The Afghan Taliban have turned down renewed calls by the United Nations for the Islamist rulers to reverse restrictions on the human rights of women in Afghanistan, saying they are in line with local religious and cultural values.
The hard-line group’s foreign ministry issued a statement Friday rejecting U.N. concerns as “unfounded.” It urged the global community “not to pass verdicts based on malicious and antagonist reporting of some media outlets or propaganda” by Afghan opposition forces.
In consecutive statements this week, the U.N. Security Council and the world body’s special observer on the human rights situation in Afghanistan expressed “deep concern” and sharply criticized the latest Taliban order for women to cover up fully in public, including their faces.
The Taliban’s Ministry for Vice and Virtue, tasked with interpreting and enforcing the Taliban’s version of Islam, also bound female presenters on Afghan TV channels to cover their faces when on air.
The male-only interim Taliban government has suspended secondary education for most teenage girls, prevented female employees in some government departments from returning to their jobs, barred women from traveling beyond 70 kilometers unless accompanied by a male relative and strongly advised them to stay at home.
Friday’s Taliban statement noted that the “government considers the observance of Islamic hijab to be in line with the religious and cultural practices of society and aspirations of majority of Afghan women.” It went on to stress that “nothing has been imposed on the Afghan people that runs counter to the religious and cultural beliefs of the Islamic society.”
The Taliban urged the international community to “show respect” for Afghan values, insisting it believed in resolving problems through dialogue.
The Taliban foreign ministry spokesman told VOA on Friday that public secondary schools are open in about a dozen out of 34 Afghan provinces. He said “private schools from grade one all the way up to university levels” are open across Afghanistan.
Abdul Qahar Balkhi noted that the majority of female civil servants, or 120,000, were back at work in Afghanistan. They included 94,000 in the education ministry and 14,000 in the health ministry, he said.
The rest of the women were working in other departments, including the ministry of interior, passport and immigration offices.
Balkhi added that women were working in all Afghan private sectors such as commerce, banking, garments and shops. He said there were no restrictions on women moving around in cities.
He insisted that women were free to leave home for work, health, shopping and leisure but they “can’t leave homes to wander around aimlessly.”
Meanwhile, the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation Friday welcomed the establishment of an eight-member committee by the Taliban to facilitate the reopening of secondary schools for Afghan girls.
“The announced formation of the committee … is a positive sign that will hopefully culminate in tangible steps towards effectively and expeditiously granting Afghan girls their fundamental right to education,” the OIC General Secretariat wrote on Twitter.
The OIC reaction came a day after a Taliban spokesman confirmed that his government had formed the eight-member committee, saying it would be chaired by the country’s Chief Justice Abdul Hakim Haqqani.
“It includes clerics and scholars. The committee has done some work to reopen the girls’ high schools. We hope it can be solved in the near future,” Taliban spokesman Inamullah Samangani told the Afghan TOLO news channel.
But after meeting with Taliban leaders Thursday, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said the group’s polices were “making women invisible” across the country.
“The de facto authorities have failed to acknowledge the magnitude and gravity of the abuses being committed, many of them in their name and their responsibility to address them and protect the entire population,” Bennett told reporters in the capital, Kabul, at the end of his 11-day trip to the country.
The U.N. expert cautioned that the Taliban “stands at a crossroads” and the Afghan society under their rule will either become more stable and “a place where Afghans enjoy freedom and human rights, or it will become increasingly restrictive.”
Bennett acknowledged on Thursday that secondary girls' schools “are open in some parts of the country now, and it's essential that schools are opened throughout the country at the earliest opportunity.”
On Tuesday, the 15-member U.N. Security Council renewed its call on the Taliban to adhere to their commitments to reopen schools for all female students without further delay and “swiftly reverse” restrictions on Afghan women’s fundamental freedom and access to public life.
The international community has not recognized the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, saying the issue would come under consideration only after the Islamist group adheres to its pledges to protect the human rights of all Afghans, especially those of women.
The Taliban seized power from the Western-backed former government in August when the last U.S.-led international forces withdrew from the country after almost 20 years of war with the Islamist group.