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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More