Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Photo: UN

UN Human Rights Chief Says Women’s Rights Must Be a Priority in Dealing with Afghanistan

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, says that the advancement of women’s and girls’ rights must be prioritized by all those working on and in Afghanistan.

Addressing the 55th session of the Human Rights Council on Monday, March 4, Mr. Türk deplored the ongoing and systematic violations of human rights in Afghanistan. He specifically criticized the widespread violations of women’s and girls’ rights, which has led to their exclusion from every aspect of public life.

Over the last two and a half years since retaking control in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US and NATO forces, the Taliban have created the world’s most serious women’s rights crisis.

They have systematically violated the rights of women and girls as they relate to education, employment, freedom of speech and movement, and political participation among many others.

Recently, Richard Bennett, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, also underscored the dire situation of human rights in the country, particularly for women and girls. He emphasized that engagement with the Taliban must be rooted fundamentally in the respect for human rights, especially women’s rights.

“To do otherwise would send a concerning message about their commitment to women everywhere,” he said.

Mr. Bennett presented his  latest report on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan at the UN Human Rights Council on February 29. He said that two and a half years after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, human rights in the country are still in a deteriorating condition.

“Women and girls are being erased from public life, peaceful dissent is not tolerated, violence and the threat of violence are used with impunity to control and instill fear in the population,” Bennett said.

“This is compounded by an economic and humanitarian crisis that results in the denial of economic, social and cultural rights,” he added.

Mr. Bennett urged the council members to recall Afghanistan’s commitment to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Furthermore, he called upon member states to ensure that the Taliban is held accountable for breaching this convention by taking legal action against them at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is the most recent international figure criticizing the regime in Kabul for their policies restraining the life of its own people. None, however, has yielded any tangible results. If anything, the human rights crisis in the country, particularly for women and girls is only deepening. The group has publicly rejected criticisms of its behavior, accusing the likes of Mr. Bennett of misusing human rights at the behest of western countries.

In his Monday address, Mr. Turk also voiced his concerns about the state of media and journalism. Such criticisms come at a time when the Taliban are consistently limiting the information space. For example, the group recently banned photographing human beings in Kandahar and barred local radios in Khost from receiving calls from women listeners.

The group’s intelligence has warned of removing women completely from the media scene.

The rights activists opposing the Taliban have previously criticized comments like those by Mr. Turk’s as empty and without any teeth. They are more skeptical of state diplomats in the west when it comes to criticizing the Taliban, blaming them for assisting with the group’s return to power with a one-sided peace deal and a chaotic military withdrawal.

Many rights advocates argue that western countries who claim to champion human rights continue to work with the regime in Kabul in various ways to advance their national security interests.