May 5, 2023
ISLAMABAD — A weeklong special U.N. mission on human rights in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan has found an unprecedented level of “systemic gender-based” discrimination that severely threatens the impoverished country’s future.
The United Nations released preliminary findings of the two-member mission Friday, saying the study concluded Thursday and took place amid a long-standing humanitarian crisis and profound turmoil caused by the latest Taliban edict banning Afghan women from working for the U.N. and local NGOs.
The Taliban have banned girls from receiving an education beyond the sixth grade and women from most government jobs and public places since seizing power in Afghanistan nearly two years ago.
“During our mission, we have documented how women and girls’ lives in Afghanistan are being devastated by the crackdown on their human rights,” the U.N. quoted its investigating team. “They have imposed extreme modesty rules and detained women and girls for alleged ‘moral crimes.'”
The mission comprised Richard Bennett, the U.N. special rapporteur on Afghan human rights, and Dorothy Estrada-Tanck, the chair of its working group on discrimination against women and girls. They met with Taliban representatives, civil society, women groups, entrepreneurs, religious leaders, teachers, journalists and victims of human rights violations, among others, in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and northern Balkh province.
“This extreme situation of institutionalized gender-based discrimination in Afghanistan is unparalleled anywhere in the world,” the statement warned.
While talking to the U.N. experts, numerous women shared “their feelings of fear and extreme anxiety, describing their situation as a life under house arrest.”
Taliban authorities were quoted as telling the mission that women were working in the health, education, and business sectors and that efforts were underway to ensure that “women could work according to Sharia, separated from men.”
The de facto authorities reiterated that they were working on the reopening of schools but did not provide a clear timeline. However, they indicated that the international community should not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, the U.N. experts said.
“We are deeply concerned about the apparent perpetration in Afghanistan of gender persecution – a systematic and grave human rights violation and a crime against humanity,” they added.
The findings were released on the same day that the U.N. office in Kabul concluded a nearly monthlong review of Afghan operations in the aftermath of the Taliban ban on its female staff.
The review renewed the global organization’s condemnation of the ban and demanded its urgent removal, saying it is unlawful and “seriously undermines” the U.N. work in Afghanistan.
The U.N. office reiterated its commitment to stay and deliver on behalf of the people of Afghanistan, saying it “cannot disengage despite the challenges.”
The Taliban reclaimed control of the country in August 2021 when the United States and NATO troops withdrew after almost 20 years of involvement in the war with the former insurgent group. The hard-line Afghan authorities have imposed their own interpretation of Sharia, effectively barring most women from public life.
The international community has refused to recognize the Taliban government, in part because of its bans on women’s access to work and education and its refusal to govern the country through a politically inclusive system.
However, the reclusive Taliban chief, Hibatullah Akhundzada, has ruled out any compromise on what he says is his “Sharia-based governance” and vowed not to allow foreign interference in “internal matters” of Afghanistan.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hosted a two-day international dialogue in Qatar earlier this week on how to engage with the Taliban and develop “a common international approach” to multiple challenges facing Afghanistan.
The conference brought together the envoys of about two dozen countries, including the United States, China and Russia, and major international donors and representatives of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. But the U.N. did not invite the Taliban.
Guterres told a post-meeting news conference in Doha, Qatar, that the participants had agreed on the “need for a strategy of engagement that allows for the stabilization of Afghanistan but also allows for addressing important concerns.”