Afghanistan is enduring one of the worst human rights crises in the world. Since the return of the Taliban to power, Taliban forces have rapidly reverted to their old ways despite the assurances they gave to the international community to guard basic rights. Under Taliban rule, the rights of women are compromised, LGBTQ people are being prosecuted, and marginalized ethnic and religious groups are under attack. What is more, due to the deepening humanitarian crises and poverty in Afghanistan, its people are denied the right to dignified lives.
On Human Rights Day, Freedom Now shares how Taliban rule in Afghanistan has led to a dramatic decline in respect for human rights and wellbeing among broad swathes of Afghanistan’s society.
The situation of women in Afghanistan has severely declined under Taliban rule. Afghanistan remains the only country in the world where teenage girls are banned from accessing secondary education. Women civil servants have been ordered to stay home, with the exception of some working in healthcare and education. Shahla Arefi, a former director at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, lost her job as soon as the Taliban came to power. They dismantled the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and replaced it with the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice of Afghanistan, which is mandated to implement the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic rules. Shahla shared with Freedom Now how the Taliban’s repression of women has affected her wellbeing:
As a director at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs I earned $900/month which allowed me to live a comfortable life with my husband and children. It has been over a year that I am unemployed. We struggle to make ends meet with my husband’s inadequate income.
Ahmad is a teacher in a state-run high school. Unlike his female colleagues, Ahmad has not been fired from his job. However, the Taliban cut his salary from $110 a month — what he earned under the previous government — to $90 a month. Ahmad reports that the Taliban appointed a Taliban member as the school’s principal. Under Taliban control, teachers are not allowed to object, criticize, or raise their voices, and they fear losing their jobs or being imprisoned by the Taliban if they step out of line.
The Taliban’s recently reintroduced male minder policy, known as Mahram, has further hindered women’s access to basic rights and services, such as healthcare. Freedom Now spoke with several women who reported that they were denied health services and turned away from government health facilities for not having a male companion. Fereshta Ahmadi, one of the women Freedom Now spoke to, said: “I am pregnant. Recently I wanted to have a routine check-up in a government health facility, but Taliban guards turned me away from the entrance for not being accompanied by a male family member.” Freedom Now has also been told that, in some parts of the country, Taliban even prohibit male doctors from treating female patients. Limitations on women’s rights do not end there. The Taliban also recently banned women from going to parks, public baths, and entering restaurants.
The Taliban have failed to protect the rights and safety of marginalized ethnic and religious groups and have made it clear that they have no intention of doing so.
The Hazara community has been brutally targeted. In September 2022, 51 Hazara girls lost their lives in a horrific attack by Taliban forces on Kaj academy, an educational center in Dasht-e- Barchi a predominantly Hazara area of Kabul. On November 27, Taliban raided a village in Daikundi province and killed 11 Hazara community members, among them children. No one has been held accountable for either of these attacks.
Sikhs, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, and other vulnerable minority groups face violence and repression in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Following multiple attacks on their places of worship, the Sikhs of Afghanistan have been forced to abandon their homes and seek refuge in neighboring countries. Members of Tajik, Uzbek, and Turkmen communities continue to be forcibly displaced, their homes burned down, and their lands redistributed to Kuchis and Taliban members.
In addition to the attacks, the Taliban dismantled the justice system in the country and are now issuing brutal punishments to former government and military officials, Taliban critics, and members of the general public for committing “moral crimes.” In July 2022, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported 160 extrajudicial killings and 56 incidents of torture of former government officials carried out by the Taliban. In one incident on November 23, Taliban publicly lashed 3 women and nine men accused of theft and adultery in a stadium in Logar province. Days later, on December 7, the Taliban publicly executed a man accused of murder. Taliban senior leaders attended the execution and invited the public to attend as well.
These horrific incidents serve as further indications that the Taliban are pursuing the same abuse, threats, intimidation, and violence to oppress the people of Afghanistan that they were infamous for in the 1990s. The UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, recently warned that the human rights violations under Taliban rule are “indicators of a slide into authoritarianism.”
Despite the Taliban’s oppression, the women of Afghanistan have been alone in mobilizing and tirelessly demanding the Taliban respect the basic rights of the people of Afghanistan. Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, women have taken to the streets across the country to defend human rights, often at great risk to their lives.
On August 13, 2022, 60 women staged a protest in Kabul demanding “Food, Work, Freedom.” The Taliban raided the protest, violently dispersed it, and detained the women for three hours. Twenty-nine women sustained injuries during the protest.
Parwana Ibrahim Khil is another woman human rights defender who was kidnapped in January 2022. Fortunately, she was released in February 2022 and now resides in Germany. In a recent interview, Parwana said she had attempted suicide while in Taliban prison because she would have preferred suicide over being tortured and stoned to death by the Taliban.
Not everyone detained or kidnapped by the Taliban is set free. In November 2022, the Taliban raided a press conference in Kabul and arrested Zarifa Yaqoubi, a Hazara activist, and four of her colleagues, simply because of their civic activism. Their fates remain unknown.
The response of the international community to Taliban’s continued attacks on human rights has been insufficient and ineffective. The statements of condemnation and concern, while welcome, have done little to hold the Taliban accountable.
With the rapidly worsening human rights situation in Afghanistan, the international community has a moral responsibility to stand with women human rights defenders and other groups targeted with repression in Afghanistan in their fight against Taliban’s oppression. The international community must confront the Taliban’s grave human rights violations and hold the Taliban accountable for their current and past human rights abuses.
Governments and international organizations should take the civic resistance of the women of Afghanistan seriously and seek ways to support them and encourage their efforts to defend human rights. They need resources and funding to strengthen and expand their important work to defend human rights in Afghanistan.
The international community must all pressure the Taliban to reverse all discriminatory policies against women. Taliban have issued over 34 formal and informal decrees limiting the rights and freedoms of women.
In order to preserve any hope of long-lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan, the international community must continue to pressure the Taliban to form an inclusive government, representative of the ethnic and religious diversity of Afghanistan, its women, and its youth. A new government must be formed through an inclusive and democratic process, and it must be committed to respecting the rights of all people living in Afghanistan.