UN expert condemns Taliban ‘crimes’ against Afghan women, girls

Voice of America

June 18, 2024

he United Nations human rights expert for Afghanistan warned Tuesday against sidelining the rights and voices of women at an upcoming international meeting with the country’s fundamentalist Taliban leaders.

The special rapporteur, Richard Bennett, issued the warning while presenting his latest report on the Taliban’s allegedly intensifying rights violations against Afghan women and girls to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“Following extensive research, consultation, and analysis, it finds that the Taliban’s institutionalized system of gender oppression established and enforced through its violations of women’s and girls’ fundamental rights is widespread and systematic and appears to constitute an attack on the entire civilian population, amounting to crimes against humanity,” Bennett reported.

“The gravity and scale of the crimes can’t be overstated. We have a collective responsibility to challenge and dismantle this appalling system and to hold those responsible to account,” said the U.N. expert.

Bennett shared his findings as the U.N. prepares to host a two-day meeting of international envoys on Afghanistan in Doha, Qatar, commencing June 30. The Taliban will attend for the first time what will be the third Doha conference since U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres launched the process more than a year ago.

Afghan civil society groups and representatives reportedly have not been invited to the third Doha huddle, even though they attended the second this past February. The Taliban refused to join those discussions unless their delegates could be accepted as the sole representatives of Afghanistan.

Guterres rejected the Taliban’s demands in a post-meeting news conference. The U.N. has stated that the Doha process is aimed at developing a coherent and unified world approach to engagement with the Taliban.

Bennett said Tuesday the upcoming meeting presents an important opportunity to affirm that civil society, including women, are “meaningful participants” and that women’s rights are central to discussions.

“The Taliban are not recognized as a government and should not be treated as such. They must not be allowed to dictate the terms of U.N.-hosted meetings,” Bennett said.

“Failure to learn the lessons of the past and sidelining human rights could have devastating and long-lasting consequences,” he added. “The Taliban’s institutionalization of its system of gender oppression should shock the conscience of humanity.”

The Taliban have dismissed international criticism of their governance, including restrictions on women’s access to education and employment, saying their policies are aligned with Afghan culture and their harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

On Sunday, the Taliban’s foreign ministry spokespersons formally confirmed that its delegation would attend the third Doha conference.

“The agenda and participation list of the upcoming Doha meeting shared with the Islamic Emirate after two months of discussions with the U.N., it was decided in principle to participate in the said meeting,” Abdul Qahar Balkhi said. He used the official title of their men-only government, which is yet to be recognized by the world.

“If there are any changes to the agenda and participation, it would naturally affect our decision, which we will share with all sides at that time,” Balkhi cautioned.

Bennett urged the international community to use an “all-tools approach” centered on justice and accountability, incorporating human rights and women’s voices in political processes and diplomatic engagement while dealing with the Taliban.

“It’s incumbent on us all to take decisive action to stand with Afghan women and girls, hold the perpetrators accountable, and restore dignity, equality, and justice for all.”

The Taliban stormed back to power in Afghanistan almost three years ago, banning girls ages 12 and older from attending secondary school. They have also barred women from working in public and private sectors, including the U.N, except for Afghan health care and a few other departments.

Women are not allowed to travel long distances by road or air unless accompanied by a male relative and are banned from visiting public places such as parks, gyms, and bathhouses.

The Taliban’s return to power in August 2021 led to the worsening of economic and humanitarian conditions in the impoverished country of more than 40 million people, which is reeling from years of war and the devastation of natural disasters.

UN expert condemns Taliban ‘crimes’ against Afghan women, girls