On August 15, 2021, the Taliban entered Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and took control of the country. Subsequent months have seen severe restrictions on the rights of women and girls, religious or belief minorities, and much more. In February 2023, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, indicated that “increasingly, the Taliban is ruling Afghanistan through fear and repressive policies aimed at suppressing communities, and women in particular.” While initially, the Taliban promised that women would be able to “exercise their rights within Sharia law”, including being able to work and study, these promises were merely empty words and the women and girls began to disappear from the public square. Two years after the Fall of Kabul and the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, United Nations experts denounced this de facto authority and the idea of a “reformed” Taliban. The last two years of their reign have seen poverty, human rights violations, persecution and gender apartheid.
Afghanistan is facing severe poverty. As the U.N. experts noted, “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.” In April 2023, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reported that Afghanistan’s economic output collapsed by 20.7%. Furthermore, 85% of the population is said to live under the poverty line and as many as 95% may be facing food insecurity. According to UNICEF, an estimated 16 million children in Afghanistan are not receiving basic food or health care. This economic crisis drives harmful practices such as forced and child marriage, abuse and economic and sexual exploitation, the sale of children and body organs, forced and child labor, trafficking, and unsafe migration.
Human Rights Violations and Persecution
The U.N. experts emphasized that the policies the Taliban imposed upon the people of Afghanistan “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.”
Among the communities at serious risk are the Hazara, an ethnic minority community in Afghanistan (but also a religious minority). The Hazara have been targeted with a wave of attacks ever since the Taliban took over Afghanistan. Such attacks have been common on their places of worship but also schools predominately attended by the Hazara. In 2022, the Hazara Inquiry issued a report warning about the serious risk of genocide against the community. In light of the report, the Taliban denied that the community is targeted and assured that the Hazara are protected in Afghanistan. However, the growing reports of the attacks say otherwise.
The U.N. experts stressed that, in comparison to last year, the situation of women and girls deteriorated even further with the Taliban having “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.” As it stands, gender apartheid is not an international crime. As per the Rome Statute, apartheid, as crimes against humanity, is defined around the issue of racial oppression. However, as experts argue, an amendment to the Rome Statute could ensure that gender apartheid is codified.
Over the last year, women have been barred from working at NGOs and the UN. Girls over 10 years old have been barred from school in several regions. This is in addition to a litany of other restrictions introduced in the first year of the Taliban reign. Apart from being banned from work and education, women in Afghanistan are prohibited from accessing public baths, parks, and gyms, and moving freely around the country. Women and girls are to follow extreme modesty rules of “proper hijab” and not leave the home without reason, or without mandatory maharam (male guardian). With all these restrictions in place, women and girls are ultimately confined to their homes.
The Taliban are (re)establishing a legacy of poverty, human rights violations, persecution and gender apartheid. It is clear that any promises made by the Taliban have not been kept. With this legacy, it is unimaginable how the international community could establish relations with the de facto authority in Afghanistan.
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