UN rights experts denounce idea of ‘reformed’ Taliban

More than 30 independent UN human rights experts have called for the international community to recommit to support the people of Afghanistan. They made the call in a statement issued on Monday marking two years since the Taliban took power.

The gap between promises and practices by Afghanistan’s de facto authorities has widened during this period, they said, denouncing the idea of a “reformed” Taliban.

They added Taliban policies imposed on the population “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.”

The experts cited consistent credible reports of summary executions and other violations, including acts tantamount to enforced disappearances, widespread arbitrary detention, torture, and ill treatment, as well as arbitrary displacement.

Hardest hit are women and girls; ethnic, religious and other minorities; people with disabilities, displaced persons, and LGBTQ+ persons (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and others). Human rights defenders and other civil society representatives, journalists, artists, educators, and former government and security officials, are also affected.

“Despite reassurances by the Taliban de facto authorities that any restrictions, particularly in terms of access to education would be temporary, the facts on the ground have demonstrated an accelerated, systematic, and all engulfing system of segregation, marginalization and persecution,” they stated.

They noted that in comparison to last year, discrimination against women and girls has deepened, subjecting them “to total domination so egregious, that the collective practices constitute gender persecution, a crime against humanity”.

Last December, Afghan women were barred from working with humanitarian organizations, which was later expanded to include UN agencies. The Taliban also prohibited girls from attending secondary school. Recently, de facto authorities in several provinces reportedly stopped allowing girls over the age of 10 from attending school.

“Women have even been denied the ability to seek comfort in some of their own spaces such as beauty salons that were frequented and run by women, as these have been recently ordered to close,” the experts continued.

Furthermore, promises for a more inclusive form of government did not materialize, the amnesty for former government and military officials is being violated, and guidelines to stop torture and ill treatment in detention centres are often ignored, among other concerns.

The de facto authorities also have introduced the use of cruel and undignified punishments such as stoning, flogging and burying under a wall in contravention of international human rights standards, they said, adding that “the concept of a “reformed” Taliban has been exposed as mistaken.”

The rights experts issued a six-point appeal that called for the Taliban to immediately reverse the treatment of women and girls, including allowing them to enjoy all human rights such as the rights to freedom of movement, participation in political and public life, and access to education.

The Taliban should also end reprisals against former government and security officials, as well as civil servants, and uphold the general amnesty. The appeal further called for ending arbitrary detentions and torture, ensuring that civil society and journalists can function without undue hindrance, and enforcing measures to prevent discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities.

The experts also highlighted the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, which is occurring amid an economic downturn, with an estimated 16 million children not receiving basic food or healthcare. The situation is driving harmful practices such as child marriage, abuse, exploitation, and even the sale of children and body organs.

Nearly 30 million Afghans require assistance, an all-time high. However, the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, recently reported that a $3.2 billion plan to support them faces a “critical funding gap” of $1.3 billion.

The experts feared that the consequences could include discontinuation of community-based classes, reduced food assistance, and closure of health facilities.

“Moreover, these dire conditions, compounded by a plethora of restrictions, and a lack of employment opportunities may lead to harmful coping mechanisms such as joining criminal or armed groups,” they warned.

“Many Afghans continue to leave the country out of desperation. While countries that are receiving Afghans should be commended, many Afghan refugees reside in host countries in desperate circumstances”.

The experts called for the international community “to commit to the people of Afghanistan with renewed vigour and increased unity”, if the situation is to change.

They urged decisive action that includes “ensuring political engagement with all Afghan interlocutors manifests a human rights centered and gender integrated approach”, bridging the humanitarian funding gap, and finding ways to provide aid that reaches the Afghan people directly.

Among the other measures called for are supporting investigation and accountability mechanisms for human rights violations, recognizing the treatment of women and girls by the Taliban as gender persecution, and stepping up commitment to Afghan refugees and migrants.

The 31 experts who issued the statement were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on specific country situations or thematic issues.

They include Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan; Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls; Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, and the members of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances.

Special Rapporteurs and other independent experts serve in their individual capacity and are independent of any Government or organization.

They are not UN staff and do not receive payment for their work.

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