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Taliban accuse UN rights expert on Afghanistan of undermining Doha meeting

FILE - Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Nov. 5, 2022.
FILE - Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Nov. 5, 2022.

Afghanistan’s Taliban have labeled the latest United Nations report on alleged human rights violations as an attempt to “tarnish perceptions” in the lead-up to this month’s international meeting to discuss the crisis-ridden country.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the chief Taliban spokesman, emphasized Wednesday the need for “constructive and positive engagement” between their government and the international community.

His response came a day after Richard Bennett, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, alleged that the Taliban’s “pattern of systematic violations of women’s and girls’ fundamental rights” has intensified.

Bennett presented his hard-hitting report on Tuesday to a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, demanding that those responsible for Afghan human rights abuses be held to account.

“Some members of the United Nations, particularly the report by Richard Bennett, are attempting to tarnish perceptions ahead of the upcoming Doha meeting,” Mujahid stated. “Unfortunately, certain individuals within the United Nations are constantly trying to present a distorted image of Afghanistan and overshadow significant progress with a few limited issues,” he added.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called a two-day conference of international envoys on Afghanistan in Qatar’s capital, Doha, on June 30.

The Taliban will attend for the first time in what will be the third meeting hosted by the Gulf state since Guterres initiated the process over a year ago. The U.N.-led dialogue is aimed at establishing a coherent and unified global approach to engagement with the de facto Afghan government, which has yet to be formally recognized by the world.

Bennett said Tuesday it is essential that Afghan civil society, including women human rights defenders, meaningfully participate in the third Doha meeting and that women’s and girls’ rights be addressed both directly and within thematic discussions.

"It is hoped that reality will be understood, and a constructive stance will be adopted,” Mujahid said Wednesday.

Human rights groups have criticized the U.N. for inviting the Taliban to the Doha huddle rather than holding them accountable for “crimes” against Afghan women and girls. They also have expressed concerns that, unlike the previous two Doha meetings, Afghan civil society and human rights activists would be kept from the upcoming session under pressure from the Taliban.

On Tuesday, Farhan Haq, the U.N. deputy spokesperson, defended the decision to invite the Taliban to the third Doha conference. He would not say, however, whether Afghan civil society representatives will have a session with representatives of the de facto government.

“At this stage, the arrangements for the conference are still ongoing," Haq told a news conference in New York.

“This is a key concern, and we want to make sure that the rightful role of women in society is respected in Afghanistan, as it needs to be everywhere in the world,” he said when asked whether the U.N. would support Bennett’s call for the Taliban’s “gender apartheid” to be codified as a crime against humanity.

“Well, I just want to underscore that we treat them as the de facto authorities on the ground. They are not treated as the recognized government of Afghanistan,” Haq explained when asked whether the U.N. would follow Bennett's advice not to treat the Taliban as a legitimate government or allow them to dictate the terms of the U.N.-hosted meetings.

Guterres did not invite the Taliban to the first Doha meeting in May 2023, and the de facto Afghan rulers refused to join the second in February unless their delegates could be accepted as the sole representatives of Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s foreign ministry announced on Sunday that it has decided to send its delegation to the third Doha meeting after two months of discussions with the U.N. regarding the agenda and participation list. “If there are any changes to the agenda and participation, it would naturally affect our decision, which we will share with all sides at that time,” it stated.

The Taliban returned to power in Kabul almost three years ago, imposing sweeping retractions on Afghan women’s rights and freedom of movement in line with their harsh interpretation of Islam.

Girls aged 12 and older are banned from attending secondary school, and women are prohibited from working in public and private sectors, including the U.N., except for Afghan health care and a few other departments. Females are not allowed to travel long distances by road or air unless accompanied by a male relative, and they are banned from visiting public places such as parks, gyms and bathhouses.

The Taliban dismiss international criticism of their governance and calls for reversing curbs on women as an interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.