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Human Rights Council Holds Urgent Debate on the Human Rights of Women and Girls in Afghanistan

Meeting Summaries

 

The Human Rights Council today held an urgent debate on the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, hearing Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, say that since the Taliban took power, women and girls in Afghanistan were experiencing the most significant and rapid roll-back in enjoyment of their rights across the board in decades.

Federico Villegas, President of the Council, said that the urgent debate was being held at the request of the European Union and France. He said that discrimination against women was one of the oldest violations of human rights, and it affected more than half of humanity. Today the Human Rights Council was addressing this situation at a critical time, when there were serious regressions in progress and achievements made on the rights of women and girls across the world, including Afghanistan.

Ms. Bachelet said that since the Taliban took power, women and girls in Afghanistan were experiencing the most significant and rapid roll-back in enjoyment of their rights across the board in decades. Their future would be even darker unless something changed. The international community was witnessing the progressive exclusion of women and girls from the public sphere and their institutionalised and systematic oppression. The Taliban were a primary duty-bearer in view of Afghanistan’s legal obligations under international treaties, including the obligation to eliminate discrimination against women and ensure women’s right to equal participation in civic and public life, including politics and decision-making fora.

Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, speaking on behalf of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, said since August 2021, concerns had been raised about the situation of women in Afghanistan and the regression of their rights. He called on the Taliban to create a meaningful dialogue with Afghan women and allow them to fully participate in civil, political and economic life. The Taliban should also respect all women and girls’ right to education at all levels, open secondary schools for all children, and ensure that women could play an active part in the workforce and be granted access to health care.

Fawzia Koofi, first woman Vice President of the Afghan Parliament, former member of the peace negotiation team with Taliban and human rights activist, said the urgent debate was a light at the end of the long dark tunnel in which the women of Afghanistan were living. Afghanistan was suffering from multi-dimensional problems, including humanitarian, economic and political crises. The situation of women and girls in Afghanistan was unique and dire. In the twenty-first century, Afghanistan was the only country where women were second-class and invisible, having to advocate for their basic rights to not be invisible and not to be erased from public life.

Afghanistan, speaking as the country concerned, said reports coming out of Afghanistan indicated that the situation of human rights, particularly those of women and girls, was today worse than anywhere else in the world. The situation of women and girls in Afghanistan demanded nothing less than a robust monitoring mechanism to collect, consolidate and analyse evidence of violations, to document and verify information, to identify those responsible, to promote accountability and remedies for victims, and to make recommendations for effective prevention of further violations.

In the ensuing discussion, some speakers said that since 15 August 2021, women and girls in Afghanistan had been suffering systematic violations of their rights, directly resulting from the wilful adoption of measures and policies by the Taliban, aiming at erasing them completely from all spheres of public life. Speakers expressed deep concern for the end of schooling for girls, which had major negative effects on the economy and social development, among other spheres.

Some speakers said the critical humanitarian situation was a reflection of the failed military invasion by the United States, with crimes against humanity perpetrated. The United States had a primary responsibility for the situation in Afghanistan. Western countries maintained unilateral coercive measures against Afghanistan; these were illegal and should be immediately eliminated, and a peaceful solution be established that respected Afghanistan’s sovereignty, in respect of the United Nations Charter.

Speaking in the debate were Iceland (on behalf of a group of countries), Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union), Kazakhstan (on behalf of a group of counties), Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Qatar, Luxembourg, Germany, France, Lithuania, Mexico, Czech Republic, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Montenegro, Venezuela, Brazil, India, Paraguay, Finland, China, Namibia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Nepal, Malaysia, Poland, Argentina, United Arab Emirates, United States, Marshall Islands, Netherlands, United Nations Women, Portugal, Ecuador, Canada, United Nations Children’s Fund, Uruguay, Australia, Spain, Costa Rica, International Development Law Organization, Norway, Croatia, Ireland, Peru, Austria, Estonia, Romania, Slovenia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Belgium, Chile, Viet Nam, Albania, Greece, Türkiye, Malta, Egypt, Timor Leste, Italy, United Nations Population Fund, Sweden, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Maldives, Russian Federation, Israel and Iran.

Also speaking were the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, International Federation for Human Rights League, Meezaan Center for Human Rights, International Humanist and Ethical Union, International Service for Human Rights, International Planned Parenthood Federation, The Next Century Foundation, Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights Association, Association Ma’onah for Human Rights and Immigration, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, International Commission of Jurists, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, World Organisation Against Torture, Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada, Save the Children International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom Now, Minority Rights Group, International Bar Association, Amnesty International, Sisterhood is Global Initiative, World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Association pour la défense des droits de l'homme et des revendications démocratiques/culturelles du peuple Azerbaidjanais-Iran, Interfaith International, and Center for Global Nonkilling.

At the end of the discussion, the President said that the draft resolution on Afghanistan would be tabled on Tuesday, 5 July, and the Council would take action on it when it started taking action on all draft resolutions on Thursday, 7 July.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s fiftieth regular session can be found here.

The next meeting of the Human Rights Council is scheduled to be held at 3 p.m., when it will continue to consider the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of Uganda and Timor Leste.

Keynote Statements

 

FEDERICO VILLEGAS, President of the Council, said they would now hold an urgent debate on the situation of human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, which was being held at the request of the European Union and France. Discrimination against women was one of the oldest violations of human rights, and it affected more than half of humanity. Today the Human Rights Council was addressing this situation at a critical time, when there were serious regressions in progress and achievements made on the rights of women and girls across the world, including Afghanistan. The Human Rights Council could not remain unmoved, and must guarantee collectively the fulfilment of the international obligations on human rights, to ensure that daughters never had fewer rights than their mothers.

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the earthquake in Afghanistan had aggravated the already desperate situation facing the Afghan population, especially women and girls. Hunger and food insecurity were affecting over 90 per cent of women-headed households, and there was growing domestic violence and harassment; attacks on women human rights defenders, journalists, judges, lawyers and prosecutors; massive unemployment of women; restrictions on movement and dress and its impact on access to basic services; and growing anxiety and depression. Secondary schooling for 1.2 million girls had been discontinued. These were only some of the daily experiences of women and girls in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban took power, women and girls were experiencing the most significant and rapid roll-back in enjoyment of their rights across the board in decades. Their future would be even darker, unless something changed.

The High Commissioner said that the de facto authorities she met with during her visit to Afghanistan in March this year had said they would honour their human rights obligations, as far as consistent with Islamic Sharia law. Yet, despite these assurances, the international community was witnessing the progressive exclusion of women and girls from the public sphere and their institutionalised, systematic oppression. As a de facto authority exercising effective control, the Taliban were a primary duty-bearer in view of Afghanistan’s legal obligations under international treaties, including the obligation to eliminate discrimination against women and ensure women’s right to equal participation in civic and public life, including politics and decision-making fora. They should set a firm date for the opening of secondary schools for girls, and ensure quality education, without discrimination, and re-establish independent mechanisms to receive complaints from the public and protect victims of gender-based violence. All acts of gender-based violence must be independently investigated and those responsible held to account.

As for the international community, more concerted efforts were needed to insist that the de facto authorities urgently restore, protect and promote the rights of Afghan women and girls. Beyond being right, it was also a matter of practical necessity. Amid the economic crisis, women’s contribution to economic activity was indispensable, which itself required access to education, and freedom of movement and from violence. Human rights, including women’s rights and concerns, must be at the centre of all humanitarian assessments and programming. Women should have safe and equal access to humanitarian aid, including unhindered access for female aid workers. This was a crucial moment in time, with the fate of the country’s women and girls hanging in the balance. They deserved no less than everyone’s determined and immediate action.

RICHARD BENNETT, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, speaking on behalf of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, expressed sympathy for the communities affected by last week’s earthquake in Afghanistan. Since August 2021, concerns had been raised about the situation of women in Afghanistan and the regression of their rights. Information on violations faced by women and girls included forced, early, and child marriage; restrictions on women’s attire and movement; exclusion from education and public life; and barriers to employment. Mr. Bennett said he had visited Afghanistan in May this year to assess the human rights situation, meeting with stakeholders including women’s groups, the Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, and raising concerns about the abuses of women’s rights in each meeting, including the restrictions on women’s secondary education. Afghan officials had stated that the international human rights treaties which had been ratified would be respected, only if they did not conflict with Sharia law. The Taliban intended to make women invisible to society, and create a culture of impunity for domestic violence, child marriage and trafficking of girls.

Mr. Bennett called on the Taliban to create a meaningful dialogue with Afghan women and allow them to fully participate in civil, political and economic life. The Taliban should also respect all women and girls’ right to education at all levels, open secondary schools for all children, and ensure that women could play an active part in the workforce and be granted access to health care. The Taliban should also abide by all international human rights obligations incumbent upon Afghanistan and engage with human rights mechanisms. The international community was called on to ensure a concerted effort in demanding women’s participation at all levels of decision-making processes; increase their support for Afghan women and girls’ rights and intensify pressure on the de facto authorities to restore and respect them; and provide Afghan female-led civil society organizations with the necessary support to continue their work. The human rights situation for women and girls in Afghanistan was devastating and the Special Rapporteur urged the Council to act. He would address the matter further in his September report.

FAWZIA KOOFI, First Woman Vice President of the Afghan Parliament, former member of the peace negotiation team with Taliban and human rights activist, said the urgent debate was a light at the end of the long dark tunnel in which the women of Afghanistan were living. Afghanistan was suffering from multi-dimensional problems, including humanitarian, economic and political crises. The situation of women and girls in Afghanistan was unique and dire. The figures showed that the representation of women in parliament had gone from 28 per cent to zero per cent, their representation in civil service had gone from 30 per cent to zero per cent, and had gone from four million girl children in school, to only one and a half million. Every day, at least one or two women committed suicide due to the lack of opportunity and mental health pressures. Girls as young as nine years old were being sold, not only because of economic pressure, but because there was no hope for them and their family. This was not normal and the women of Afghanistan did not deserve this. The women of Afghanistan had proved they all had the ability to work to be part of the progress of their country. In the twenty-first century, they were the only country where women were second-class and invisible, having to advocate for their basic rights to not be invisible and not to be erased from public life.

What the Taliban did was in contradiction to Islam, depriving 55 per cent of society from going to school. It was a matter of the security of the country, as if that much of the society was oppressed and unable to exercise their rights, then it would become a safe haven for other military extremists. The international community must stand with the women of Afghanistan, and move from beautiful statements and resolutions to practice, using their leverage to make the Taliban accountable on delivering to their citizens. More Muslim countries had to stand and demonstrate that Islam was for everybody, that it was the religion of peace, co-existence and tolerance. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan should be more accountable on what they do to the Human Rights Council. All humanitarian interventions should have 50 per cent of women’s participation, not just as recipients of aid. Women-led organizations should be supported. All should use their leverage and pursue a political dialogue in Afghanistan, as without this women would continue to suffer. Discrimination in Afghanistan could be discrimination anywhere in the world.

Statement by the Country Concerned

Afghanistan , speaking as the country concerned, thanked all for making this urgent debate possible. Reports coming out of Afghanistan indicated that the situation of human rights, particularly those of women and girls, was today worse than anywhere else in the world. As the Council spoke now, in Kabul the Taliban had called a gathering of 3,000 of their members - all men and all Talib - and had assigned another 12,000 armed men to guard the gathering with no independent media, no voice of dissent and no women. Tomorrow, he was certain that this gathering would issue an edict and ask for international recognition, more humanitarian and economic assistance, and for the release of the Central Bank’s reserves. The Taliban were under the view that the international community had forgotten the people of Afghanistan, as they openly disregarded every obligation, commitment and promise to uphold the human rights of women and girls. This situation was not normal for the majority of people in Afghanistan and was an affront to the values, customs and teaching of Islam. The women and girls of Afghanistan had shown courage, however, until now they had felt that their voices had gone unheard.

The situation of women and girls in Afghanistan demanded nothing less than a robust monitoring mechanism to collect, consolidate, and analyse evidence of violations, to document and verify information, to identify those responsible, to promote accountability and remedies for victims, and to make recommendations for effective prevention of further violations. Afghanistan looked forward to hearing from women’s rights defenders, and from States, international organizations, and civil society who had come together to generate an effective response to what could only be called a human rights crisis for women and girls in Afghanistan. While girls and women were valued less, not schooled, subjected to violence and discrimination, and erased from public life, the potential to create a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, where human rights were promoted and protected, would not be realised.

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, some speakers said, among other things, that since 15 August 2021, women and girls in Afghanistan had been suffering systematic violations of their rights, directly resulting from the wilful adoption of measures and policies by the Taliban, aiming at erasing them completely from all spheres of public life. The full, equal, effective and meaningful participation, inclusion, and empowerment of all women and girls in all spheres of life in Afghanistan was essential for lasting peace and sustainable economic and social development. It was also a condition for the realisation of all human rights of all persons in Afghanistan. There was a continuous need to promote and ensure the rule of law, and the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all Afghans, including children and girls, and establish an inclusive and representative Government with the participation of all ethnic groups and minorities. The grave humanitarian situation in the country should be the focus of the international community. The Afghan people should not be left alone facing these unprecedented difficulties.

There was deep concern for the end of schooling for girls, which had major negative effects on the economy and social development, among other spheres, and the authorities should make changes to realign the situation with the provisions of Islam. Some speakers said it was vital to continue to provide humanitarian aid. The Central Bank must be able to use its assets for the benefit of the country. The international community must work to mitigate the suffering of the people, and beef up its efforts in the country to ensure rapid reconciliation and mitigate the serious negative impacts on the deteriorating socio-economic situation. The devastating regression in the situation of women and girls was regretted. The Taliban’s restrictions exposed women to negation and violence, depriving Afghanistan of its own future. All human rights of women and girls must be respected, protected and fulfilled.

The worsening of the humanitarian crisis was also a concern, said some speakers. It was urgent to remedy the food insecurity, as a large portion of the population did not have access to sufficient food or to food aid. A peaceful and prosperous future of Afghanistan was only possible with women and girls being part of it and being part of shaping it. That was why Afghan women should speak for themselves, not only in the Council, but in all discussions and processes in and on Afghanistan. The systematic oppression of women and girls must come to an end. The future peace and development of Afghanistan depended on it. Women everywhere deserved equal rights and to be treated equally: the full and effective participation of women in Afghanistan was crucial for building a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.

Some speakers said the Human Rights Council must be consistent and categorically condemn all actions undermining the human rights of vulnerable groups. The critical humanitarian situation in Afghanistan was a reflection of the failed military invasion by the United States, with crimes against humanity perpetrated. The United States had a primary responsibility for the situation in Afghanistan, and should restore all its assets, taking concrete measures to improve the situation in the country. Western countries maintained unilateral coercive measures against Afghanistan; these were illegal and should be immediately eliminated, and a peaceful solution be established that respected Afghanistan’s sovereignty, in respect of the United Nations Charter.

Many speakers also expressed their commiseration with regard to the recent earthquake and the ensuing loss of life.

 

Produced by the United Nations Information Service in Geneva for use of the information media;
not an official record. English and French versions of our releases are different as they are the product of two separate coverage teams that work independently.

 

HRC22.065E