UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet led calls on Tuesday for Afghanistan’s new Taliban leaders to respect the rights of all Afghans and warned that the treatment of women and girls is a “fundamental red line” that should not be crossed.
Speaking at the opening of an emergency session at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, a little over a week since the Taliban swept to power, Ms. Bachelet reminded Member States of credible reports of violations of international humanitarian law against civilians in areas under their control.
These reports, she said, make it especially important that the Human Rights Council work in unison to prevent further abuses, and that Member States establish a dedicated mechanism to monitor the fast-evolving situation in Afghanistan and, in particular, the Taliban's implementation of its promises.
Ms. Bachelet added that “a fundamental red line will be the Taliban's treatment of women and girls, and respect for their rights to liberty, freedom of movement, education, self-expression and employment, guided by international human rights norms. In particular, ensuring access to quality secondary education for girls will be an essential indicator of commitment to human rights.”
Among the reported violations received by her office, the UN rights chief cited summary executions of civilians and members of the Afghan national security forces, recruitment of child soldiers and repression of peaceful protest and expressions of dissent.
Echoing those concerns ahead of a vote on a draft resolution calling for investigations and accountability for rights abuses, Afghanistan’s Ambassador, Dr. Nasir Ahmad Andisha, described the prevailing sense of apprehension in the country, with “millions fearing for their lives”.
Dr. Andisha warned that a humanitarian crisis was “unfolding as we speak”, and that thousands people were at risk, from human rights defenders to journalists, academics, professionals, civil society members and former security personnel “who were the backbone – and we hope still will be – of a contemporary and democratic society”.
Speaking in person at the Council, Dr. Andisha reminded Member States that the situation on the ground remained uncertain: “We witness a high number of serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses which are documented and most of those gruesome videos are available online. While some Taliban were and are still talking differently, restrictions and violations are already taking place as we speak.”
© UNICEF Afghanistan
A child walks through a temporary camp set up in Kabul after his family was displaced UNICEF due to insecurity across Afghanistan.
Afghanistan ‘in its worst moment’
Anita Ramasastry, Chair of the Coordination Committee of UN Special Procedures, also noted that women and girls, and many internally displaced people, face particular risks
“Many of these persons are in hiding as the Taliban continues to search homes door-to-door”, she said, “and there are serious concerns that such information gathering may led to them being targeted for reprisals. Searches, arrests, harassment, and intimidation, as well as seizures of property and reprisals are already being reported.”
Warning that Afghanistan was now “in its worst moment” and in need of the support of the international community like never before, Shaharzad Akbar, Chairperson for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, rounded on the emergency session’s draft resolution as a “travesty” that failed to far enough to defend those at risk in the country.
Ambassador Nasir Ahmad Andisha of Afghanistan addresses the Human Rights Council Special Session on Afghanistan., by UNOG
“We have documented that the Taliban advances came with summary executions, disappearances, restrictions on women, media and cultural life. This is not ancient history. This is earlier this month, and this is today,” she said.
“Women in Afghanistan are being turned down (sic) from their offices by the Taliban, universities have been asked to discuss gender segregation possibilities, women are required to be accompanied by male members of their family in public, media are not broadcasting music, journalists and activists are in hiding or in flee (sic), former members of the Afghan National Security Forces are scared of the worst, the summary executions, house-to-house searches and information gathering has led to widespread fear.”
For the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Pakistan Ambassador Khalil Hashmi reiterated the OIC’s commitment “to supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process to reach an inclusive political settlement. The OIC underscores the imperative of active engagement by the international community along political, humanitarian, human rights and development tracks.”
For the United States, Uzra Zeya, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, insisted that the protection of “civilians, including women and girls, academics, journalists, human rights defenders, and members of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups” must remain paramount. “We condemn attacks on them and those seeking to aid them, including UN staff and humanitarian aid providers. Such attacks must stop immediately, and all Afghan nationals and foreign nationals who wish to depart must be allowed to do so safely.”