One year has passed since the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and the fall of the capital Kabul into the hands of the Taliban Movement. Despite the movement’s rhetoric regarding the changes it would bring, and its promises that it would be different from the way it was in the past, it is behaving in the same way that it did when it ruled the country from 1996 until 2001.
The movement’s commitment to respect human rights has quickly evaporated.
Within a year of taking power, the Taliban have succeeded in turning the clock back, depriving the Afghan people of the first breaths of freedom that they had begun to feel, especially women and children.
Old scenes have returned, as women are being deprived of education, of expressing their opinions, and of getting suitable jobs. Afghanistan has become the only country in the world where women are prevented from enrolling in high school. Over one million girls are suffering under the brunt of these restrictions.
Women are again being forced to cover their faces and not leave their houses unless accompanied by a man. These restrictions have become obstacles that prevent them from enjoying life or finding opportunities to enter the labour market. In addition, there are no women in the Taliban government, and the former Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs has been abolished.
The escalation of violations of the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan is costing a heavy price, notably because of its impacts on the country’s social and economic development. According to the UN, the current restrictions on women and girls in Afghanistan have caused immediate economic losses of five per cent to the country’s total economic production.
Afghanistan is witnessing the worst drought in nearly 30 years, affecting three-quarters of its provinces and leading to a decline in agricultural production to below average. A widespread lack of food has led to the suffering of about 90 per cent of the population, or nearly 40 million Afghans, from malnutrition. More than half of the country’s population is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, leading to a significant increase in the number of people forced to beg for a living and making the overall situation in the country even more dire and difficult to control.
Afghanistan is teetering on the brink of universal poverty, as 97 per cent of the population is now at risk of sinking below the poverty line and is already living below the level set by the World Bank of $1.90 per day. The country’s real GDP could contract by as much as 13.2 per cent, leading to an increase in the poverty rate of up to 25 per cent.
Although relief organisations are providing assistance that is contributing to protecting Afghanistan from many disasters, especially as the winter season comes on, the situation in the country is still deteriorating. Crop yields are insufficient to meet the needs of the population, especially after the shortages coming in the wake of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, and these are affecting many foodstuffs and agricultural production.
Humanitarian aid stopped after the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country last year and the takeover by the Taliban, with this aid previously estimated at about $8 billion.
Today, UN calls for funds to help Afghanistan have mobilised only $2.44 billion from a target of $4.4 billion. Donors are refraining from financing development in Afghanistan because of a regime that has not fulfilled the promises it made in terms of fighting terrorism or in the field of human rights.
Afghanistan has also been suffering from a crisis of press freedom, as more than 200 Afghan media platforms have been closed over the last year and about 2,100 women working in the field of journalism have lost their jobs. More than 80 journalists have been arrested or tortured for reporting on peaceful protests.
The Taliban’s crackdown on the freedom of expression has targeted human rights defenders and civil society activists, many of whom have been harassed, threatened, detained, and even killed as a direct result of their human rights work.
There have been widespread reports of Taliban soldiers beating and torturing Afghans deemed to have broken Taliban edicts or accused of working with the former government. There have also been reports of hundreds of extra judicial killings, with bodies found with gunshot wounds or bearing signs of torture. Dozens of people have been disappeared, with their whereabouts still unknown, because of their work under the previous government or because they are suspected of being involved in the resistance against the Taliban.
The situation in Afghanistan has become more catastrophic than ever, and the international community must ensure that civilians have equitable access to humanitarian aid and adopt measures that will pave the way for the recovery of Afghanistan’s economy.
The Taliban must also abide by international human rights law and Afghanistan’s international humanitarian law commitments, including respecting the rights of girls and women to education, employment, and participation in public life, support for the rights of persons belonging to minorities, and constructive engagement with human rights mechanisms.
It must immediately reopen all schools for girls and restore their access to quality education and lift the restrictions imposed on women’s mobility, attire, employment, and political participation and cease all acts of violence against them.
* The writer is human rights officer at Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 15 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.