UN Photo/Jean-Marc FERRE

Human Rights Council Extends Special Rapporteur Mandate on Afghanistan

In a resolution adopted on Thursday, October 11, the UN Human Rights Council extended the UN Special Rapporteur’s mandate on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan. The resolution also asks Richard Bennett, the Special Rapporteur, to report on what could be termed gender apartheid. The council asked Mr. Bennett to prepare a thematic report, in addition to his periodic reports, looking into the institutionalized system of discrimination, segregation, disrespect for human dignity, and exclusion of women and girls in Afghanistan.

The request for a thematic report comes after widespread campaign and advocacy by women’s rights activists from Afghanistan calling on the international community to recognize the Taliban’s policies towards women as gender apartheid. Notably, prior to the start of the ongoing Human Rights Council session in early September, women activists launched a hunger strike campaign in several countries, including Germany, Sweden, Norway, Pakistan, and the United States.

Many international experts and human rights groups agree with activists from Afghanistan that the Taliban’s treatment of women amounts to a regime of apartheid based on gender. In a recent report released just ahead of the 54th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch said that the Taliban’s actions qualify as ‘crimes against humanity of gender persecution’ under the Rome Statute and should be investigated by the International Criminal Court. Fereshta Abbasi, the Afghanistan Researcher for HRW, told KabulNow, welcoming the mandates’ renewal, that the continued commitment “to monitoring and advocating for human rights in Afghanistan is a crucial step.”

In response to KabulNow’s question whether the council’s request for the thematic report meant a tacit acknowledgment of the Taliban’s system of behavior gender apartheid, the Special Rapporteur said that it is “significant opportunity” and a step forward” although it does not specifically refer to gender apartheid. Mr. Bennett said the request enables him to work with several other UN mechanisms to recommend response options for protection and accountability of human rights in Afghanistan.

The Council’s renewal of the mandate, however, still falls short of satisfying advocates’ expectations. Amnesty International, while welcoming the adoption of the resolution, raised discontent with the failure of the Council to establish an accountability mechanism for Afghanistan. In a post on X, the organization wrote that a mechanism to collect evidence of grave violations for future prosecution is a key gap in the United Nations’ action on Afghanistan that must be addressed.

Establishing an accountability mechanism is an issue raised by several prominent international human rights groups. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also asked for it when the council discussed the situation in Afghanistan on September 15. Rights advocates argue that an accountability mechanism is essential to ensure that the perpetrators of human rights abuses in Afghanistan are held accountable. It would also send a strong message, they believe, to the Taliban that their violations of women’s rights will not be tolerated.

The human rights situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated significantly since the Taliban takeover in August 2021. The regime has imposed several restrictions on women and girls, including banning them from secondary education and university, and most jobs outside the home. The UN, in addition to several other international organizations, says that restrictions on women have significant economic and political implications for Afghanistan, a country in the midst of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, in addition to levying a heavy toll on women’s mental health.