GENEVA: Afghan women made an impassioned appeal at the United Nations on Monday for strong international action to tackle “gender apartheid” in their country since the Taliban came to power last year.
“Today, human rights in Afghanistan do not exist,” Afghan Mehbooba Sarraj told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The outspoken journalist and rights activist said she was “sick and tired” of sounding the alarm about undermining the rights of women and girls, especially in Afghanistan, and seeing no action.
The Taliban have imposed strict restrictions on girls and women since their return to power in August last year – effectively removing them from public life.
The group closed girls’ secondary schools in most governorates and prevented women from holding many government jobs. They also ordered women to cover up completely in public, ideally with an overall burqa.
“The women of Afghanistan are now left at the mercy of a group that is hostile to women by nature and does not recognize women as human beings,” Razia Al-Sayyad, an Afghan lawyer and former commissioner of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, told the council. .
“Women of that country, we don’t exist…we have been wiped out,” she told the council during a discussion focused specifically on the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.
And it appealed to the highest human rights body in the United Nations to take any possible action to improve the situation.
“I beg you all: Please if this council has something to do, do it!” She said, adding, “Otherwise, please don’t talk about it. Because talk was…cheap” when it came to Afghanistan.
“You have to do something.”
She and others suggested that the council could establish an independent group of experts to monitor all abuses, with ultimate accountability for perpetrators.
“Only God knows what kind of atrocities go unreported,” she warned.
Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on the situation of rights in Afghanistan, also stressed the urgent need to strengthen accountability, noting that the situation could be described as “gender apartheid”.
Earlier on Monday, Bennett presented his first report on the overall rights situation, warning the council that “Afghans are trapped in a human rights crisis that the world has seemed powerless to address.”
In addition to the “staggering decline” in the rights of women and girls, he listed a large number of other abuses, including the persecution of Hazaras and other minorities.
The Hazaras in Afghanistan have been persecuted for decades, with the Taliban accused of abuses against the group when they first ruled from 1996 to 2001 and are back in business again after they came to power last year.
Bennett said Hazara and other groups have been “arbitrarily arrested, tortured, summarily executed, displaced from traditional lands, discriminatory taxation, and otherwise marginalized.”
They are also a frequent target of attacks, including by the Taliban enemy group ISIS-Khorasan, which considers them heretics.
“These attacks appear to be systematic in nature and reflect elements of organizational policy,” Bennett told the council, warning that the attacks bore “the hallmarks of international crimes and needed to be fully investigated.”
International crimes cover the most serious crimes of concern to the global community: war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan has accused Taliban authorities of intimidating and harassing its female staff, including detaining three women for questioning on Monday.
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