Facing critical human rights challenges, Afghanistan at crossroads: UN expert

Facing critical human rights challenges, Afghanistan at crossroads: UN expert

UNITED NATIONS, May 26 (APP):The newly appointed Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said Thursday the country faced serious human rights challenges, and urged the Taliban to take the path that brings stability and freedom to all Afghans, especially women.

At the end of his 11-day visit to the country – the first such mission since the mandate was created by the Human Rights Council – Bennett told a news conference in Kabul that he welcomed the opportunity to meet Taliban leaders, members of civil society, including women human rights defenders, journalists, minorities, victims of human rights violations, people with disabilities, and the judiciary, according to his remarks released at UN Headquarters in New York.

Bennett said Afghanistan is facing a plethora of human rights challenges that are having a severe impact on the country’s people. However, the Taliban have failed to acknowledge or address the magnitude and gravity of abuses, many of which were committed in their name.

“The Taliban stands at a crossroads. Either the society will become more stable and a place where every Afghan enjoys freedom and human rights, or it will become increasingly restrictive,” he said.

“If benchmarks are met such as the urgent opening of secondary schools for girls, the establishment of an inclusive administration that genuinely represents every segment of the Afghan society, and a platform is provided for dialogue and avenues for redressing grievances, the risks of further instability and suffering in Afghanistan may be mitigated.”

The UN expert’s visit, at the invitation of Taliban, allowed him access to the entire territory, and to visit sensitive locations, such as schools, hospitals, and prisons, reflecting what he called a crucial commitment to ensure that transparent monitoring could be undertaken.

Bennett said that armed hostilities in many parts of the country had ceased, with a reduction in conflict-related casualties since the Taliban takeover last August. The recent establishment of a commission for the return of leading Afghan personalities may provide an opportunity for dialogue, and potentially strengthen governance, he added.

Although the granting of the general amnesty to officials of the former Government and members of the security forces could be a first step toward reconciliation, he was alarmed about reports of ongoing extrajudicial and revenge killings of former members of the security forces and officials, and door-to-door searches.

Addressing the ongoing humanitarian and economic crisis, Bennett called on the international community to continue to provide support to Afghanistan, and to ensure equitable and gender-sensitive aid distribution.

Governments also should ensure that the implementation of sanctions does not substantially hamper the provision of essential public services.

Bennett also expressed alarm that many of the Taliban policies and drive for absolute control, are having a cumulative effect on a wide range of human rights. They also are creating a society ruled by fear.

The advancing erasure of women from public life was especially concerning, he said, citing measures such as the suspension of girls’ secondary education, severe barriers to employment, enforcing a strict form of Hijab, or body covering, and limits on freedom of movement, association, and expression.

“I call upon the de facto authorities to immediately reverse policies and directives that negatively impact women as well as to prioritize women’s and girls’ rights to equal participation in education, employment, and all other aspects of public life,” he said.

The rights expert also called for investigations into a series of attacks on places of worship and schools in Kabul, Kunduz, and Balkh provinces, some of which have been claimed by the ISIS-K terrorist group.

He said such attacks, which specifically target members of the Hazara, Shia, and Sufi communities are becoming increasingly systematic in nature and reflect elements of an organizational policy, thus bearing hallmarks of crimes against humanity.

Recently, Panjshir and other northern provinces have seen clashes between the Taliban security forces and fighters affiliated with the National Resistance Front, an anti-Taliban group.

Bennett said he was concerned about allegations that civilians have suffered violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, torture, and forced displacement.

The high number of reports of intimidation, harassment, attacks, arrests, and in some cases killing or disappearance of journalists, prosecutors, judges, and civil society members, was another serious concern, he said.