In a UN report published today, the Taliban’s response to gender-based violence against women in Afghanistan has raised serious human rights concerns. Contrary to international standards, the Taliban now often referred to as the “de facto authorities” have reportedly resorted to imprisoning women as a means of protection, reflecting a divergence from established legal frameworks and putting women at risk of further harm. This unconventional approach, outlined in the report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), sheds light on the challenges Afghan women face in accessing justice and protection in the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover since August 2021.
According to the UNAMA report, the Taliban authorities have been referring women to prison facilities in instances where they lack a “mahram” (a close male relative) with whom they can stay, or if staying with a mahram is deemed unsafe. This practice, ostensibly aimed at safeguarding women from gender-based violence, has sparked international concern as it disregards established human rights principles, including the right to liberty and security of person.
One of the critical issues highlighted in the UNAMA report is the lack of a clear legal framework governing the administration of justice concerning complaints of gender-based violence. The absence of a structured and transparent legal system raises questions about the accountability of the de facto authorities, leaving room for arbitrary actions and decisions that may compromise the safety and rights of women.
The report emphasizes a lack of uniformity in the handling of gender-based violence complaints by the Taliban’s de facto institutions. With the police, courts, and Departments of Justice prioritizing mediation over prosecution, many complaints reportedly go through traditional dispute resolution mechanisms. The use of such methods, while not inherently problematic, becomes concerning if it leads to human rights violations or if it obstructs women’s access to formal justice systems.
Imprisoning women as a preventive measure against gender-based violence raises extreme ethical and human rights concerns. The UNAMA report argues that confining women, especially those already vulnerable, in prison facilities without proper legal basis and enforcement of criminal law could constitute an arbitrary deprivation of liberty. It further emphasizes the potential negative impact on women’s mental and physical health, as well as the risk of discrimination and stigmatization upon release.
UNAMA strongly recommends that the Taliban authorities adhere to international human rights standards and adopt measures to protect Afghan women from gender-based violence. Key recommendations include establishing a clear legal framework in line with international obligations, reinstating specialized law enforcement units, and promoting the creation of women’s protection shelters in collaboration with local NGOs and international organizations.