As the two-year anniversary of the Taliban takeover approaches, the UN released a report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan. The report highlights increased restrictions on the freedom of Afghan women and girls. The Taliban has also firmly enforced limitations on women’s freedom of movement and employment. Despite promises of being more moderate than the 1990s regime, the Taliban has instituted harsh policies since taking over Afghanistan in August 2021, which includes barring women from most areas of public life and work, and cracking down on the media. The UN report underlined several key areas where life has been severely restricted under the Taliban regime.
Only men can continue higher education
The Ministry of Public Health announced recently that only males can take the exams required to pursue further medical studies. This follows a ban on female medical students taking graduation exams in February and a prohibition issued last December on women attending university at all. The Taliban has banned girls from attending school beyond sixth grade, making Afghanistan the only country in the world with such restrictions.
Threats, arrests, and detentions of NGO workers
Throughout the months of May and June, the de facto authorities have obstructed NGOs led by women or employing women. Two female staff of an INGO were arrested in May at an airport for traveling without a mahram, or male guardian escorting a woman. The de facto General Directorate of Intelligence stopped a midwife on her way to work, detained and questioned her for 5 hours on her work with an INGO, threatening to kill her if she continued. She resigned two days later.
NGOs have either had their assets seized or licenses suspended altogether. Matiullah Wesa, head of NGO PenPath – an organization campaigning for the reopening of girls’ schools – continues to be detained after his arrest in March on unknown charges. Both male and female staff at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) work from home in order to prevent discrimination in the workplace after the Taliban banned women from working at local and non-governmental organizations. This move faced intense backlash due to the severe ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
Increased security threats and civilians in danger
The daily lives of civilians are affected from decades of conflict and violence. Suicide attacks are still a significant concern in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover, and although there have been fewer incidents, these have resulted in higher numbers of civilian casualties. Between August and May 2023, UNAMA recorded a total of 3,774 civilian casualties from improvised explosive device (IED) attacks in populated areas, such as places of worship, schools and markets. The terrorist group, ISIL-KP, claimed responsibility for most of the attacks. UNAMA also noted victims of unexploded ordnance (UXO) were children who mistakenly picked them up to sell for scrap metal. Victims struggle to access medical, financial and psychosocial support after the attacks. According to the UN report, the de facto authorities have a duty to respect and ensure the rights of all individuals in Afghanistan to live without the fear of an attack.
Extrajudicial killings and public punishments
Under the first Taliban regime, corporal punishment and executions were carried out publicly, often in sports stadiums, against people convicted of crimes. A woman in Parwan province was convicted of adultery in May and lashed 39 times. Three days later, six men were publicly lashed in Kandahar City, after being convicted of sodomy and adultery. 2,000 people were in attendance. In June, a 35-year-old man was executed, the second instance of the death penalty being carried out since the Taliban takeover in August 2021. He was convicted of allegedly killing three children and a man. The victims’ families rejected an offer for financial compensation in exchange for sparing his life. UNAMA has continued to record cases of extrajudicial killings of former government and military personnel nationwide.
Journalists forced not to report Taliban violations
On a daily basis, journalists continue to be arbitrarily arrested and detained. In May, four journalists were arrested in Khost city and told not to publish reports against the de facto authorities. French-Afghan journalist, Mortaza Behboudi, arrested in January, remains in custody on unknown charges. The de facto authorities created the Department of Information and Culture without any mandate explaining its purpose. It conducted an unannounced visit to a private radio station in Kabul, leading journalists to worry about media independence being jeopardized. A delegation of officials from the General Directorate of Intelligence’s Unit 53, which oversees media activities, traveled to several northern provinces to meet with media outlets and recapitulate restrictions placed upon them.
Justice system doesn’t exist under the Taliban
To date, approximately 15,000 people are imprisoned, an increase from the 2022 average of 10,000. Many detainees are women and girls who have served their time, but will not be released without mahrams or male guardians. UNAMA engaged with the de facto Office of Prison Administration to advocate for an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse in prisons across the country. After a visit to the prisons, they reportedly concluded that the allegations were baseless.
Edicts and decrees increase daily
The Ministry for Virtue and Prevention of Vice has been at the forefront of enforcing Taliban edicts and decrees, particularly against women. A group of women, men and girls were beaten, arrested and detained at a checkpoint for failing to comply with the beard and hijab orders. In June, Taliban officials beat a woman for being at a public park. The Ministry gave beauty salons orders to close in early July, and all licenses will be suspended by July 25th. Afghan women continue to protest the closure of beauty salons, risking their safety and the safety of their families.