Afghanistan under the Taliban: "Human Rights Nightmare"

Veiled women at a market in Kabul
According to UN human rights activists, there has not been such a extensive attack on women’s rights anywhere else in the world as in Afghanistan in recent years. (Source: IMAGO / Le Pictorium)

Two years after Taliban’s came into power in Afghanistan, the situation for people has continued to worsen. The rights of women and girls has been especially reduced, many humans rights organisations have criticised. They also call on governments to help the Afghan people.

“People in Afghanistan are living a humanitarian and human rights nightmare under Taliban rule,” stated Fereshta Abbasi, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

According to statements from the organisation, the situation in Afghanistan has developed into one of the worst humanitarian crises worldwide. According to them, more than 28 million people need humanitarian help urgently – that is two-thirds of the entire population. Based on estimates made by the United Nations, about four million people in the country are malnourished.

HRW explains that, among factors like decades of war and extreme weather, that a massive restriction in women’s rights is one of the main reasons for food insecurity. Because, as a result, many women lost their jobs.

After coming into power, the Taliban had declared, for example, that schools for girls would remain open.

Theresa Bergmann, researcher in the Asia division at Amnesty International in Germany said: “Two years later it has been made clear: These are nothing more than empty promises. The Taliban have successively and systematically eliminated rights for girls and women in almost all aspects of life.”

51 decrees against women’s rights

According to the organisation, Pro Asyl, in the meantime the Taliban has passed 51 decrees that restrict women’s rights. For example, in March 2022 the Taliban closed secondary schools for girls again after only a few hours. Since then, girls are not allowed to go to school after the seventh grade. Amnesty International criticises that would not be valid in any other country in the world. According to reports, girls in some provinces are not even allowed to go to school after 10 years of age. Even access to universities has been denied.

“The Taliban’s response to Afghanistan’s overwhelming humanitarian crisis has been to further crush women’s rights and any dissent.” Fereshta Abbasi, HRW

Furthermore, women can no longer move in public without being accompanied by a man close to them. They are also not allowed to visit parks, sport facilities and cafés. Additionally, the Taliban just recently announced the closure of beauty salons until the end of August. Pro Asyl explains that as a result, the last sheltered places for women are disappearing. Moreover, about 50,000 women have lost their job and with it, their source of income – in a country in which there is almost no legal way for them to earn money.

“The Taliban’s misogynist policies show a complete disregard for women’s basic rights,” said Fereshta Abbasi from HRW. “Their policies and restrictions not only harm Afghan women who are activists and rights defenders but ordinary women seeking to live a normal life.”

In a report, United Nations human rights researchers determined in July: “While the backlash against women’s and girls’ rights has unfolded in different countries and regions in recent years, nowhere else in the world has there been an attack as widespread, systematic and all-encompassing on the rights of women and girls as in Afghanistan.”

Critical coverage not possible

Human Rights Watch also deplores a comprehensive censorship of the media: No one in the country can report critically without fearing arbitrary arrests and imprisonments. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reports of media representatives being threatened and arrested.

The media landscape in Afghanistan has shrunk considerably since August 2021 – Women are mostly missing from the picture. Since the take-over of power by the Taliban, more than 80 percent of Afghan female journalists had to give up their jobs, according to RSF. From about 12,000 media representatives that still worked in Afghanistan during 2021, more than two-thirds have since left their profession.

Additionally, more than half of the 547 media outlets that were registered in the country in 2021 have shut down operations. Only at the beginning of August did local authorities in the Nangarhar Province close down the offices of radio and television broadcaster, Hamisha Bahar.

The remaining media outlets work under difficult and dangerous conditions. Those who continue to work as journalists must adhere to the rules of the Taliban. “Every journalist is now terrified, crushed and despondent as a result of all the arrests and the harassment to which we have been subjected and they therefore all self-censor their work,” explains a television reporter from Kabul to RSF. And a television journalist that also works in the capital city told RSF: “It gets worse every day… I’ve repeatedly been denied the right to cover events simply because I am a woman.”

Executive Director of RSF, Christina Mihr, says: “The freedom of press situation in Afghanistan is upsetting. However, the resilience of Afghan journalists is encouraging. They continue to fight domestically and abroad to be able to report independently about the situation there”.

Beh Lih Yi from The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) explains that by suppressing the media, Afghanistan is isolated from the rest of the world during a humanitarian crisis. “Access to reliable and trustworthy information can help save lives and livelihoods in a crisis, but the Taliban’s escalating crackdown on media is doing the opposite.”

Thousands of Afghans remain in other countries

The Taliban also suppresses human rights activists, protestors, former locally hired personnel, employees of the previous government and members of ethnic and religious minorities. According to Amnesty International, arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial executions have become everyday occurrences in many places.

However, the situation is also frequently precarious for Afghans that are able to flee from the country: Thousands are located in other countries like Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and Turkey. Many of them live under catastrophic conditions according to human rights organisations. About 1.6 million people have fled since the Taliban came into power.

In this context, Amnesty International and RSF also criticise Germany’s so-called Federal Admissions Program: The German government wanted to bring 1,000 at-risk Afghans to Germany every month. To date, however, no one has been brought to Germany through this initiative. The program for processing visa applications at the German embassy in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, had been completely halted. It has since, in the meantime, been resumed and progress is being made slowly. Amnesty demands that applications are processed at a faster pace. According to media reports (German article), more than 14,000 people with confirmations of acceptance were still waiting on a visa and departure date.

Fereshta Abbasi from HRW demands: “The Taliban’s response to Afghanistan’s overwhelming humanitarian crisis has been to further crush women’s rights and any dissent,” Abbasi said. “Governments engaging with the Taliban should press them to urgently reverse course and restore all Afghans’ fundamental rights while providing vital assistance to the Afghan population.” (js)