International Human Rights Groups Demand Afghan Women’s Participation in the Third Doha Meeting

In a letter to the UN, the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security –  expressed the growing concern about how the international community lacks the “necessary resolve to defend and advocate for the human rights of Afghan women and girls.” 

This will be the third Doha meeting, taking place in Doha, Qatar on June 30 and July 1st. 

The letter was signed by Amnesty International, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, and Human Rights Watch among several others. 

The NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, states that Doha III offers an opportunity to show Afghans that their human rights are not just a political bargaining chip, “but the foundation on which the future of their country depends.”

Moreover, the Afghanistan Human Rights Center (AHRC) in a statement on Friday, called for the “inclusive and human rights-centered agenda in the upcoming UN meeting of Special Representatives and envoys on Afghanistan in Doha. The AHRC calls for compliance with Security Council resolution 2681 which demands the full inclusion of women and girls in Afghanistan. 

It may seem hard to believe that in the past four months since the last Doha meeting, the Gender Apartheid regime, already draconian and “unparalleled globally” has worsened, but this is the reality for Afghan women and girls. The over 100 edicts restricting women’s role in public life and freedom are increasingly enforced. Afghan women have even called for a boycott of negotiating with the Taliban until women’s rights are restored. The international community has failed to halt the Taliban and their systematic oppression of Afghan women and girls. 

The Doha meeting should be focused on one central point: the rights of Afghan women and girls. Until these rights are fulfilled, the Taliban cannot negotiate on an international stage or worse, set the agenda for a meeting with the UN and other representatives. 

The “credibility of the Doha process” depends not on Taliban participation but on setting a clear, transparent and non-negotiable set of principles, including and especially women’s rights and participation, says the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. They urge the UN to not concede to the demands of the Taliban that excludes women and does not address any of the glaring issues of gender oppression. 

The Doha meeting should on the one hand, support Afghanistan’s peace, security, democracy and human rights for all citizens, and on the other hand, reject the normalization of Taliban policies and policies of gender apartheid and oppression. 

The international community must directly address the human rights violations, including policies of Gender Apartheid, which go against treaties and international laws.

Humanitarian assistance should be focused on improving the situation for women, such as the return of women to work and pursue an education. Discussions on economic development “should be conditioned on the restoration of equal rights of women before the law.”

At this meeting, women, minority ethnic groups and human rights defenders must be present. This is crucial in ensuring that “the voices of those most affected by the Taliban’s policies are heard.”

Sources:

NGO Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security 06/08/2024; Afghanistan Human Rights Center (AHRC) 06/10/2024

At the Doha Conference, the Decision to Give Afghan Women Their Seats at the Table Must Be Clear

 June 30th will mark over 1,000 days since the closing of secondary schools for girls and 500 days since the edict banning women from receiving a university education. The United Nations will be hosting the annual Doha Meeting in Qatar on June 30th where various countries and special envoys, including the UN will discuss various issues related to Afghanistan. 

Currently, Afghan women are denied the opportunity to fulfill their dreams or seek employment which exacerbates the number of women living in poverty and unable to support their families.

Together Stronger, a coalition of advocates composed of women from across Afghanistan and outside Afghanistan published a letter on Wednesday urging Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, as well as Special Envoys and Responsible Officials to include Afghan civil society and Afghan women in the Doha Meeting later this month. The Together Stronger coalition demands the inclusion of civil society in these meetings which will help achieve “sustainable and just outcomes.”

The Taliban plans to attend the Doha Meeting on their terms. This means that once again, they are silencing the Afghan people, both men and women, in order to avoid hearing opposition to the persecution caused by their policies of gender apartheid. To sideline the issues most affecting Afghans and holding Afghanistan back from progress will result in a fruitless discussion. 

Women’s treatment under the Taliban must be a focal topic of discussion, and women’s participation is central to this. Exclusionary practices will instead protect the Taliban from being held accountable and normalize their de facto leadership rather than looking at how their regime has impacted Afghans and especially Afghan women and girls.

Excluding women violates international law agreements including the, United Nations Charter,  United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on the important role of women in promoting peace and ending conflict, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and the International Conventions on Civil, Political, Economic and Social Rights. These are not just abstract figures of speech but principles which must be upheld in practice. 

The Doha Meeting thus marks a pivotal moment for the international community. The global community has two decisions: whether to listen to Afghan women and whether to designate the treatment of Afghan women by the Taliban gender apartheid and criminalize it under international law. Under the current conditions, more than half of the population is stripped of their basic rights, making it essential to include women in policy discussions to determine their future. Diverse perspectives include those of systematically oppressed and marginalized groups, such as women, youth, minorities and others who deserve the same respect and representation.

Afghan women’s rights and dignity is not a political bargaining chip. It is the only way to move towards meaningful and sustainable change. 

Mexico Elects its First Female President

In a historic first, Claudia Sheinbaum has been elected Mexico’s first female president. 

While votes are still being tallied, Sheinbaum is on track for a landslide victory, winning around 58 to 60% of votes, according to Mexico’s electoral agency. Other candidates, Xóchitl Gálvez and Jorge Álvarez Máynez are predicted to get around 27% and 9% of the vote respectively. This is a huge win in a country where women’s suffrage was not granted until 1953 and also marks the first time where the two main opponents were women. 

Gender-related issues are among Sheinbaum’s main concerns for when she takes office on October 1st as Mexico has one of the highest rates of murder and violence against women. According to UN Women, 10 women are killed in Mexico each day, with thousands more disappearing annually. Women across the country gather every International Women’s Day to protest against and raise awareness on the issue of femicide, the killing of a woman or girl on account of her gender. 

Claudia Sheinbaum, an environmental scientist with a Ph.D. in engineering, previously served as mayor of Mexico City. She was part of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 shared with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. She is also Mexico’s first Jewish president.

In Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Fresno, Mexican voters went to local consulate offices to cast their votes, according to Mexico’s National Electoral Institute.

(Leer en español.)

México elige la primera presidenta

En un momento histórico, Claudia Sheinbaum se convirtió en la primera mujer y la primera persona judía en ser electa a la presidencia de México.

En los resultados iniciales, Sheinbaum ganó con al menos el 58 por ciento del voto, según las autoridades electorales. Su competidora más cercana, Xóchitl Gálvez ganó al menos 29 por ciento del voto. Jorge Álvarez Máynez obtuvo tercer lugar con 9 por ciento del voto.

Es una victoria monumental en un país donde las mujeres no podían votar hasta 1953. Esta elección también sirve como la primera vez que las dos oponentes principales eran mujeres. Cuestiones de género serán importantes cuando Sheinbaum asuma el cargo en octubre. México tiene una de las tasas de homicidio y violencia contra las mujeres más altas en el mundo. Según UN Women, 10 mujeres son asesinadas cada día y miles de mujeres son desaparecidas cada año. Mujeres en el país se reúnen en el día internacional de la mujer para protestar contra y generar conciencia sobre el feminicidio, el asesinato de una mujer por machismo o misoginia. 

Claudia Sheinbaum, científica medioambiental con un doctorado en ingeniería y exjefa de gobierno de Ciudad de México. Fue parte de un panel de expertos de las Naciones Unidas en 2007 cuyo trabajo recibió un Premio Nobel de la Paz con el anterior vicepresidente estadounidense Al Gore. 

En ciudades como Dallas, Houston, Los Ángeles, San Francisco, San Diego y Fresno, votantes mexicanos fueron a los consulados locales para emitir sus votos, según el Instituto Federal Electoral en México.

Afghanistan: Where history repeats itself at the expense of women

This article is adapted from an opinion piece by Dr. Sima Samar, originally published in Ms. Magazine.

Dr. Sima Samar is a human rights advocate and medical doctor who belongs to Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazara minority group. Dr. Samar served as Minister of Women’s Affairs from 2001 to 2003 and was the highest ranking woman in Afghanistan, serving as Vice President of the post-Taliban Interim Administration of Afghanistan. She was also Chairperson of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission for 17 years, witnessing firsthand the factors that led to the recent reversal of fortunes in Afghanistan. According to Dr. Samar, Afghanistan has been a collective failure of the Afghan people, government, the international community and UN agencies and they all hold a collective responsibility to reverse the current course. 

Writing about the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan twenty years after they were removed from power is both surreal and heartbreaking for Dr. Samar. The Taliban that now rules Afghanistan is the same extremist entity that revoked the basic human rights of Afghanistan’s women and girls and minorities when they were first in power from 1996 to 2001 and have swiftly reinstated gender apartheid. 

“I did not think that I would see history repeating itself in my country twice within my life,” writes Samar. 

She asks “how did Afghanistan change from a country where I attended co-educational schools, walked freely and was not required to wear a scarf on my head or burqa even in the conservative province of Helmand, where I grew up, to the only country in the world where girls are banned from education beyond sixth grade?” 

Although Afghanistan has always been a poor country where the majority of the population are Muslim, practice Islam and live within a patriarchal system, it has never experienced the Gender Apartheid and extreme interpretation of religion that the Taliban forced on people from 1996 to 2001 and again now. Sustainable peace and development require an end to the culture of impunity for international crimes.  

Some have been quick to call the twenty years the international community spent in Afghanistan a failure or worse, a “forever war.” But in those 20 years, life expectancy rose from 47 to 63 years. Maternal mortality dropped by 50%. Afghan girls and boys went back to school and nation-building was going well. That’s not a failure, Samar explains.

The human rights abuses of the Taliban and re-establishment of Gender Apartheid have largely been met with light condemnation by the international community. “I am very concerned that a trend of normalization of the regime has begun to emerge,” says Samar. Although they have not received official recognition by any country, China, Pakistan, Iran, Russia and India have allowed Taliban representatives in embassies and consulates. The international community and the feminist movement must not be lulled into complacency.

“While I understand that there are other priorities and conflicts around the world and that each conflict requires its own attention, ignoring the problems in Afghanistan will not help solve the other problems. Forgetting, Afghanistan will make it more likely for history to repeat itself,” Samar reminds us. 

We cannot forget the key lesson from Afghanistan: Peace, security and development are not possible without respect for human rights, and all of them are not possible without women’s participation.

The return of the Taliban is not the only repetition of history. Once again, Afghanistan is falling from the international agenda, as it did in 1992. If the Afghan people and the international community learn nothing from this recent past, the cycle of violence and devastation will spread not only in Afghanistan, but also beyond our borders. 

Sources:Ms. Sima Samar | UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement

Afghan Women Express Dread and Anxiety at the Possibility of Taliban Recognition 

In a country-wide women’s consultation conducted by three UN agencies, Afghan women have expressed “dread” and “anxiety” at the possibility of international recognition of the Taliban. 67% of women have said that recognition would severely affect their lives, especially as the Taliban is now often referred to as the de facto authorities (DFA). 

The consultations and survey on the situation of women in Afghanistan convened 745 Afghan women from across all 34 provinces. The report was put together by UN Women, the International Organization for Migration (UN Migration), and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). 

Among the participants, a majority stated that if such international recognition were to occur, it should only be contingent upon the removal of all restrictions in place by the Taliban against Afghan women and girls. 

Afghan women have described how the enforcement of the Taliban hijab decree, which demands head to toe coverage of a woman’s body, has increased harassment towards them and heightened their fears of being arrested and dishonored by being in police custody. It is considered shameful and dishonorable for the woman and her family when she is arrested and placed into custody, sometimes even resulting in suicide or death by her family. 

Women reported feeling unsafe leaving their home without a mahram or male guardian. One woman said that police informed her that they “sought to erase women from public spaces, step by step.” Following the report, UNAMA consulted 28 women in Kabul who had witnessed the DFA forces rounding up women and girls in public and taking them to police stations where they had to call a male family member to pick them up. The male family member then had to pay a fine and sign a document to ensure that the woman would wear the full coverage hijab in the future.

Only 1% of women felt they had “good” or “full” influence on community decision-making, a decrease from 17% in January 2023. Women lack the infrastructure to gather and share their views and experiences or to build community and engage on issues they consider important. Women spoke about the low levels of social trust with 96% reporting that “most people cannot be trusted,” including neighbors, because anybody could be a Taliban informant. This risk leads to women feeling unsafe in their own communities and unable to help their neighbors.

Women also described an “intergenerational and gendered impact” of the DFA restrictions on shifting attitudes of children. For example, boys appeared to be “internalizing the social and political subordination of their mothers and sisters.” Meanwhile, girls’ perceptions of their future were changing due to the current conditions.

Importantly, women requested that the international community not recognize the Taliban unless restrictions are removed. The Taliban has a current track record on women’s rights and “cannot be trusted to improve the current situation.” 

Women expressed their deep disappointment with Member States that engaged with the DFA, overlooking the “severity of an unprecedented women’s rights crisis” otherwise known as gender apartheid. Afghan women said that the best way to improve their situation was to link international aid to better conditions for women.

Source: 

Asia Pacific UN Women 2024

A new academic year begins in Afghanistan without girls as the Taliban continues to deny their education

Spring is a season that signifies fresh opportunities, growth and hope. This month is also marked with the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8th. However, for Afghan women and girls, the reality is very different as they continue to be oppressed by an extreme gender apartheid. 

In Afghanistan, the school year begins in the Spring, on March 23rd. For the third year in a row, girls have been banned from attending secondary school beyond the 6th grade. According to the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, more than 1 million girls are impacted by the Taliban decrees restricting education and more rights of women and girls. Afghanistan is the only country in the world with this policy. 

The ban on education was seen as a temporary measure, as the Taliban de facto authorities promised that certain conditions would be needed for girls to return to school, but no progress has been made in over the past 2 years. Since their return to power, the Taliban has issued over 100 harsh edicts directed towards women and girls and shifted towards madrassas, or religious schools, rather than literacy and numeracy skills. Religion and culture hold value but cannot be weaponized to deprive people of their basic human rights.  

Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over the deep harm that has been inflicted on boys as a result of these changes in their curriculum and focus on religious education. For example, female teachers are not allowed to teach boys and an increase in corporal punishment has led to lower attendance in regular schools. 

Furthermore, women and girls are excluded from participating in all areas of public life. The Taliban’s education ministry held a ceremony for the start of the academic year which female journalists were not allowed to attend stating “due to the lack of a suitable place for the sisters, we apologize to female reporters.” 

Women’s lack of access to education remains one of Afghanistan’s biggest obstacles. And the lack of respect and dignity and equality are even bigger obstacles for women and girls. 

Sources:

AP News 3/20/2024

Euro News 3/21/2024

International Women’s Day: Afghan Women Endure Gender Apartheid

As the world marked March 8th, International Women’s Day, women in Afghanistan feel they have “nothing to celebrate.” Women’s Day is meant to be a day dedicated to the fight to achieve gender equality and advance women’s well-being and progress in various social, political and economic aspects of life. 

But in Afghanistan, the increasingly austere policies of gender apartheid against women are a stark reminder of the discrimination faced by women in the country. 

Gulsoom, a 13-year old who completed sixth grade when the Taliban shut down her school, expressed worries about her future: “When girls are denied education, it deeply affects their mental well-being. I urge the United Nations to reopen girls’ schools and universities.”

This International Women’s Day, Afghan women from an activist group known as the Purple Saturdays staged a protest in the northern province of Takhar, demanding “Rights, Justice, Freedom,” one sign read. “Our silence and fear is the biggest weapon of the Taliban,” said one of the protestors. 

Samira Hamidi, with Amnesty International’s Afghanistan, laid out the brutal treatment of women and girls who have protested Taliban policies e.g. violence, death and arrest. UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, insists that the Taliban government release all women who have been arbitrarily detained for defending human and women’s rights. 

Last summer, women held a demonstration after beauty salons were closed down, where gunshots were fired into the air to disperse the crowd. Even those protesting and speaking up from their homes are being detained and kept in jail. 

At other protests in Mazar-i-Sharif city, women pointed out that schools, universities and offices should be open to women, and that it is “very painful that a woman has no value in our society today. She cannot use any of her rights.” 

They added, “women make up half of human society as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and teachers. The holy religion of Islam is not against women’s work and education,” countering an argument used by the Taliban in their interpretation of Sharia law.

International Women’s Day allows us to reflect on the challenges facing women around the world and on the mechanisms that can be used to fight those challenges. For example, the Independent Coalition of Afghanistan Women’s Protest Movement called for action from the international community against the violation of human rights the Taliban commit against Afghan women. 

Since the Taliban takeover of the government in 2021, gender apartheid has been at the forefront of the debate over Afghanistan’s future, and it remains crucial that it is recognized as an international crime to fight against it. It is imperative to recognize gender apartheid as an international crime as regimes systematically and deliberately oppress and alienate women only because they are women. It would also complement the 11 crimes against humanity listed under the Rome Statute.

Women in Afghanistan grapple with this International Women’s Day in obscurity. Advancements in women’s rights are incomplete without the inclusion and solidarity of Afghan women, who have seen setbacks in their fight for dignity.

Sources:

UN Women 3/8/2024; NBC News 3/8/2023; Arab News 3/8/2024; Amu 3/8/2024

Gender Apartheid Constantly Expanding in Afghanistan

Jan Chipchase, Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Since the Taliban returned to power two and a half years ago, the regime has persisted in finding ways to curtail women’s rights and lives, with its most recent ban on women contacting radio stations. The Taliban has issued over 100 edicts to limit and ban women and girls’ access to employment, education, travel, and their ability to go to parks, shops, bathhouses, and most public spaces. Afghan women and girls are essentially confined to their homes.

In February, the Taliban prohibited women from calling into radio stations in Khost province to publicly express their opinions. In another effort, the Taliban governor for Kandahar banned “photos and videos of all living beings.” Notably, during their first regime in the late 1990s, the Taliban was notorious for prohibiting photography and videography.

In the southeast province of Khost, the de facto authorities announced through an official statement that women are prohibited from contacting local radio and television channels. Local media outlets were instructed not to accept phone calls from girls, according to the Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC). 

Afghan media, which has faced significant attacks under Taliban rule, used to serve as a vital platform for education, information, and the opportunity to critique political and social issues. Some major media outlets stood as a source of independent information and offered several popular social and educational programs. The educational programs were particularly crucial to Afghans living in rural areas.  

A woman from Khost province who spoke with Radio Azadi said that “the prohibition of girls contacting media outlets is a move to slowly erase women from society.” In August of last year, women were banned from appearing on broadcasts in Southern Afghanistan as well. 

The latest move is justified as a way of preventing the spread of “immorality,” said regional security head, Abdul Rashid Omari, in a letter he sent to the Information and Culture department of the Taliban. Omari claimed that private media outlets were engaging in “illegitimate contacts” with girls through social and educational programs.

Local media stations have also been warned that they could be “summoned and prosecuted” for broadcasting educational content without permission. Samia Walizadeh, the head of Communications for the Afghanistan Journalists Center, explained that this edict is a violation of media laws and the right for citizens to have free access to information. AFCJ is demanding for the order to be repealed. 

Educational and social programs via radio and media have become one of the last places where women and girls can access education and engage with others in their communities. Since the Taliban’s return to power, Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls are prohibited from attending school past the sixth grade. 

The Feminist Majority Foundation is participating in a campaign to stop gender apartheid in Afghanistan, actively advocating for the human rights of Afghan women and girls. Afghan women and girls have persisted in opposing this rule of gender apartheid, along with a coalition of international organizations and individuals concerned with this outrageous ban and restriction of human rights. This coalition is urging the UN and countries around the world to not recognize or legitimize the Taliban until its horrific treatment of women ends and to classify gender apartheid as an international crime against humanity. So far, no country has recognized this brutal regime. 

Gender apartheid is a serious violation of human rights. Normalizing gender apartheid not only perpetuates discrimination and persecution on the basis of gender, it also escalates the broader struggle against human rights violations.

Source:

RFE/RL 02/18/2024; 8AM Media 02/18/2024

International Day of Education requires us to fight for women’s education everywhere. In Afghanistan, the Taliban has denied women and girls access to education.

“I love school. It brightens my future, builds up my education, and I learn about life,” Fariza, Afghan girl, UNICEF

As the world celebrates International Day of Education, this day serves as a grim reminder of the restrictions on Afghan women’s and girls’ opportunity to pursue an education. 

Afghan women and girls have been forced out of school for more than 850 days. 

Girls cannot pursue an education beyond sixth grade and women cannot pursue higher education in public universities. Banning women from receiving an education does not only inflict harm on 50% of the population, it isolates Afghanistan from the rest of the world, affects all Afghans and their communities, and has a negative impact on Afghanistan’s economy. 

Prior to the Taliban takeover, all 34 provinces offered women and girls access to education at all levels. From 2002 to 2021 3.5 million girls enrolled in first to 12th grade. Afghanistan also had 200,000 teachers, including 80,000 female teachers. Over 100,000 women were enrolled in public or private universities. 

The right to education is a universal human right outlined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Moreover, the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Children (CRC) holds that countries must make education accessible to all. In fact, a quality education is listed as goal number 4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

“In Afghanistan, education for all, for girls and boys, women and men, is more than just a fundamental right. It is the foundation for Afghanistan’s future,” said Roza Otunbayeva, using this day as an opportunity to once again call on the Taliban to lift the ban on girls’ education. 

Opening schools is not only a western ideal but a demand of Muslim countries. “In the holy religion of Islam, every day is the day of education, but unfortunately today on the International Day of Education schools and universities are closed [in Afghanistan.]”, said Tafsir Seyaposh, a women’s rights activist.

It is no secret that education is the key for women to independence, escaping poverty and building a successful future. Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations said “to educate girls is to reduce poverty.” In Afghanistan, the dire humanitarian crisis demonstrates the need to educate women and girls. 

The Taliban’s edicts on education also target men and boys. Schools have been burned down as a tactic to crack down on educational institutions. Over the past two years, Afghanistan has seen the rapid increase in madrassas, religious education institutes. While there is nothing inherently wrong with religious education, these madrassas have been used as centers for training suicide bombers and weapon use. 

Source:

UNICEF, Tolonews, UN, USIP 

Taliban Leader: Afghan Women’s Rights “have been fully secured” despite ongoing gender apartheid 

Mullah Hibatullah, the Taliban’s leader, said in a recent statement that women’s rights in Afghanistan “have been fully secured.” The Taliban leader who has never been seen in public or by any official except Taliban members, claimed that women have been given their full rights under Sharia. 

It is unclear which standards the Taliban is using to assess the status of Afghan girls and women’s rights. The pervasive systemic discrimination against women through the release of over 100 edicts issued nationally and sub-nationally would suggest otherwise. According to Tahira Nasiri, a women’s rights activist, not only are women deprived of their basic rights such as work and education, “but women have also faced forced and early marriages, murder, detention, and suppression for over two years.”

By educational standards, Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls cannot seek an education after elementary school. In fact, Afghan culture and Islam both value the importance of women’s education. In terms of employment, women are prohibited from working in all sectors, including with local and international humanitarian organizations. As a result, women who were once the primary breadwinners are now unable to feed their families. 

Over the past two and a half years, we have been witness to gender apartheid policies that relegate women to a subhuman status. Women have been essentially erased from public life and are prohibited from any social and cultural contributions. 

A recording released on Wednesday at a religious scholars’ meeting in Kandahar, however,  conveys a different interpretation. Hibatullah says in this recording that women’s rights have been “guaranteed in all areas” under their rule. He refers to the orders he issued in areas such as inheritance rights, prevention of forced marriages and providing a dowry for women but none of those have been implemented and the order issued were more advisory. Hibatullah, leader of the de facto authorities, suggested that these rights are “better secured” than in previous governments.

Gender apartheid must be officially recognized as the situation in Afghanistan, regardless of the Taliban’s empty promises for women’s rights.

Source: social media, Khaam Press.

Seven out of every ten people in Afghanistan are unable to meet their basic life requirements

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reports that Afghanistan is in a deepening economic crisis and suffering economic insecurity under the Taliban regime.

The organization stated in a report released recently that 69% of Afghanistan’s population faces a shortage of necessities such as healthcare, essential goods, suitable living conditions and job opportunities, particularly for women. The collapse of the banking system in Afghanistan can be largely attributed to policies of gender apartheid against girls and women, which has had devastating consequences on the progress of the overall nation. 

Women, who are prohibited from working, attending school, or being a part of public social life, are unable to feed their families and do not know where the next meal will come from. Since the Taliban took over, they have prevented women from working with domestic and international aid agencies, which has further affected Afghan people and created a worsening humanitarian crisis.

Source: UNDP-Afghanistan

Afghan Refugees in Pakistan Face the Risk of Deportation and Human Rights Abuses

The spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed concern over Pakistan’s plan to deport undocumented Afghan refugees on November 1st. This will disproportionately affect more than a million Afghans who moved to Pakistan for safety. 

The plan for mass deportation was announced earlier this month, after which, 59,780 individuals left Pakistan to return to Afghanistan due to fears of arrest. Currently, there are over 2 million Afghans living in Pakistan without proper documentation, of which 600,000 fled Afghanistan after the takeover of the Taliban in 2021.

Those facing risk of deportation are at even greater risk of being subjected to human rights abuses if they return to Afghanistan. Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the OHCHR, said that “at particular risk are civil society activists, journalists, human rights defenders, former government officials and security members, and of course women and girls as a whole,” due to harsh policies of gender apartheid banning them from education, employment and many aspects of public life. 

Deporting Afghans is a violation of the principle of non-refoulement, defined as the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution. This international law is included in the Convention Against Torture (CAT), which Pakistan has ratified. 

Afghanistan is experiencing an ongoing humanitarian crisis, worsened by two large earthquakes that hit Afghanistan’s northwestern Herat province. The international community has a responsibility to observe and respect the rights of Afghans, rather than punishing them. 

Source:

OHCR 10/27/2023; OHCR

Pakistan Threatens to Deport All Afghan Refugees, Violating Refugee Rights and Putting Afghans at High Risk 

Last week, Pakistan ordered all “illegal” migrants to leave the country, leaving millions, including long-term residents with valid documents, vulnerable to being returned to Afghanistan. 

According to Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti, “illegal” Afghan migrants are those without Proof of Registration (PoR) cards or expired Afghan Citizen cards (ACC) issued by the Pakistani government. 

The detainment and deportation of Afghan refugees has led to international outrage over human rights abuses. All refugees have the right to non-refoulement, a law outlined in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which states that individuals facing fear of persecution in their countries cannot be returned. Many Afghan refugees currently residing in Pakistan are former government employees – civil and military, activists, journalists, women’s groups leaders and many other groups who face threats of torture and detention by the Taliban if they return to Afghanistan. 

Currently 3.7 million Afghans fleeing war, poverty and political instability in their homeland, live in Pakistan. The Taliban takeover in 2021 saw an increase in 700,000 refugees to Pakistan. Afghans have fled to the neighboring country of Pakistan since 1979 during the Soviet occupation and in the 1990s during the first Taliban regime. Only around 1.4 million Afghans hold Proof of Registration cards required to stay legally, according to Pakistani officials. Moreover, one-time Afghan Citizen Cards (ACC) issued by the government to 880,000 refugees in 2017 have expired. Now with an extended refugee crisis, the maintenance of large-scale documentation for refugees is in peril. 

Before the deportation was announced, for over a year, Afghan citizens were being detained, for alleged illegal stay, entry violations, and involvement in crime. Pakistan’s detention of Afghan citizens is in an effort to regulate its borders and maintain internal security, especially as tensions rise between Islamabad and the Taliban over the rise in extremist militancy in Pakistan. 

In response to this, Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban government spokesman, said that Pakistan’s plans to push out Afghans was “unacceptable,” and that “Afghan refugees are not involved in Pakistan’s security problems.” In response to international pressure and calls from activists and global organizations, Pakistan released some 2500 refugees detained in Pakistani prisons. 

Afghan citizens have also faced detention and deportation in Iran and Turkey as well. Bugti added, “If they do not go… then all the law enforcement agencies in the provinces or federal government will be utilized to deport them.”

Every human being deserves the right to liberty and safety, including refugees. Forced deportation will only worsen conditions for refugees.

Sources:

Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty 10/08/2023

Devastation from Earthquakes in Afghanistan Strikes an Already-Shaky Foundation

Authorities have confirmed over 2000 casualties following a devastating earthquake that hit northwestern Afghanistan’s Herat province. Two 6.3-magnitude earthquakes hit several districts on Saturday, followed by 7 tremors, causing mud-brick homes to collapse. Thousands of people have since been sleeping outside in freezing temperatures to protect themselves from aftershocks that could destroy their homes. Several villages have been reduced to rubble with the count of fatalities and injuries continuing to climb. 

Aid workers on Sunday encountered devastating effects from the earthquake: people’s homes destroyed, entire families killed, and hospitals and clinics overwhelmed with injured people – hospitals and clinics that were already close to collapsing due to lack of funding. The earthquakes are one the deadliest disasters Afghanistan has seen in decades and recently, the country has grappled with flooding and mudslides too. The earthquakes and other disasters have exacerbated the precarious humanitarian aid situation and economic crisis caused by the takeover of the government in Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2021.

The consequent disappearance of millions of jobs have led to almost half of the population’s 39 million people facing severe hunger and 3 million on the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations World Food Program. The Taliban released edicts earlier this year to prevent women from working for NGOs and delivering much-needed aid. Aid money has begun to peter out as the world’s attention goes elsewhere and the Taliban’s gender apartheid policies against women have led to calls to stop funding the country entirely. 

Taliban officials claim to be directing military and service organizations to help those injured and provide food and shelter to remote areas but volunteers shared that “little” if any aid had been received from the Taliban. Distribution of tents and blankets in Herat only begins to scratch at the surface of people’s needs.

Sources:

CNN 10/08/2023; NYTimes 10/08/2023

Solutions Lagging Behind the Urgency: United Nations Addressed Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan

Recently, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the issue of gender apartheid in Afghanistan and compel the Taliban to stop policies of gender apartheid. Issues of human rights and women’s rights are fading from the global landscape’s attention. It is more important than ever to continue to fight for women’s rights in Afghanistan and to hold the Taliban authorities accountable.  

Ongoing gender apartheid worsens conditions for Afghan women and girls in all aspects of life. The United Nations expresses hope that the Taliban will reverse its course, despite restrictive policies issued by the de facto authorities which show no signs of stopping. The group has solidified its exclusionary stronghold in the country and its influence grows through the implementation of madrassas, religious institutes across Afghanistan. The Taliban views criticism of its rule as an orchestrated attack from the west against the interpretation of Sharia law. It is important to note that neither Islamic law nor Afghan culture call for banning women from education, work or erasing them from society. 

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) produced three reports, underscoring the ongoing attack on fundamental human rights, including women’s rights, and other violations. In spite of slight economic improvement, these issues remain of critical concern. 

The international community has come to a juncture where it is forced to bridge the gap between the Taliban de facto authorities’ policies and the international norm. The UN and the international community do not currently recognize the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan. Yet, the issue of direct engagement has to be contended with in order to deliver much-needed humanitarian assistance. This is a process from which women are also excluded, limiting its efficacy and reach. According to the representative from the United Kingdom, “Afghanistan cannot be self-reliant when 50% of its people are excluded from society.” 

Roza Otunbayeva, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of UNAMA voiced her concern over the “more than 50 decrees issued by the Taliban, aimed at eliminating women from public life and education.” In response to this, she cited a recent report in which more than 46 per cent of Afghan women stated that the Taliban should not be recognized under any circumstances. This was taken from an UNAMA survey of 529 women surveyed across 22 different provinces. Women’s voices must be heard and acted upon. UN Women’s Sima Sami Bahous says “Afghan women continue to call on international actors to use all means at their disposal to leverage and pressure for change, including the use of sanctions without exceptions for travel, and the issue of non-recognition.” 

The UN recommends the de facto authority engage in dialogue with neighboring countries and the international community to counter present security threats. Although security incidents have decreased, the presence and activity of terrorist groups is a concern. Without respect for human rights, economic growth, and resilience to natural disasters, the risk of radicalization among young people grows, threatening the prospect of peace in the future. 

Karima Bennoune, international legal expert and civil society representative, urged the Security Council to adopt resolutions labeling the treatment of Afghan women by the Taliban as an institutionalized framework of “gender apartheid.” This is one step in the right direction toward recognizing and addressing the dehumanizing existence women have been relegated to. 

Source:

UN 09/26/2023

China’s Ambassador to Afghanistan as a Catalyst to Slippery Slope of International Recognition for Taliban

Recently, China announced its new ambassador to Afghanistan, Zhao Xing, who presented himself at a lavish ceremony in Kabul last week. He is the first foreign envoy to occupy an ambassador position since the Taliban took power in August 2021. The Taliban has not been officially recognized by any government, but they celebrated this moment as “the beginning of a new chapter.” The Chinese foreign ministry, however, tried to downplay hopes for formal recognition of the de facto authorities. 

Observers said that the appointment indicates China’s openness to create close ties with the Taliban regime. Beijing kept their ambassador-level relations and their embassy in Kabul after the fall of the previous government. Other countries and bodies, including Pakistan and the European Union have sent senior diplomats on missions using the title “charge d’affaires” which does not require presenting ambassadorial credentials to the host nations, as China did.

Zhao said that China was “a good neighbor of Afghanistan” and “fully respects Afghanistan’s independence, territorial integrity and independence in decision-making.” The Taliban has been criticized globally for their treatment of women and human rights violations. Countries in the region care more about security and economic ties than human rights issues, which they consider an internal problem. In May, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to work together tri-laterally to counter terrorism and strengthen security. The Taliban has also been accused of allowing various extremist terrorist groups to flourish within the country. 

Afghanistan is a key region to China. It falls in Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. Militants of the Turkistan Islamic Party along Afghanistan’s border with China’s Xinjiang region have targeted Chinese projects in the past to retaliate against Beijing’s mistreatment of Muslim minorities of the Uyghur ethnic group. Such mistreatment includes mass detentions, forced labor, “re-education” of the Uyghur population, and abuse of a million Uyghurs under surveillance – all of which China has denied. The Taliban has vowed to help China in the removal of these militants from Afghanistan and that it would not allow the Uyghur leaders to operate against China from Afghanistan’s territory. Thousands of Uyghurs have fled to Afghanistan, but now fear becoming victims of China’s influence on the country.

This comes ahead of Russia reportedly inviting the Taliban to attend the Moscow Format later this month in the Russian city of Kazan. Spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that the goal is to “bring together key regional actors to address various aspects of Afghanistan’s situation, intra-Afghan reconciliation, regional security and post-conflict reconstruction efforts.” Russia reports that the main focus of the conference will be to form an “inclusive” government reflecting the major ethnopolitical groups within Afghanistan.

Both developments reflect a shift in the international outlook and treatment of the de facto authorities, leading in the direction of normalized relations and diplomatic recognition. We cannot forget the plight of Afghan women and the continuing human rights violations occurring in Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban. 

Sources:

CNN 09/14/2023; BBC 09/14/2023; Reuters 09/13/2023

Human Rights Crimes Against Former Government Officials Further Solidifies Taliban’s Grip of Power on Afghanistan

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released a report recently calling attention to several instances of human rights violations by the Taliban against former government officials across 34 different provinces in the country, with the greatest occurring in Kabul.

To date, there have been at least 800 instances of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest, torture and disappearances against people affiliated with the previous government, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan supported by the US and an international coalition of countries. These cases go against the Taliban’s promise to pardon all those who worked for the former government and international allies. It represents “a betrayal of people’s trust,” said Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

After the Taliban takeover of the Afghanistan in 2021, former U.S.-backed government officials were targeted, especially those in the Afghan security forces and judicial branch. Some were killed before even being taken into custody, others killed in custody, and some taken to remote locations and killed. UNAMA interviewed families of the victims who had gone missing and whose bodies turned up months later. The former head of Herat Women’s Prison, Alia Azizi, never returned home from work on October 2, 2021. Her whereabouts are still unknown. 

Moving forward, says Roza Otunbayeva, Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Head of UNAMA, “the de facto authorities must demonstrate genuine commitment to general amnesty.” This would be “a crucial step in ensuring real prospects for justice, reconciliation, and lasting peace in Afghanistan.” 

Despite being the de facto authorities of Afghanistan, the Taliban still has an obligation under international human rights law to prevent further violations and hold perpetrators accountable. The Taliban responded by saying that the killings were simply personal matters or “revenge cases” and not carried out in any official capacity. Even then, the Taliban has failed in providing security to Afghans at risk and are evading responsibility. 

The Taliban has received international criticism for their harsh policies of gender apartheid against women and are currently not recognized by the U.N. or the international community.

Source:

UNAMA 08/22/2023; ABC News 08/22/2023

“Immeasurably Cruel” Oppression of Afghan Women and a Further Collapse of Human Rights

The United Nations Rights Chief accused the Taliban of a “shocking level of oppression” of women and girls, and said that more broadly, human rights in the country were in “collapse.” The observation and fulfillment of human rights in Afghanistan has been in steady decline since the takeover of the government by the Taliban in 2021. The Taliban did not respond, but in previous statements claimed that they respect women’s rights in line with their interpretation of Islamic law. 

A recent UN report based on the time from March 2022 to August 2023, tracks the systemic regression of women’s and girls’ rights and records hundreds of cases of gender-based violence against women. Women have been banned from education, work, and most public spaces through Taliban-issued edicts that are “immeasurably cruel,” according to the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk. 

The human rights crisis is affecting millions of Afghan women, men, girls, and boys, and demands international attention.

Source:

Reuters 09/12/2023

What is “Freedom” to the Taliban? The Taliban’s Constricted Vision for Afghanistan’s Future. 


The Taliban has remained firm and doubled down on its vision for the future of Afghanistan. Since its takeover of the Afghan government 2 years ago, it established a de facto government, composed of different ministries to impose their interpretation of an “Islamic” rule and rollback the achievements of the former government. The Taliban has reversed almost every measure, going as far as taking out trees planted under the former government, calling the trees “infidel.” 

Recently, in an opening of a religious center in eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban Minister of Interior Affairs, Sirajuddin Haqqani, called on people to support the Islamic system, saying “the enemies of our religion and country cannot take away our freedom and now they are plotting and warning the system.” He added, “our belief is firm and our struggle is pure and we are united.” 

The Taliban notion of “freedom” is misplaced and criminal as they lack national and global legitimacy. When Haqqani invokes the term freedom, he refers to the Taliban’s ability to force people to obey their rules that are in contradiction with Afghan values and Islam, and which erase women from society altogether. When the Taliban invokes the term “freedom” and “liberation” they refer to forcing global allies out of Afghanistan and militarily collapsing a system that valued freedom and democracy. 

The assertion that the Taliban is united is untrue. Earlier this year, senior Taliban officials began expressing public disagreements with official stances. The dissent comes as the group struggles for international legitimacy, with some leaders pushing to respect the demands of the Afghan people. The Taliban Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, said the group “must aim for winning the hearts of our people rather than ruling over them with batons.” There is also conflict over the way in which the supreme leader “monopolizes” power and issues decrees that he expects other officials to obey and enforce on the Afghan people. 

The Taliban’s rhetoric is focused on defending the country from perceived outside threats and “enemies,” but neglects the humanitarian crises facing the country, the rise in extremist activity by various terrorist groups, and continues to steadily strip women of their fundamental rights.

On another occasion, the Minister of Information and Culture, Khairullah Khairkhah, asked young people to make more and effective use of the opportunities created now in the country. Such opportunities mainly constitute religious training in madrassas, religious seminaries under the Taliban. He tells them “you are lucky that there are scholars.” Since the Taliban’s return to power, opportunities have been limited and to women, erased. People are forced to flee due to unemployment, which is the highest it has been in the past 25 years.  

These standpoints ignore crucial issues surrounding Afghan women, the economy, and Afghanistan’s place on the global stage. Not to mention that millions of Afghans face unemployment, which is at a 30% rate, and a lack of opportunities for a livelihood. Other officials have made similar statements. 

The Acting Minister of Economy, Din Mohammad Hanif, also discussed the sacrifices made in order to establish the Taliban’s Islamic system, emphasizing the role of mujahideens, fighters and religious scholars. He said “the majority of the sacrifices were made by the scholars,” and the “leadership was led by the scholars.” To the Taliban, a scholar is only a person with religious education and with the Taliban in power, there has been increasing focus on madrassas, religious institutions and less focus on other subjects. 

Emphasis on the victory of the Taliban and its role in freeing the Afghan people leaves little space for critique of the current political system and ideas regarding Afghan freedom that deviate from the Taliban’s narrow ideals. The goal is ultimately power through force, which is considered victory and freedom, not anything that the Afghan people, including women, want. 

The Taliban has not liberated the country and its people. The regime has erased the human rights of women and girls, destroyed a democratic and electoral system, and enforced primitive rules on the Afghan people. The Taliban doesn’t deserve the legitimacy from the international community that the regime demands. 

Sources: 

Ariana News, 9/2/2023; VoA 02/23/2023; RFE/RL 06/02/2023; Human Concern

Ethnic and Religious Minorities Face Systemic Discrimination Under Taliban Rule in Afghanistan

The Taliban’s rise to power in 2021 raised concerns about their treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in the country, who had been persecuted during the first Taliban regime. Shi’ite Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and other religious minorities suffer systemic discrimination under Taliban rule. 

In the 1980s, there were around 100,000 Hindus and Sikhs across the country. After the war began in 1979, growing persecution pushed many out. The Taliban and rival groups promised to protect religious minorities but this did not occur, and Sikhs and Hindus lost their homes and businesses. During the first Taliban regime, militant rulers announced that Sikhs and Hindus would be forced to wear yellow badges to be identified, which led to international uproar. They were also prevented from building new temples and had to pay jizya, taxes for not being a Muslim.

Other religious minorities, such as Shi’a Muslims, make up approximately 15% of Afghanistan’s 40 million people, and are mostly ethnic Hazaras, some Tajiks and few Pashtuns. In addition to harassment and persecution, the minorities are also denied the right to use their jurisprudence in courts. Afghanistan’s 2004 Constitution permitted Shi’a to use their Jafari jurisprudence in court cases. But the Constitution has since been suspended indefinitely by the Taliban and minorities are asked to follow the Taliban’s rules. 

Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” 

The Taliban originally promised better treatment towards minority groups. They visited Shi’a mosques in Kabul and designated officials to protect ceremonies for the Shi’ite month of Muharram. Since then, they have broken promises granting the Shi’ite community freedom to observe their religion. 

Last month, the Taliban stopped Shi’a from celebrating an important festival, Eid al-Ghadir, a day that marks when Prophet Muhammad declared Ali, a cousin, his successor. In Sunni belief, this day is when Abu Bakr, the first Muslim caliph, became the successor to Prophet Muhammad. This is the main ideological difference between the two sects. The Taliban has also restricted Shi’a teachings at universities and in February announced an edict banning marriages between Shi’a and Sunnis in Badakhshan province, in northern Afghanistan. 

Sikhs and Hindus also face harsh restrictions on their appearance and have been banned from celebrating religious holidays in public to the point where many have fled. Fari Kaur, one of the last Sikhs remaining in Kabul describes that she “cannot go anywhere” and is forced to “dress like a Muslim” so that nobody will identify her as Sikh. 

Kaur’s father was killed in a suicide attack targeting Sikhs and Hindus at a temple in Jalalabad five years ago, in eastern Afghanistan. After that attack, some 1,500 Sikhs left Afghansitan, including Kaur’s remaining family. In 2020, 25 worshippers were killed when IS-K militants attacked a Sikh temple in Kabul. Kaur says “we have very few community members left behind in Afghanistan. We cannot even look after our temples.” 

Historically, the Taliban has been intolerant of public expressions and displays of the Sikh and Hindu, Shi’ite and other religious minorities. The Taliban has often forced to impose their interpretation of Islam and Islamic laws on all Afghans, and especially on religious minorities who are not Muslim and Sunni. 

The ban on observing religious holidays goes “against the spirit of Islamic brotherhood and national unity,” said Seyyed Mohammad Hossein Rizwani, a scholar at Shi’a Ulema Council of Afghanistan. The de facto authorities are attempting to institute their “distorted view of Islam,” leaving minority groups vulnerable to other religious extremists in the region, whose presence has increased since 2021.

The situation in Afghanistan worsens as political extremist factions claiming to represent Islam rise to power throughout the region. According to Niala Mohammed, director of policy and strategy at the nonprofit Muslim Public Affairs Council in Washington, “this exodus of diverse religious groups has left a void in the country’s social fabric.”

Source: 

RFE/RL 07/17/2023; RFE/RL 08/252/2023

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