Human rights in Afghanistan ‘in a state of collapse’, warns UN rights chief

UNITED NATIONS  -  The “shocking” and “cruel” oppres­sion of Afghan women and girls by the Taliban against the backdrop of a severe humanitarian crisis has put the country’s future in jeopardy, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk warned Tuesday.

“Human rights in Afghanistan are in a state of collapse,” he told the Ge­neva-based Human Rights Council, before sounding the alarm over on­going reports of extrajudicial kill­ings, torture and ill-treatment, and arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as serious violations against former government officials, as doc­umented in a new human rights of­fice (OHCHR) report. “Compounding all of this is a deeply troubling lack of accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations,” he said.

Turk highlighted the “devastat­ing precedent” set by Afghanistan as the only country in the world where women and girls are denied access to secondary and higher education. He underscored the “long list of mi­sogynistic restrictions” confining the country’s women “to the four walls of their homes”, before asking: “What can possibly come next?”

The High Commissioner insisted that any prospect of a stable, pros­perous Afghanistan rested on the participation of men and women.

“Denying women and girls’ rights to participate in daily and public life not only denies them their human rights, it denies Afghanistan the benefit of the contributions they have to offer,” he said.

Turk said that the suspension of the Afghan constitution and of laws pro­tecting women from violence or guar­anteeing media freedom, as well as the dissolution of the country’s Indepen­dent Human Rights Commission, were elements of the “systematic erosion of the institutions that once provid­ed some protection for human rights”. The High Commissioner called on the de facto authorities to “change course” and bring Afghanistan back to the in­ternational fold with full respect for its international human rights obligations.

He insisted that the UN Assis­tance Mission in Afghanistan (UN­AMA) would continue to monitor and report on the situation, as well as “raise individual cases and urge compliance with international law by the de facto authorities” to the greatest extent possible.

Turk paid tribute to the work of his human rights colleagues on the ground, especially Afghan female staff. He also exhorted the inter­national community not to “turn its back on Afghanistan” at a time when rights were being eroded and two-thirds of the population were in need of aid, while humanitarian operations were hindered by the ban on women working for the UN and NGOs. Turk comments came a day after the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, deliv­ered a sombre update to the Council.

Many Afghans living abroad “say they feel ‘betrayed’ by the interna­tional community”, the Special Rap­porteur explained. They are calling for concrete action and some have even started a hunger strike “calling for recognition of gender apartheid”.

In June, Bennett had said that since systematic and institutionalized dis­crimination against women and girls was at the heart of Taliban ideology and rule, Afghanistan’s de facto au­thorities “may be responsible for gen­der apartheid” which, although “not yet an explicit international crime”, re­quired “further study in our view”. Ben­nett also briefed the Council on Mon­day on the “collapse of civic space” and “absence of rule of law” since the Tal­iban takeover, the long-term impacts on children’s development and men­tal health, and the repression and lack of representation of minorities such as Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and Turkmen.

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