Watchdog Demands UN Reinstate Travel Ban on Afghan Taliban for Rights Violations

An international human rights defender is urging the United Nations to “reconceptualize” its travel ban on the leadership of Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban to pressure them into respecting rights of all Afghans, particularly women and girls.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement Thursday that “a grave human rights crisis has been unfolding” in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over the conflict-torn country in August.

The organization said that the U.N. Security Council will be reviewing the travel-related exemptions for the Islamist group later this month and it “has an opportunity to refocus the ban on specific Taliban leaders who have been implicated in serious rights violations.”

The travel ban, which affects 41 members of the current Taliban administration in Kabul, was partially suspended three years ago to allow 14 top leaders of the then-insurgent hardline group to engage in peace talks with the United States.

Human Rights Watch pointed to the reclusive Taliban chief, Hibatullah Akhundzada, who reportedly played a decisive role in extending the ban on girls’ secondary education.

It also named Abdul-Haq Wassiq, head of the Taliban intelligence agency, and Shaykh Muhammad Khalid Hanafi, head of the Ministry of Vice and Virtue, for their alleged human rights abuses.

Wassiq is accused of ordering extrajudicial executions and detaining and beating journalists, while Hanafi’s ministry, tasked with interpreting and enforcing the Taliban’s version of Islam, has imposed “many of the most egregious restrictions” on women and girls, according to the statement.

Heather Barr, the associate director of women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, hailed other countries for condemning the Taliban’s continued ban on girls’ secondary school education and almost excluding women from public life, Barr said condemnations were not enough, however.

“It’s time for governments to turn consensus that the Taliban’s actions are unlawful into coordinated actions that show the Taliban that the world is ready to defend the rights of Afghans, particularly women and girls, in meaningful ways,” she argued.

The Taliban militarily ousted the Western-backed government in Kabul nearly 10 months ago and they have since rolled back many human rights Afghans had over the past 20 years, particularly those of women.

The Islamist group has banned girls from attending secondary school and female employees from returning to their jobs in some government departments. Women have been ordered to cover up fully in public, including their faces, and not to travel long distances or leave Afghanistan unless accompanied be a close male relative.

The Taliban reject the criticism of their governance-related decrees as a disrespect for Afghan cultural and Islamic tradition, insisting their policies are strictly in line with Islam, a position questioned by Islamic law scholars in other Muslim nations.

Critics are skeptical about whether the renewal of travel retractions would pressure the Taliban into reversing their rules for women. The Islamist group had introduced similar restrictions when it previously ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, completely blocking women’s access to education and work.

“Hibatullah has not even traveled out of Kandahar and it is not sure he has any plans to travel anywhere abroad,” said Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan official and political commentator. The Taliban chief is based in the southern city, Kandahar, known as the spiritual base of the group.

“As for other Taliban leaders, they need exposure to Islamic faith’s other Ulema (scholars) who could open/broaden their vision of Islam with regards to girls’ education and women’s right to work,” Farhadi said in his written comments to VOA.

“Human rights exist in Islam; it is the Taliban who have a restricted/narrow view of Islam. Their views need to be broadened by more contacts with Islamic world’s Ulemas.”

In its statement Thursday, Human Rights Watch also proposed that the U.N. secretary-general pay an official visit to Afghanistan, saying it could help redirect world attention to the situation, increase pressure on the Taliban to respect human rights, and prompt global solutions to end the country’ dire humanitarian crisis.

“Afghan women and girls are watching their rights vanish before their eyes. They need more from the world than concern. They need action.”

The international community has not recognized the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, saying the issue would come under consideration only after the group adheres to its pledges to protect the human rights of all Afghans and effectively counter transnational terrorist groups.

U.S. and other Western donors have suspended economic aid to Afghanistan since the return of the Taliban to power but they have sustained the flow of humanitarian assistance into the country where more than half of the estimated 40 million population needs urgent relief.