News / Asia

    Ex-Taliban Official Vows to Protect Afghan Women

    Afghan women shop at a market ahead of the upcoming Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, Jalalabad, Oct. 2012 file photo.
    Afghan women shop at a market ahead of the upcoming Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, Jalalabad, Oct. 2012 file photo.
    Reuters
    Just 16 years ago, Abdul Rahman Hotak helped prop one of the world's most austere regimes for women as a newspaper editor and bureaucrat for the Taliban. Now, as a one of Afghanistan's top human rights protectors, he says he has turned a corner.
     
    Sitting in a small grassed yard outside his new office at the Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, Hotak insists on being a voice in favor of hard-won women's rights in the deeply conservative country, still ranked as one of the world's most dangerous places to be born a girl.
     
    "Unfortunately there are many people who are against women in this country, many of whom I've worked with in the past," the heavily bearded Hotak told Reuters in a rare interview, passionately gesturing under a dark striped turban.
     
    "As a commissioner, I will continue to work with women rights activists to lessen the burden and plight of Afghan women."
     
    President Hamid Karzai's naming of Hotak among five new rights commissioners has raised questions about his commitment to protecting women as most international combat troops leave the country and his government looks to fragile negotiations with the Taliban.
     
    Hotak's controversial past, including rumors of having been an aide to the Taliban's one-eyed leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, has raised alarm from civil rights activists including the New York-based Human Rights Watch and U.N. rights commissions.
     
    Even before the Taliban emerged a formidable post-civil war force in 1994, Hotak was the editor-in-chief of the Taliban's "Afghan Sunrise" newspaper in southern Kandahar province, where the Islamist movement was founded.
     
    Hotak denies serving directly under Omar, and says he joined the radical movement in its early days to "serve his country" and help it recover from decades of bloody civil war that had left much of Kabul in ruins.
     
    But he says he never agreed with much of the oppressive ideology during Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001 which barred women from almost all work and education, as well as voting, decreeing them un-Islamic and imposing harsh punishment for infringements.
     
    "Everyone in Afghanistan had links with one group or another and I am not exceptional," Hotak said.
     
    Even Sima Samar, chair of the independent human rights commission and a perpetual Nobel Peace Prize nominee, has questioned Hotak's appointment, warning it could breach commitments to international backers as a condition of aid made at last year's Tokyo donor summit.
     
    Samar, who won renown as a fierce opponent of the head-to-toe covering burqa for women, said the appointment risked damaging the credibility of the nine-member commission, appointed by Karzai but which acts independently.
     
    UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay also warned that the latest appointments compromised the commission's political independence and effectiveness.
     
    Many Afghan women feel they may bear the brunt of efforts to bring insurgents into a political settlement to end the 12-year NATO-led war, with a step back to some of the conditions they faced before the U.S.-backed overthrow of Taliban rule in 2001.
     
    In the 12 years since, women have regained basic rights and made steps towards more effective political representation with a quarter of seats in the parliament reserved for females. The government has also tried to recruit more women into the police and military.
     
    Hotak, in a possible gesture of moderation, agreed to shake hands with a female reporter, which is unusual for past or present members of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
     
    But he also voiced skepticism about new Elimination of Violence against Women legislation in preparation since 2005 which has sparked a furor in parliament. If passed, the bills would outlaw forced or underage marriage, as well as rape and violence against women, including within families.
     
    "Our third amendment says no law can violate Islam, but now we have this law violating Islam," Hotak said. "A law needs to be made so Muslims and civil society can accept it, so people feel comfortable with the law."
     
    Religious-leaning lawmakers have previously objected to at least eight of the 22 articles in the legislation, including keeping the legal age for women to marry at 16, the existence of shelters for domestic abuse victims and the halving of the number of wives permitted to two.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.