‘We are erased’: Afghan women demand action at the United Nations

Afghan women launched an impassioned plea at the UN on Monday for strong international action to fight “gender apartheid” in their country since the Taliban came to power last year.

“Today, human rights in Afghanistan do not exist,” Afghan journalist Mahbouba Seraj told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The outspoken journalist and rights activist said she was ‘sick and tired’ of sounding the alarm over the decimation of women’s and girls’ rights, especially in Afghanistan, and seeing no action .

The Taliban have imposed severe restrictions on girls and women to conform to their austere vision of Islam since they returned to power in August last year, effectively shutting them out of public life.

Hardline Islamists have closed secondary schools for girls in most provinces and barred women from many government jobs.

They also ordered women to cover themselves fully in public, ideally with an overall burqa.

“The women of Afghanistan are now left at the mercy of a group that is inherently anti-women and does not recognize women as human beings,” said Razia Sayad, an Afghan lawyer and former commissioner at the Afghan Commission. independent of human rights. .

“Astounding Regression”

“Women of this country, we don’t exist… We are erased,” Saraj told the council during a debate that focused specifically on the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.

She called on the UN’s top human rights body to take all possible steps to improve the situation.

“I beg of you all: please, if this council has anything to do, do it!” she said, adding that “otherwise please don’t talk about it. Because talking has been…cheap” when it comes to Afghanistan.

“You have to do something.”

She and others have suggested the council could set up an independent expert panel to monitor all abuses, with the aim of holding perpetrators to account.

“God only knows what kind of atrocities go unreported,” she warned.

Richard Bennett, the special rapporteur on the situation of rights in Afghanistan, also stressed the urgent need to strengthen accountability, suggesting that the situation could be characterized as “gender apartheid”.

Earlier on Monday, Bennett presented his first report on the general rights situation, warning the council that “Afghans are trapped in a human rights crisis that the world seems powerless to address.”

In addition to the “staggering regression” in the rights of women and girls, he listed a host of other violations, including the persecution of the Hazara and other Shia minorities.

Afghanistan’s Hazara Shiites have been persecuted for decades, with the Taliban accused of abuses against the group when they first ruled from 1996 to 2001 and resumed after coming to power last year.

Bennet said Hazara and other groups have been “arbitrarily arrested, tortured, summarily executed, displaced from traditional lands, subjected to discriminatory taxes and otherwise marginalized”.

They are also the frequent target of attacks, notably from the Taliban’s enemy, the Islamic State-Khorasan group, 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 bear “the hallmarks of international crimes and must be thoroughly 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 personnel, including arresting three women for questioning on Monday.

READ | India concerned about discriminatory and inferior status given to women in Afghanistan

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