The Taliban are steadily dismantling the human rights gains of the last twenty years, said Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) in a new briefing published today, which documents the group’s wide-ranging crackdown since their seizure of Kabul little more than five weeks ago.
Contrary to the Taliban’s repeated claims that they will respect the rights of Afghans, the briefing, Afghanistan’s fall into the hands of the Taliban, details a litany of human rights abuses including targeted killings of civilians and surrendered soldiers and the blockading of humanitarian supplies in the Panjshir Valley, which constitute crimes under international law. Restrictions have also been reimposed on women, freedom of expression and civil society.
“In just over five weeks since assuming control of Afghanistan, the Taliban have clearly demonstrated that they are not serious about protecting or respecting human rights. We have already seen a wave of violations, from reprisal attacks and restrictions on women, to crackdowns on protests, the media and civil society,” said Dinushika Dissanayake, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for South Asia.
“Given the prevailing climate of fear, lack of mobile connectivity in many areas, and internet blackouts enforced by the Taliban, these findings are likely to represent just a snapshot of what’s happening on the ground. The UN Human Rights Council must establish a robust, independent mechanism with a mandate to document, collect and preserve evidence of ongoing crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations and abuses across Afghanistan.”
Climate of fear for Human Rights Defenders
Attacks on human rights defenders have been reported on a near-daily basis since 15 August. The Taliban are conducting door-to-door searches for human rights defenders, forcing many into hiding.
Researchers spoke to Mahmud*, an Afghan human rights defender who managed to get out of the country. Mahmud described how, on the day the Taliban entered Kabul, he received a call asking him to hand over his organizations’ vehicles, equipment and money. The caller knew his name and warned him he had no choice but to cooperate.
Over the following days, Mahmud received further phone calls and WhatsApp messages, asking for his home address and requesting to meet him at designated locations. Two colleagues at his NGO had been beaten by the Taliban. Images shared by one of his co-workers and verified by Amnesty International and a forensic pathologist show classical assaultive ‘whipmarks’ to the back and yellowing bruising to the victim’s left arm.
“The threat faced by human rights defenders stranded in Afghanistan is real. They are under attack on all fronts as they are seen as enemies of the Taliban. Their offices and homes have been raided. Their colleagues have been beaten. They are forced into permanent hiding. They live under the constant threat of arrest, torture or worse. Those who managed to leave the country are now stranded in military camps or in neighbouring countries, not knowing their final destination nor how they will be able to rebuild their lives that have been shattered overnight,” said Delphine Reculeau, Human Rights Defenders Programme Director at the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).
“The international community must uphold its moral and political commitments and not fail the people who have dedicated their lives to the defence of human rights, gender equality, the rule of law and democratic freedoms in their country, but protect them at all costs.”
Persecution of journalists
Two Kabul-based female journalists that Amnesty International spoke to, shared the threats and intimidation they faced following the Taliban takeover. Ayesha*, who has now fled the capital following warnings from her employer that her life was at risk, said her family had since been visited by the Taliban, and threatened after they informed the group that she was not at home.
Aadila* described the first two weeks of Taliban rule as a time of fear and uncertainty. She had initially decided to stay in Afghanistan and continue her work, until the Taliban came to her home one night asking for her. Upon the insistence of relatives, she left the country shortly afterwards.
Abdul, a male journalist said that editors, journalists and media workers had received instructions from the Taliban that they could work only under the terms of Sharia law and Islamic rules and regulations.
“I have not reported to my job since the fall of the republic. Taliban came to my house several times, but I hid myself. From the time of the collapse, our office is closed” he said
Women and girls and the right to protest
As a result of a climate of fear bred by the Taliban’s takeover, many Afghan women are now wearing the burka, refraining from leaving the house without a male guardian, and stopping other activities to avoid violence and reprisals. Despite the myriad threats now presented to women’s rights, women across the country have been holding protests.
While some protests have been allowed to continue peacefully, many were violently repressed by the Taliban. On 4 September, approximately 100 women at a protest in Kabul were dispersed by Taliban special forces, who fired into the air and reportedly fired tear gas.
Nazir*, a human rights defender, told Amnesty International how his male friend Parwiz* was severely beaten by the Taliban after attending a women’s rights protest on 8 September.
“Parwiz was detained during women’s protests on 8 September. He was severely tortured. He had his arm broken. He was taken inside the Police district [district number withheld]. When the Taliban released him, they made him wear new clothes because his clothes had become wet from his blood.”
On 8 September, the now Taliban controlled Ministry of Interior issued an order banning all demonstrations and gatherings across Afghanistan “until a policy of demonstration is codified.”
“The international community must not turn a blind eye to the violations being committed by the Taliban. Taking concrete action at the UN Human Rights Council will not only send the message that impunity will not be tolerated, but also contribute to preventing violations on a broader scale. This should go hand in hand with support for the ongoing investigation at the International Criminal Court, in order to secure accountability for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by all parties,” said Juliette Rousselot, FIDH’s Program Officer for South Asia.
*To protect people’s identities, all names used are aliases. The briefing is available here.