Taliban’s persecution of women amounts to possible crime against humanity, says report

‘Taliban’s actions are international crimes and are organised, widespread, and systematic’

Arpan Rai
Friday 26 May 2023 05:47 BST
Footage shows women protesting against Taliban in Kabul

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The Taliban is waging a “war on women” and its actions in Afghanistan should be investigated as possible crimes against humanity of gender persecution, according to a new legal assessment by top international human rights bodies.

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) should include the crimes against humanity of gender persecution in the continuing investigation into the crisis in Afghanistan, the legal assessment by Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) showed.

“Let there be no doubt: this is a war against women – banned from public life; prevented from accessing education; prohibited from working; barred from moving freely; imprisoned, disappeared and tortured including for speaking against these policies and resisting the repression,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general.

Taliban’s actions are “international crimes” and are “organised, widespread and systematic”, the official said.

The 62-page report focusing on atrocities against women and girls in Afghanistan is a legal bridge to connect the Taliban’s actions with international crimes and decode them as crimes carried out in gender apartheid, researchers who worked on the analysis told The Independent.

“The Taliban has carried out a number of crimes against the female population such as the use of imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment. All of these are crimes against humanity of gender persecution under Article 7(1)(h) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC),” said Dinushika Dissanayake, deputy South Asia director at Amnesty International.

As per the article of the statute, the crimes against humanity need not be carried out during a war-time or linked to an armed conflict and can also occur in peacetime.

The Taliban’s actions are in direct contention with the rights granted to the girls and women in numerous international treaties to which Afghanistan is a party. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the report by Amnesty International and ICJ said.

The Taliban should be tried for the crimes in international courts as they took charge as de facto authorities of the country and the atrocities against women have happened on their watch, Ms Dissanayake said.

While the international fraternity has not recognised them as the official federal administration after US and Nato-led forces left the country in August 2021, it does not stop Taliban from being accountable for the millions of girls and women barred from going to school and work, Ms Dissanayake explained.

Afghan women and girls have been arbitrarily arrested by the Taliban for so-called “moral crimes” as a result of infringing the discriminatory mahram restrictions by the de facto authorities, and for their participation in peaceful demonstrations, said the report.

Under the mahram restrictions, women in Afghanistan are not allowed to travel more than 75km without a male companion such as a husband or a father. If not accompanied, they are required to stay home, leaving several such women without any male “guardian” in a lurch.

Since its takeover, the Taliban has turned women into “second-class citizens”, the legal assessment said.

Women have been excluded from political positions and most public sector jobs.

The Taliban have also prevented women and girls from continuing their studies, pursuing education beyond primary school, and restricting their professional opportunities through a series of measures and announcements, rendering them as “second-class citizens”.

Amnesty International and the ICJ are also pushing other states to exercise universal jurisdiction or other lawful means to bring Taliban members suspected of responsibility for crimes under the international law.

The Taliban leaders are now travelling far and wide in the world for multiple reasons and if the other states roll out universal jurisdiction, they can be arrested on foreign soil for carrying out crimes against humanity of gender persecution, Ms Dissanayake said.

“This should send a clear message to Taliban leaders and members that their discriminatory policies against women and girls are not, and never will be, tolerated,” the report added.

The magnitude, gravity, and systematic nature of the Taliban’s organised crimes is such that the acts and policies cumulatively formed a system of repression aiming to subjugate and marginalise women and girls in Afghanistan, secretary general of ICJ Santiago A Canton said.

“Our report indicates that this meets all the five criteria to qualify as a crime against humanity of gender persecution,” the top ICJ official said.

The report also presented a legal assessment of why women and girls fleeing persecution in Afghanistan should be presumptively considered refugees in need of international protection.

Talking about the immediate steps laid out for the Taliban to reverse its gender apartheid, Ms Dissanayake said: “It is simple. The Taliban should let girls attend all levels of school, colleges, let women go back to their workplaces – private or government, let women have their right to protest peacefully and restore their right of movement by stripping off the requirement of having a mahram.” 

It should also end the illegal detention and harassment of women who have voiced any dissent, she added.

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