicates the plight of Afghan women, calling for international action to address these pressing human rights issues.

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