[Islamabad] A recent report revealing widespread human rights violations in Afghanistan was fiercely rejected by the Afghan Taliban.
The report, conducted by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), outlined the Taliban’s continuous human rights breaches between May and June 2023. It called on the Taliban to act on their “responsibility to respect and protect the rights of all Afghans.”
“Such reports are based on interpretations from people who fled Afghanistan and are now fighting a propaganda war against the country,” said Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesperson.
“Islam is the greatest guardian of human rights, and there is no violation of human rights in Afghanistan,” he asserted. “Our judicial system provides justice to the people in the light of the Quran and Sunnah. All minorities are fully protected, while criminals are not given any kind of exemptions.”
What alleged human rights violations have the Taliban done in Afghanistan?
Since retaking control of Afghanistan after the total withdrawal of US and international forces in 2021, the Taliban have implemented an extreme interpretation of Islamic laws, resulting in restrictions on personal freedoms and widespread discrimination against women.
The report states that “the Taliban continue to severely restrict the rights of women and girls,” naming multiple situations in which the Taliban restricted women’s freedom of movement and work.
On May 1, two Afghan female employees of an international nongovernmental organization (INGO) were detained at an airport for traveling without a mahram (male companion).
On June 3, a midwife was imprisoned and interrogated for five hours, with death threats if she continued her work with an INGO. According to the report, she resigned two days later due to intimidation.
Mujahid denounced these claims, saying, “The UN subsidiary’s report is based on bias, hate, and false content.”
“There is no discrimination against women in the country, they are given full protection and respect under Islamic laws,” he told the Media Line. “[In order] to give women a pleasant and prosperous life, necessary steps have been taken to improve their status as half of society.”
Since retaking the country, the Taliban have enacted severe ordinances restricting women’s rights and participation in society, thereby eradicating gender equality in the country.
Girls above the age of 12 are not permitted to attend school, making Afghanistan the only country in the world with this law.
Not only are women forbidden from study in universities and from working, but also from most public spaces, including parks, gyms, public baths, and restaurants. They are not permitted to leave their homes unaccompanied by men, must have a male escort for trips longer than 48 miles, and are required to wear clothing that only shows their eyes.
Furthermore, the Taliban immediately disbanded the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs and replaced it with the Ministry of Vice and Virtue upon its takeover. This ministry is responsible for enforcing the interpretation of Islamic law.
The Taliban have also instituted brutal and public punishments for breaking its laws. According to a Kabul-based official from the Ministry of Law and Justice, “more than 100 men and women were publicly flogged in many Afghan districts, including Takhar, Logar, Laghman, Parwan, and Kabul in 2022.”
“The floggings took place in front of Taliban officials and the general public in sporting venues,” the official continued. “Each person suffered 20 to 100 lashes for alleged offenses such as stealing, ‘illicit’ relationships, or violations of community codes of conduct.”
According to news sources, several civil society members and journalists have been imprisoned for speaking out against the Taliban’s policy restricting women and girls’ access to schools, employment, and other aspects of public life. There is no clear information on their whereabouts, conditions, or charges.
These detentions included Matiullah Wesa, an advocate for the cause of girls’ education.
“Wesa, the head of the PenPath, a civil society organization campaigning for the reopening of girls’ schools, was arrested in March 2023, by unknown persons who were riding in vehicles without number plates,” the UN News reported. “The same people also entered Wesa’s house the next day and arrested his two brothers.”
Some Afghan women oppose the edicts restricting them, including the ban from public parks.
“If a lady comes with children, she should be permitted to visit the park anyway because these youngsters have seen nothing positive in their lives,” said Marina Jasmin, a retired teacher and resident of Kabul City.
“Children in cities are getting psychologically unwell as a result of being confined to their houses. They should be allowed to enjoy parks with their parents,” she said.
In its latest step to curb working women, the Taliban ordered the closure of beauty salons across the country this month, under a guidance decree issued by the Taliban’s supreme leader.
According to a statement from the Taliban’s Ministry of Vice and Virtue, “Women’s beauty salons in Kabul and provinces should be given a month to shut their business activities, and their licenses and contracts will be invalid at the end of the specified period.”
Women, who have already, been outlawed and ejected from nearly every other profession since August 2021, will now lose salons as a last resource to support their families.
On the world stage, Afghanistan has been rated last among 146 nations in the World Economic Forum’s recently issued Global Gender Gap Report in June 2023.
The report evaluates variables linked to participation and economic opportunities, educational development, health, and political empowerment to assess the current condition and progress of gender equality. Afghanistan ranked at the bottom of the ranking in 2021 and 2022, gaining the title of the world’s worst country in terms of gender equality.
The Media Line spoke to various experts about the situation in Afghanistan.
Dr. Andrew Korybko, a Moscow-based scholar and analyst, told The Media Line: “The Taliban are a political reality that can’t be ignored by any stakeholder that’s serious about engaging with Afghanistan. Every single one of them wants the Taliban to improve the human rights situation in the country, especially with women.”
“Nevertheless, they don’t have any way to force it to do so since the Taliban’s ideology is responsible for these problems,” he continued. “Their members firmly believe in treating people, and especially women, in a certain way that’s at odds with global norms.”
Korybko explained that the Taliban’s ideology is firmly rooted in their religious interpretations, making any talk of change or reform sacrilegious. He believes that as the Taliban’s rule over Afghanistan is unchallenged, nothing is likely to change in their human rights policies.
“The Taliban can’t be bought off on this issue and it appears impossible to expect gradual change from within their ranks,” he said. “As such, those who do business in Afghanistan nowadays must therefore tacitly accept the Taliban’s poor human rights record.”
“After the US-led hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is still hard to believe how much we have been deceived. The Afghan people have once again been pushed back into the Stone Age,” said Nelofur Ayoubi, a Warsaw-based Afghan political analyst and author.
“Young girls and talented women are forced to live a confined life at home, meanwhile, a large number of experts and educated people fleeing the country,” she told The Media Line.
Prof. Adrian Calamel, a New York-based expert on the Middle East and global security, spoke to US interests in Afghanistan.
“The US lost all leverage when it abandoned Afghanistan, leaving behind a bare minimum of 175 US nationals who were unable to escape under Taliban rule,” he said, adding his condemnation of the US’s withdrawal and ongoing policy towards Afghanistan.
“When asked about the report denouncing the manner of withdrawal, President Biden stated that the Taliban are assisting, and that al-Qaida is not present in the nation. With pronouncements like this, it appears that the Biden Administration feels it has an Afghanistan policy that is effective,” Calamel said.
“The present US administration has sent over $1 billion in aid and cash to Afghanistan. The reasons are usually to stave off a humanitarian disaster, but that aid never finds the people suffering—instead, the Taliban line their coffers,” he continued. “Under Taliban rule, Afghanistan will perpetually be a human rights nightmare. Sending money to them is only helping solidify their grip inside.”
The UNAMA report urged immediate attention to these challenges, emphasizing the significance of protecting human rights and ensuring a safe and inclusive environment for all.