UN Photo/Jean Marc Ferré

Bennett Briefs UN Council on Worsening Situation in Afghanistan, Calls for Action

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva held its 54th regular session beginning September 11 which included an interactive discussion with Richard Bennett, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan.

Bennett briefed that the people of Afghanistan are grappling with a humanitarian crisis and a multitude of human rights violations by the Taliban which persists with impunity.

After two years since the Taliban takeover, Bennett said, the dilemma is not what the deteriorating situation is, but rather what could be done “to reverse the downward slide” by uniting and shifting gears to achieve tangible results.

He stressed that the international community has “to apply every pressure and employ every means at their disposal to press for change” and hold the Taliban accountable.

Bennett asserted that the people of Afghanistan, particularly women, feel betrayed by the international community and that the “sentiment of abandonment” resonates deeply among them.

On the state of women’s rights, the Special Rapporteur said that the systematic, widespread, institutionalized discrimination, seeking to exclude women from public life, and the gender persecution by the Taliban has “now reached a new high of gender apartheid.”

He also acknowledged the ongoing hunger strike staged by women activists in Germany, calling for the recognition of gender apartheid.

Taliban’s slew of gender curbs, he stated, have augmented the dignity and freedom of women and girls and severely impacted their socio-economic and mental health conditions.

He reiterated his call to the Taliban “to reverse their draconian, misogynist policies and allow women to work and run businesses, and to re-open the doors of schools and universities with a curriculum that met international standards.”

He said that Afghanistan has endured “unprecedented horrors” since the Taliban takeover and that cultural and artistic expression have been “suppressed”, and arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings remain “rampant.”

The Special Rapporteur also underscored the crumbled state of civic space with civil society activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and peaceful protestors subjected to restrictions, censorship, arbitrary arrest, and detention. 

The suppressing environment, he said, has left a “chilling effect” on media outlets and workers in Afghanistan.

Bennett also called for the immediate release of journalists and activists who remain in Taliban detention centers.

Further, he underlined, “The absence of the rule of law, the competition for scarce resources, shifting power balances, and claims of ethnic favoritism by the Taliban are straining already sensitive relationships between ethnic and religious groups.”

Bennett indicated that he received several reports from Hazara, Uzbek, and Turkmen ethnic groups complaining about how they “felt under constant pressure” across the country.

He brought to the Council’s attention the crucial need for accountability tools and an independent investigative mechanism set up to address the human rights crisis in Afghanistan.

Bennett said that the UN Human Rights Council and other bodies, including the International Criminal Court, need to take measures to address the crisis in the country while ensuring that peoples’ voices, especially those of women, are heard ever more strongly.

The time for action is now, Bennett asserted, saying the “brave and resilient people of Afghanistan deserve more.”