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Afghanistan: UN report details Taliban crackdown, moral violations

Listening to music, smoking hookah and getting a Western-style haircut are all punishable acts under the suffocating Taliban rule in Afghanistan, according to a new UN report.

The Taliban’s so-called morality police have restricted human rights – disproportionately targeting women and girls – creating a “climate of fear and intimidation”, said the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) report published on Tuesday (9).

The Ministry of Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice (MPVPV), established by the Taliban when it took power in 2021, is responsible for legislating and enforcing the Taliban’s strict interpretations of Islamic law.

These interpretations include bans on activities deemed “un-Islamic,” such as displaying images of humans and animals and celebrating Valentine’s Day. In addition, the report stated that Taliban instructions are issued in various formats — often only verbally — and are enforced inconsistently and unpredictably.

When the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021 in a lightning takeover following the chaotic withdrawal of US-led troops after two decades of war, the radical Islamist group appeared eager to distance itself from its previous period of rule in the 1990s by presenting itself as more moderate.

However, the report found many of the same rules from that era being revived, despite the Taliban’s earlier promise to honor women’s rights within the norms of “Islamic law.”

Between August 15, 2021 and March 31, 2024, the UN documented at least 1,033 cases in which Taliban officials used violence to enforce their rule.

“The MPVPV has a broad mandate and various methods of enforcement have been used, including verbal intimidation, arrests and detentions, ill-treatment and public flogging,” said the report, which was compiled using public announcements and documented accounts of human rights violations.

The Taliban’s abuses of women and girls are so severe that a senior UN official recently said they could amount to “crimes against humanity.” The report details how the MPVPV is imposing rules on how women dress and access public spaces.

The Taliban arbitrarily shut down women’s businesses, made it illegal for women to appear in films, closed women’s beauty salons and restricted access to birth control, the UN report said.

Women in Afghanistan are barred from accessing parks, gyms and public toilets — sometimes the only way to get hot water in winter — and must be accompanied by a male guardian (a mahram) when traveling more than 48 miles (78 kilometers) away from their homes, according to the report.

While women must wear hijab, men must also follow rules regarding beard length and hairstyles.

In December 2023, morality police closed 20 barbershops for one night after barbers allegedly shaved and trimmed beards and gave Western-style haircuts, the report said. The Taliban denied allegations that two barbers were detained for two nights. The report said they were only released after promising not to give such haircuts again.

UN says Taliban legally obliged to protect human rights

Afghanistan is a signatory to seven international human rights instruments and as a result is legally obliged to protect and promote the human rights of its citizens, the UN report said.

These rules violate a range of human rights, from the right to work and earn a living, to the rights to freedom of movement and expression, and sexual and reproductive rights, the report added.

In a statement, the Taliban called the UN criticism “baseless” and said the report’s authors were “trying to assess Afghanistan from a Western perspective, which is incorrect.”

“Afghanistan must be assessed as a Muslim society, where the vast majority of the population is Muslim and has made significant sacrifices for the establishment of a Sharia system,” the statement said.

However, reports from Afghanistan suggest that the Taliban’s repressive control over women has led to a sharp increase in suicide attempts.

A CNN interviewed a 16-year-old girl who drank battery acid to end her life under Taliban rule, saying she was “overwhelmed with despair” after spending months at home due to a ban on girls attending secondary school.

Among the Taliban’s list of prohibitions, according to the report, is the public display of human and animal images, which it considers “un-Islamic.” This law has resulted in the removal of advertising hoardings and the covering of store mannequins, the report said.

The UN reported some cases where NGOs were told to remove human images from materials intended to warn children or others with limited literacy about the risk of unexploded ordnance and other public health issues. Media is heavily restricted and residents live in a state of surveillance, the report added.

“People’s right to privacy is violated through searches for prohibited items in their phones or cars, having their presence in mosques recorded or being forced to show proof of family relationships in public places.”

The Taliban met with senior UN officials and global envoys in Qatar in June in a two-day conference that excluded Afghan women, sparking outrage from rights groups.

At a news conference after the meeting, Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, called the discussions “frank” and “useful” and said “the concerns and views of Afghan women and civil society were central.”

This was the third UN meeting on Afghanistan in Doha, but the first that the Taliban attended.

Source: CNN Brasil

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