Human rights

Tougher Measures Needed Against Afghan Taliban

Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, a serious human rights crisis has unfolded, particularly for women and girls. Many governments have spoken out against abuse; the Taliban’s March 23 decision to uphold their ban on secondary schooling for girls could be the first time a rights violation has drawn near-simultaneous condemnation from the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and 16 female foreign ministers.

But it’s not enough. As a senior diplomat recently told me, these actions “do not hurt the Taliban.” It is time for governments to transform the consensus that Taliban actions are illegal into coordinated actions that show the Taliban that the world is ready to stand up for the rights of Afghans, especially women and girls, in a meaningful way.

One step would be to reconceptualize the travel ban imposed by the United Nations Security Council on certain Taliban leaders, first imposed in 1999 as part of a UN response to “violent and terrorist activities” in Afghanistan. As of May 2022, 41 members of the current Taliban administration were affected. The ban was partially lifted three years ago to allow 14 Taliban members to participate in the peace talks.

The Security Council will review these exemptions in June and will have the opportunity to refocus the ban on specific Taliban leaders who have been implicated in serious rights abuses. Particular attention should be paid to individuals such as Abdul-Haq Wassiq, head of the intelligence agency, whose forces have carried out extrajudicial executions and detained and beaten journalists; Shaykh Muhammad Khalid Hanafi, who as head of the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice imposed many of the most egregious restrictions on women and girls; and Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s top religious leader, who is said to have been instrumental in extending the ban on secondary education for girls.

Other concrete steps could include an official visit to Afghanistan by the UN Secretary General. This could help redirect the world’s attention to the situation, increase pressure on the Taliban to respect human rights and spark global solutions to end the grave humanitarian crisis. An independent review of the UN mission in Afghanistan and its human rights monitoring could ensure that it is equipped to fulfill its mandate, including to “support and promote gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls and the full protection of their human rights”.

Afghan women and girls are seeing their rights disappear before their eyes. They need the world more than worry. They need action.