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Taliban Accused of Dismantling Human Rights Gains in Afghanistan

A Taliban fighter watches as Afghan women hold placards during a demonstration demanding better rights for women in front of the former Ministry of Women Affairs in Kabul on September 19, 2021.

A new report released Monday warned that the human rights gains made by Afghanistan during the last two decades are at risk of collapsing following the Taliban's takeover of the country more than a month ago.

The Islamist movement is wasting no time in "steadily dismantling" the progress, Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) said in the report, which documents the Taliban's alleged wide-ranging crackdown.

Contrary to the Taliban's repeated public pledges that they will respect the rights of all Afghans, the report detailed "a litany" of abuses, noting that restrictions have also been placed on women, freedom of expression and civil society.

"In just over five weeks since assuming control of Afghanistan, the Taliban have clearly demonstrated that they are not serious about protecting or respecting human rights. We have already seen a wave of violations, from reprisal attacks and restrictions on women, to crackdowns on protests, the media and civil society," said Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty International's deputy director for South Asia.

A Taliban fighter patrols along a street in Herat, September 19, 2021.
A Taliban fighter patrols along a street in Herat, September 19, 2021.

The report alleges that attacks on human rights defenders have been reported on "a near-daily basis" since August 15, the day when the Taliban marched into the Afghan capital, Kabul, and established their control over almost all of the country.

"The Taliban are conducting door-to-door searches for human rights defenders, forcing many into hiding," the report said.

The findings "are likely to represent just a snapshot" of what is happening in Afghanistan, the report said, citing the prevailing climate of fear, lack of mobile connectivity in many areas and internet blackouts enforced by the Taliban.

"The international community must uphold its moral and political commitments and not fail the people who have dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights, gender equality, the rule of law and democratic freedoms in their country but protect them at all costs," said Delphine Reculeau, program director at OMCT.

Taliban officials have not immediately commented on the allegations.

On Monday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed they had closed the government's Ministry of Women's Affairs and replaced it with a ministry aimed at promoting morality and preventing wrongdoing.

Employees of the World Bank's $100 million Women's Economic Empowerment and Rural Development Program were escorted out of the building Saturday as part of the change, according to program staffer Sharif Akhtar, who was among those forced out.

On Twitter, the state-owned Bakhtar News Agency quoted Mujahid as saying the female staff of the ministry will be accommodated in other government departments.

"Now, efforts are being made to create a modern organization in which women's Islamic rights are introduced and achieved," he insisted.

Mujahid denied claims that girls would be banned from secondary schools. He said that while boys have resumed education, arrangements are being made for a special transportation system for female students, among other rules, so they can return to schools in a safe environment.

The denial came just days after the Taliban's Ministry of Education directed male students and teachers from the 6th to the 12th grade to resume their classes last Saturday. The directive did not mention female students, fueling concerns that girls would once again be barred from receiving an education.

The Taliban had banned women from leaving home without a male relative and girls from schools when they were in power from 1996 to 2001.

Afghan girls sit in a classroom at a school in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 18, 2021. (West Asia News Agency via Reuters)
Afghan girls sit in a classroom at a school in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 18, 2021. (West Asia News Agency via Reuters)

The Taliban also have dissolved the official Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), saying an investigation has also been launched into allegations of corruption against members of the commission.

The move came a day after the AIHRC urged the Taliban in a statement to respect human rights and the independence of the official watchdog, as well as its staff.

The Taliban have also told female employees in the Kabul city government to stay home, with work only allowed for those who cannot be replaced by men.

'One-sided criticism'

The United States and other countries have demanded that Taliban control of the country involves inclusive government, respect for human rights, and to desist from bringing back their harsh Islamist rule to avoid being internationally isolated.

Mujahid urged the international community Monday to recognize the new Taliban government and stop "one-sided" criticism of Kabul's human rights record.

"As long as we are not recognized, and they make criticisms (over rights violations), we think it is a one-sided approach. It would be good for them to treat us responsibly and recognize our current government as a responsible administration," he told the private Afghan TOLO news channel.

"Afterward, they can share their concerns lawfully with us, and we will address their concerns," the Taliban spokesman said.