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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid