UN Report Exposes Taliban's Harsh Rule in Afghanistan

UN Report Exposes Taliban's Harsh Rule in Afghanistan

Under the Taliban's stringent rule in Afghanistan, activities like listening to music, smoking hookah, and getting Western-style haircuts are punishable offenses, according to a new UN report. The Taliban's "morality police" have severely restricted human rights, particularly targeting women and girls, creating a pervasive "climate of fear and intimidation," states the report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), published on Tuesday.

The Ministry of the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (MPVPV), established by the Taliban when they seized power in 2021, is responsible for enforcing the Taliban’s strict interpretations of Islamic law. These interpretations include bans on "un-Islamic" activities, such as displaying images of humans and animals and celebrating Valentine’s Day. The report notes that the Taliban’s rules are often issued verbally and enforced inconsistently and unpredictably.

When the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan in August 2021, following the chaotic withdrawal of US-led troops after two decades of war, they initially appeared to distance themselves from their previous period of rule in the 1990s, presenting a more moderate image. However, the report reveals that many of the same rules from that era have been reinstated, despite earlier promises to honor women’s rights within the framework of "Islamic law."

Between August 15, 2021, and March 31, 2024, the UN documented at least 1,033 instances of violence by Taliban officers to enforce these rules. The MPVPV employs various enforcement methods, including verbal intimidation, arrests, detentions, ill-treatment, and public lashings, according to the report, which was based on public announcements and documented human rights violations.

The Taliban’s actions against women and girls are so severe that a senior UN official recently suggested they could constitute "crimes against humanity." The report details the MPVPV's enforcement of rules regarding women’s dress and their access to public spaces. Women-owned businesses have been arbitrarily closed, it is illegal for women to appear in movies, beauty salons have been shut down, and access to birth control has been restricted. Women are also barred from parks, gyms, and public baths, and must be accompanied by a male guardian (mahram) when traveling more than 78 kilometers (48.5 miles) from their homes. Additionally, while women are required to wear a hijab, men must adhere to rules regarding beard length and hairstyles.

In December 2023, the morality police temporarily closed 20 barbershops after barbers allegedly provided Western-style haircuts and trimmed beards. The Taliban denied detaining two barbers but released them only after they promised not to give such haircuts again.

Afghanistan is a party to seven international human rights instruments and is therefore legally obligated to protect its citizens' human rights, the UN report emphasizes. The Taliban’s rules violate numerous human rights, including the rights to work, freedom of movement and expression, and sexual and reproductive rights. In response, the Taliban labeled the UN’s criticism as "unfounded," claiming that the report evaluated Afghanistan from a Western perspective and ignored its status as a Muslim society.

Reports from Afghanistan indicate that the Taliban's oppressive control has led to a significant rise in suicide attempts among women. CNN interviewed a 16-year-old girl who attempted suicide by drinking battery acid, driven by despair after months of being barred from secondary education.

The Taliban’s prohibitions also include the public display of human and animal images, considered "un-Islamic," leading to the removal of advertising signs and the covering of shop mannequins. The UN noted cases where NGOs were instructed to remove human images from educational materials meant for children and the illiterate.

The report further highlights the heavy media restrictions and pervasive surveillance state under the Taliban. Citizens' privacy is routinely violated through searches of their phones and cars for prohibited items, recording mosque attendance, and requiring proof of family relationships in public spaces.

In June, the Taliban met with top UN officials and global envoys in Qatar for a two-day conference that excluded Afghan women, drawing criticism from human rights groups. After the meeting, Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN's under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, described the discussions as "frank" and "useful," noting that the concerns and views of Afghan women and civil society were prioritized. This was the third UN meeting about Afghanistan in Doha, but the first attended by the Taliban.

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