This week, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, released his first report. It is a catalog of abuses under the Taliban regime since August 2021 and their devastating impact on Afghans. The report also highlights the devastating humanitarian impact of the country’s economic crisis, caused in part by the actions of foreign governments, noting that “all parties bear some responsibility for failures to secure economic and social rights.” .
The report describes “a staggering regression in the enjoyment by women and girls of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights”. It notes that “in no other country have women and girls disappeared so rapidly from all spheres of public life”, echoing a recent statement by UN experts describing “broad, systematic attacks and global” against the rights of women and girls. . The report also details Taliban abuses against former government officials, journalists and religious minorities, among other rights concerns.
Having worked in Afghanistan before the fall of the first Taliban government in 2001, I witnessed Taliban oppression first hand. The details of the report are sadly familiar.
Under the Taliban, the rule of law has no meaning. It’s not even clear what “the law” is. Since last year, when the Taliban revoked the country’s constitution and said all laws must conform to Sharia, or Islamic law, it has been unclear what laws and regulations are in place or how crimes should be committed. be treated. Instead, there are only “evolving and arbitrarily interpreted rules and decrees,” according to the UN report, and court cases “are handled idiosyncratically across jurisdictions and locations,” while that core crimes are “often handled by security forces without involving prosecutors or judges.”
In short, “the law” is all a Taliban leader could say it is. A more threatening situation for human rights is hard to imagine.
The Taliban authorities should take the report’s recommendations seriously. As a matter of urgency, they should reverse abusive policies that violate the rights of women and girls, protect religious minorities, and engage with the Special Rapporteur and other UN offices to craft reforms.
The UN Human Rights Council is due to discuss the report’s findings later this month. States should seize this opportunity to renew the mandate of the special rapporteur and create a new body that will investigate abuses and advance accountability.
Afghans are entitled to better than what the Taliban gave them: a life with few freedoms, no real justice and where half the population is excluded from education and work.