UN expert warns human rights crisis presages authoritarianism: Afghanistan


Afghanistan faces a deepening human rights crisis under Taliban rule that is leading to authoritarianism, a UN expert warned today.

In his first report to the Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennett catalogues human rights abuses under the Taliban since it seized control of the country in August 2021, including a severe rollback of the rights of women and girls, reprisals targeting opponents and critics, attacks on minorities including Hazara-Shia and the clampdown on the media.

Bennett expressed grave concern about the staggering regression in women and girls’ enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the suspension of secondary school education for girls.

“In no other country have women and girls so rapidly disappeared from all spheres of public life,” Bennett said. “Despite this, women and girls remain at the forefront of efforts to maintain human rights and continue to call for accountability.”

Bennett’s report said that there had been systematic attacks against the civilian population, including revenge killings of former government officials.

“I am particularly concerned that former Afghan National Defence and Security Forces and officials remain subject to ongoing extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, despite the amnesty declared by the Taliban” the expert said.

Bennett said journalistic independence and freedom of expression in Afghanistan were significantly curtailed and access to information has become increasingly challenging.

“Journalists have been attacked, intimidated, arrested and subjected to strict censorship. Civic space has eroded rapidly, and human rights organisations have faced constant pressure,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“There is no tolerance for even peaceful modes of dissent or complaint which are frequently met with violence. Taken together, the measures are indicators of a slide into authoritarianism,” he said.

Bennett warned that since the Taliban takeover, the independence of the judicial system had been compromised and local human rights monitoring mechanisms dismantled, with the abolition of the independent Human Rights Commission being a particular concern.

“There is no national mechanism in Afghanistan that can openly address the scale of the human rights violations taking place, let alone hold perpetrators accountable or provide victims with reparation and redress,” Bennett said.

His report also highlighted that the situation of ethnic and religious minorities, which have faced historical persecution and attacks, has continued to deteriorate since August 2021.

“Their places of worship, educational and medical centres have been systematically attacked. They have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured, summarily executed, evicted, marginalised and in some cases forced to flee the country, raising questions of international crimes that warrant further investigation,” the Special Rapporteur said.

While appreciating being received by the de facto authorities during his visit in May, and their willingness to exchange views, Bennett reminded them of their obligations under international treaties to which Afghanistan is a State party and expressed hope he could build on this dialogue further.

“The human rights situation was concerning for decades prior to the Taliban seizing control of the country in August 2021; since then, it has significantly deteriorated,” Bennett said. He urged the Taliban and all parties – including the international community – to take immediate and concrete actions to reverse the trend and ensure the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights of all Afghan citizens.

He urged the Taliban to acknowledge and address human rights abuses and violations by respecting the human rights of women and girls, as well as children and other groups of concern, being more inclusive of diversity and tolerant of different perspectives, and restoring the rule of law, including oversight institutions.

“The Taliban must close the gap between their words and their actions. The Afghan people and international community will judge them on the latter,” Bennett said.

“We must pay particular attention to calls from Afghans across all walks of life for accountability and justice, for concrete and effective challenges to the impunity pervasive in the country and for correcting the mistakes of the past to prevent their recurrence in the future,” the Special Rapporteur said.

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