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Taliban treatment of women under scrutiny at UN rights meeting

April 29, 2024 at 3:59 pm

Afghan burqa-clad women receive food from foreign aid in Kandahar on August 10, 2023 [SANAULLAH SEIAM/AFP via Getty Images]

Afghanistan’s Taliban-run government faces criticism at a UN meeting on Monday over its human rights record, with Washington accusing the movement of systematically depriving women and girls of their human rights, Reuters has reported.

However, in an awkward first for the UN Human Rights Council, the concerned country’s current rulers will not be present because they are not recognised by the international organisation. Afghanistan will instead be represented by an ambassador appointed by the previous US-backed puppet regime, which the Taliban ousted in 2021.

In a series of questions compiled in a UN document ahead of the review, the US asked how authorities would hold perpetrators to account for abuses against civilians, “particularly women and girls who are being systematically deprived of their human rights.” It also called for the promotion of the rights of LGBTQ persons, noting an “escalation of threats and abuse” since the Taliban takeover.

Britain and Belgium also raised questions about the Taliban’s treatment of women. In total, 76 countries have asked to take the floor at the meeting.

Critics point out that the US, the UK and some other Western nations have no concern whatsoever about the human rights of Palestinian women and girls, thousands of whom have been killed by Israel in its genocidal attack on the Gaza Strip since last October. They describe the Western position as blatant hypocrisy.

The Taliban government in Afghanistan says that it respects rights in line with its interpretation of Islamic law. Since the movement swept back into power, though, most girls have been barred from high school and women are not allowed to attend universities. Last September, the government urged “patience” on the issue of girls’ education, which it called “a need of our society”.

The Taliban is also reported to have stopped most Afghan female staff from working at aid agencies, closed beauty salons, barred women from parks and curtailed travel for women in the absence of a male guardian.

Under the UN system, states’ human rights records are subject to peer review in public meetings of the Geneva-based UNHRC, resulting in a series of recommendations. While non-binding, these can draw scrutiny of policies and add to pressure for reform. The council, the only intergovernmental global body designed to protect human rights worldwide, can also mandate investigations whose evidence is sometimes used before national and international courts.

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