UN experts call for immediate end to Taliban’s ‘arbitrary arrests’ of women, girls

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UN experts, including Special Rapporteur Richard Bennett, expressed deep concern on Friday over reports that the Taliban have been arbitrarily detaining scores of women and girls in Afghanistan since early January for alleged dress code violations.

“We urge the Taliban to cease all arbitrary deprivation of liberty targeting women and girls based on the strict dress code they have imposed, and immediately release any women and girls who may still be detained,” the UN experts stated.

The experts urged the de facto authorities to adhere to Afghanistan’s international human rights commitments, including under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and to uphold human rights, non-discrimination, and the rule of law.

Initially concentrated in western Kabul, a predominantly Hazara area, these operations quickly spread to Tajik-dominated parts of the city and other provinces, including Bamiyan, Baghlan, Balkh, Daykundi, and Kunduz. Arrests were made in public places such as shopping centers, schools, and street markets.

Women and girls, accused of wearing “bad hijab,” were forcibly taken into police custody and held incommunicado, with the Taliban claiming they wore colorful and tight clothing contrary to their directives. In May 2022, the Taliban mandated women to wear chadari, a loose black garment covering the body and face, in public, and made male relatives responsible for enforcing the ban.

“Women and girls were reportedly held in overcrowded spaces in police stations, received only one meal a day, and some faced physical violence, threats, and intimidation,” the experts reported. They were denied legal representation and access to justice or reparation.

The release of these women and girls often depended on male family members and community elders providing written assurances to comply with the dress code in the future.

The experts condemned this approach, stating, “Assigning responsibility for what women wear to men violates women’s agency and perpetuates an institutionalized system of discrimination and control, further diminishing their place in society.”

While some women and girls were released within hours, others remained detained for days or weeks. The lack of transparency and access to justice makes it unclear how many are still detained, potentially incommunicado.

“This wave of deprivation of liberty further restricts the severely limited freedoms of expression and movement of women and girls, violating their human rights and agency,” the experts added.

Since the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, the situation for women and girls in Afghanistan has worsened significantly, with escalating restrictions on education, employment, expression, association, privacy, movement, and participation in public life. The experts called for accountability for those responsible for this widespread and systematic discrimination.