Human Rights Watch States Taliban Crushed Women’s Rights, Dissent as Afghanistan Faced Humanitarian Crisis in its World Report 2023

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Guess what? Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2023 that Taliban authorities, since taking power in August 2021, have broadly imposed rules and policies that deny women and girls their basic rights and crush peaceful dissent. The Taliban’s blanket disregard for rights has contributed to their global isolation even as Afghanistan’s economic and humanitarian crisis worsened, it added.

Go deeper:

  • “The Taliban have been more interested in persecuting women and jailing journalists than addressing Afghanistan’s economic and humanitarian crisis,” said Fereshta Abbasi, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch.
  • “Taliban authorities should fulfill their international legal obligations and permit women and girls to learn, work, and move about freely,” HRW stated.
  • Here are some of the highlights from the report:

Women’s Rights: Since taking power, the Taliban have imposed a long and growing list of rules and policies that comprehensively prevent women and girls from exercising their fundamental rights, including to expression, movement, work, and education affecting virtually all their rights, including to life, livelihood, shelter, health care, food, and water.

  • In March 2022, the Taliban announced that women and girls would continue to be barred from secondary education.
  • The Taliban’s leadership, which is entirely comprised of men, has not permitted women to participate in governance at any level or hold any senior positions in the civil service, including as judges.
  • Authorities announced and frequently enforced rules prohibiting women from traveling or leaving their homes, including to go to the workplace without a male family member accompanying them—an impossible requirement for almost all families—and barred women from holding most types of jobs.
  • Authorities also announced rules requiring women’s faces be covered in public—including women TV newscasters—and stipulated that male family members will be punished when a women violate rules regarding movement and dress.
  • Taliban forces in several instances used excessive force to disperse women engaged in public protests against Taliban policies or rules, arbitrarily detained some protesters and their family members, and allegedly subjected some to torture or beatings.

Economic and Humanitarian Crises: Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis worsened in 2022, largely because of the country’s enduring economic collapse in the wake of the Taliban takeover. Over 90 percent of the population remained food insecure through the year, including tens of millions forced to skip meals daily or endure whole days without eating. Persistent malnutrition has caused increased starvation deaths and longer-term health problems in children.

  • In 2022, most donor countries maintained cutoffs to income assistance and wages for essential workers providing health care, education, and other vital services.
  • US restrictions on the Central Bank of Afghanistan, also known as Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), have continued to prevent the bank from carrying out essential central banking services, essentially keeping the entire economy in a state of collapse.
  • On September 14, 2022, the US government announced the creation of “The Afghan Fund,” a Swiss-based financial mechanism intended to act as a trustee for Afghanistan’s foreign currency reserves and conduct limited transactions and other activities in the place of DAB. However, several essential central banking services can still only be carried out by DAB, and economic impacts will continue until the US reaches an agreement with Taliban authorities about DAB’s status.

On Hazaras: The highlighted that at least 700 people have been killed and injured due to the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) carrying out attacks on schools and mosques, mostly targeting ethnic Hazara Shia Muslims.

  • The report listed some attacks over 2022, which the ISKP had claimed responsibility for in 2022, including on April 19, when a suicide bomber blew himself at a high school in Dasht-e Barchi, west Kabul, a predominantly Hazara and Shia area, which killed or injured 20 students, teachers, and staff.
  • “ISKP also claimed responsibility for an attack two days later at Seh Dokan Mosque in Mazar e Sharif that killed 31 people and wounded 87 others. On April 27, unidentified gunmen killed five Hazara men on their way to the Dare-Suf coal mine in Samangan. On September 30, an attack on an educational center in west Kabul, again a Hazara dominated area, killed 53 and injured 100 students, mostly women and girls,” the report stated.
  • The report emphasised that the Taliban’s failure to provide security to at-risk populations and medical and other assistance to survivors and affected families has exacerbated the harm caused by the attacks.
  • HRW said that the attacks exacted a severe long-term toll apart from the immediate impact as it deprived survivors and families of victims of breadwinners, often imposing severe medical burdens, and restricting their access to daily life.

Extrajudicial Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture, and War Crimes: Taliban forces have carried out revenge killings and enforced disappearances of former government officials and security force personnel. They have also summarily executed people they claim are members of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP).

  • The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) issued a report in August 2022 detailing numerous cases of killings or disappearances committed by Taliban forces since August 2021. It is not always possible to discern those killed were former government personnel or alleged ISKP.
  • In numerous cases over the year, Taliban forces conducted military operations and night raids targeting residents they accuse of harboring or providing support for ISKP members. During many operations, soldiers assaulted civilians and detained people without due process. Detainees were forcibly disappeared or killed, in some cases by beheading. In some provinces, Taliban authorities dumped bodies in public areas or hung bodies on streets or intersections as warnings.
  • In late 2021 and into 2022, residents in Nangarhar exhumed a mass grave in a canal that contained at least 45 bodies in various stages of decomposition, many with signs of torture or brutal executions: some had missing limbs, ropes around their necks, or had been beheaded.
  • In Panjshir province, the Taliban carried out search operations targeting communities they alleged were supporting the armed opposition group National Resistance Front (NRF), detaining and torturing local residents.

Freedom of Media, Speech: Taliban authorities carried out extensive censorship and violence against Afghan media in Kabul and provinces. Hundreds of media outlets were shut down and an estimated 80 percent of women journalists across Afghanistan lost their jobs or left the profession since the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

  • The Taliban’s Directorate of Intelligence engaged in a pattern of threats, intimidation, and violence against members of the media, and were responsible for targeted killings of journalists. Authorities also banned outlets in Afghanistan from broadcasting international news programs, including Voice of America and the BBC, in Dari, Pashto, and Uzbek languages. Journalists covering women’s rights protests faced particular abuse. The Taliban also shut down websites of two media outlets.

Zoom out: In the 712-page World Report 2023, its 33rd edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in close to 100 countries.

  • It is worth mentioning that on October 31, the International Criminal Court (ICC) judges announced that the long-delayed investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Afghanistan could resume because there was no evidence to suggest that Afghanistan authorities had or were carrying out genuine national proceedings sufficient to exclude the situation from the ICC’s mandate.
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