An international human rights defender is urging the United Nations to “reimagine” the travel ban it has imposed on the ruling Afghan Taliban leadership to pressure them to respect the rights of all Afghans, particularly women and girls.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement Thursday that a “serious human rights crisis has begun to unfold” in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized the strife-torn country in August.
The organization said the United Nations Security Council will review travel waivers for the Islamist group later this month and “has an opportunity to refocus the ban on specific Taliban leaders implicated in serious human rights abuses.”
The travel ban, which affects 41 members of the current Taliban administration in Kabul, was partially suspended three years ago to allow the then 14 senior leaders of the militant group to enter into peace talks with the United States.
Human Rights Watch cited a reclusive Taliban leader, Hebatullah Akhundzadeh, who reportedly played a critical role in extending the ban on secondary education for girls.
It also named Abdul Haq Wathiq, head of the Taliban’s intelligence service, and Sheikh Muhammad Khalid Hanafi, head of the Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, for their alleged human rights violations.
Wathiq was accused of ordering extrajudicial executions and arresting and beating journalists, while Hanafi’s ministry, which is charged with interpreting and implementing the Taliban’s version of Islam, imposed “many of the most egregious restrictions” on women and girls, according to the statement.
Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, praised other countries for condemning the Taliban’s continued ban on secondary education for girls and their nearly exclusion from public life, and Barr said the convictions were not enough.
“It is time for governments to turn the consensus that the Taliban’s actions are illegal into coordinated actions. The Taliban shows that the world is ready to stand up for the rights of Afghans, especially women and girls, in meaningful ways,” she said.
The Taliban militarily overthrown the Western-backed government in Kabul nearly 10 months ago, and since then have rolled back many Afghan human rights over the past 20 years, particularly women.
The Islamic Group prevented girls from enrolling in secondary schools and from returning female employees to their jobs in some government departments. Women were ordered to cover up completely in public, including their faces, and not to travel long distances or leave Afghanistan unless accompanied by a male relative.
The Taliban reject criticism of ruling decrees as contempt for Afghan cultural and Islamic traditions, and insist that their policies are fully in line with Islam, a position that has been questioned by Islamic scholars in other Muslim countries.
Critics question whether renewing the travel withdrawals will pressure the Taliban to reverse its rules for women. The Islamist group had imposed similar restrictions when it previously ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, completely barring women’s access to education and work.
“Hebatullah has not even traveled from Kandahar, and it is not certain that he has any plans to travel anywhere abroad,” said Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan official and political commentator. The Taliban leader is based in the southern city of Kandahar, known as the group’s spiritual base.
As for other Taliban leaders, Farhadi said in his written comments to VOA: “As for other Taliban leaders, they need to get to know other Islamic scholars who can open/expand their vision of Islam regarding girls’ education and women’s right to work.”
Human rights exist in Islam. The Taliban are those who have a narrow/restricted view of Islam. Their views should be expanded through more contacts with scholars of the Islamic world.”
In its statement on Thursday, Human Rights Watch also suggested that the UN Secretary-General make an official visit to Afghanistan, saying it could help redirect the world’s attention to the situation, increase pressure on the Taliban to respect human rights, and advance global solutions to end the situation. The dire humanitarian crisis in the country.
“Afghan women and girls are watching their rights erode before their eyes. They need more from the world than to worry. They need to act.”
The international community has not recognized the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, saying that the issue will only be considered after the group honors its commitments to protect the human rights of all Afghans and effectively confront cross-border terrorist groups.
US and other Western donors have halted economic aid to Afghanistan since the Taliban’s return to power, but they have continued the flow of humanitarian aid into the country where more than half of the estimated 40 million people need urgent relief.