UN rights envoy reports on ‘deteriorating’ situation in Afghanistan

Richard Bennett, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Afghanistan, on Monday slammed the Taliban for their gross human rights violations, especially against women, and said the international community needs to “shift gears” to get “tangible results.”

Addressing the Human Rights Council’s 54th regular session, Bennett said in the two years since the Taliban regained control of the country, “the Afghan people are experiencing yet more hardship; they are confronted by a humanitarian crisis as well as by a de facto regime that’s violating a multitude of human rights and has eviscerated the rights, life chances and dignity of women and girls.”

He said after two years, the question on “many lips, most importantly those of Afghans who oppose the status quo, is not what the situation is but what can be done to reverse the downward slide.”

He said people in Afghanistan have long been calling for “more than condemnation of a deteriorating situation and for the international community to unite and to shift gears to achieve tangible results.”

“The sentiment of abandonment resonates deeply among Afghans, particularly women,” he said, adding that many women have told him they “feel betrayed” by the international community and that “trust is at a low ebb; they ask for concrete actions.”

He went on to say that some women and men in Europe have started a hunger strike, calling for the recognition of “gender apartheid”. He stated that he has repeatedly reported about the systematic violation of women and girls’ human rights that limits every aspect of their lives.

“Once again, I call on the Taliban to reverse their draconian, misogynistic policies and allow women to work and run businesses including delivering essential services through NGOs and the UN. Reopen the doors of schools and universities with a curriculum that meets international standards.”

He pointed out that the compounded impact of these restrictions and the dire economic situation has impacted mental health. This is demonstrated by alarming reports of a surge in suicides and suicide attempts, especially among women.

Bennett said while the Taliban consistently point to their achievements since they took power – “my message is whatever they achieve will continue to be severely undermined by their failure to protect human rights, especially those of women and girls.”

He reiterated that the systemic, widespread, institutionalized  discrimination that seeks to exclude women from all facets of life necessitates and examination of the evolving phenomenon of gender apartheid.”

He also voiced concern over the uptick in “arbitrary” arrests and detention of journalists. He said such action has a chilling effect for all national and international  media outlets that have staff in Afghanistan.

Bennett also called for the immediate release of activists and journalists in custody, including women.

He said there has been “a rapid deterioration” in the situation in the country in terms of human rights, and that “people are publicly tortured and flogged for example.” He went on to say that he has consistently drawn attention to the absence of institutions, including a constitution, that are essential for the rule of law to flourish.