UNITED NATIONS: A panel of UN human rights experts has concluded that the Taliban regime’s treatment of Afghan women and girls can be described as crime against humanity and should be investigated as gender persecution.

In a statement released by the UN headquarters in New York on Saturday, eleven UN-appointed independent human rights experts noted that Afghanistan’s de facto Taliban rulers had deepened “flagrant violations” of basic rights of Afghan women and girls.

“Already the most draconian globally,” such violations “may amount to gender persecution, a crime against humanity,” the observers warned. “While girls remain excluded from secondary education, women have been further stopped from entering public places such as parks and gyms, and in at least one region young women were recently blocked from entering their university,” the experts noted.

“Confining women to their homes is tantamount to imprisonment and is likely leading to increased levels of domestic violence and mental health challenges.”

The experts also noted that banning women’s access to parks also denied children the opportunity for leisure and exercise and their right to engage in play and recreational activities.

The statement pointed out that men accompanying women wearing colourful clothing, or without a face covering, were brutally beaten by Taliban officers.

By punishing male relatives for the purported offences of women, the Taliban were forcing Afghan women and girls to stay indoors, the experts noted. And by encouraging men and boys to control the behaviour, attire and movement of women and girls in their circles, the Taliban were “instrumentalising one gender against another,” they added.

“We are deeply concerned that such actions are intended to compel men and boys to punish women and girls who resist the Taliban’s erasure of them, further depriving them of their rights, and normalising violence against them,” the experts said.

The report also noted that human rights defenders peacefully protesting against growing restrictions on women have for months been increasingly targeted, beaten, and arrested. On Nov 3, a press conference was disrupted and attendees detained, including activist Zarifa Yaquobi, who along with four men, remain incarcerated by the Taliban’s intelligence department.

All 11 human rights observers called on the Taliban to: Abide by all international human rights obligations and commitments incumbent upon Afghanistan, fully implement the human rights standards that Afghanistan has freely accepted, including respecting the rights of all girls and women to education, employment, and participation in public and cultural life.

Immediately and unconditionally release Zarifa Yaquobi and the four men detained with her, or make the reasons for their continued detention public and allow contact with their respective families and lawyers.

Respect the fundamental rights of women and men to associate and assemble without intimidation and attacks. Instead of arresting and repressing women for asking for their human rights, the Taliban must hear and respond to their legitimate concerns.

Repeal the edict that punishes male family members for perceived transgressions of women and girls.

Immediately open all secondary schools for girls and ensure their continued access to university education. Immediately remove the restrictions on women and girls from accessing all public locations.

The experts also called on members of the international community to: Demand the reversal of restrictions on women and girls and ensure respect and protection of women’s rights is central to all discussions with the Taliban de facto authorities. Take steps to investigate and prosecute those responsible in Afghanistan for gender persecution in appropriate international and extra-territorial jurisdictions.

Increase support to Afghan human rights defenders, especially women and girls and to promote and provide safe platforms for women to engage in decision making processes in Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2022

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