The Taliban treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan may amount to a crime against humanity and should be investigated and prosecuted under international law, a UN team of experts said on Friday.
The Taliban promptly rejected the allegation.
The statement by the UN-appointed experts followed a confirmation from the Taliban that three women were among 12 people lashed on Wednesday in front of hundreds of spectators at a provincial sports stadium.
It signalled the Taliban’s resumption of a brutal form of punishment that was a hallmark of their rule in the 1990s.
And, on November 11, in Taloqan in north-eastern Takhar province, 10 men and nine women were lashed 39 times each in the presence of elders, scholars and residents at the city’s main mosque after Friday prayers. They were accused of adultery, theft and running away from home.
The UN experts said the latest Taliban actions against women and girls have deepened existing rights violations – already the “most draconian globally” – and may constitute gender persecution, which is a crime against humanity.
The Taliban overran Afghanistan in August 2021 as American and Nato forces were in the final weeks of their pull-out from the country after 20 years of war.
Despite initially promising a more moderate rule and to allow for women’s and minority rights, they have restricted rights and freedoms and widely implemented their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.
They have banned girls from middle school and high school, restricted women from most employment, and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks, gyms, and funfairs.
Lashings in public, as well as public executions and stoning for purported crimes were common across Afghanistan during the first period of Taliban rule, from 1996 until 2001, when they were driven out in a US-led invasion following the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Taliban had sheltered al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden.
The experts’ statement did not specifically mention the cases of public lashings but said the Taliban has beaten men accompanying women wearing colourful clothing or without a face covering.
“We are deeply concerned that such actions are intended to compel men and boys to punish women and girls who resist the Taliban’s erasure of them, further depriving them of their rights, and normalising violence against them,” it said.
It urged the Taliban to reinstate the rights and freedoms for Afghan women, release activists from detention and restore access to schools and public spaces.
The expert team, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, includes Richard Bennett, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, and Farida Shaheed, special rapporteur on the right to education.
The Taliban-appointed spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, rejected the experts’ statement and fired back at the UN for sanctioning the former insurgents who now rule Afghanistan.
Balkhi, in a message to the Associated Press, listed what he said amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity by the world body, including the “current collective punishment of innocent Afghans by the UN sanctions regime, all in the name of women’s rights and equality”.
Sanctions on Taliban officials and the freezing of billions in foreign currency reserves have restricted access to global institutions and outside money that had supported Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy before the withdrawal of US and NATO forces.
No country in the world has recognised the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Taliban call their administration, leaving them internationally and financially isolated.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday it was seeing a spike in cases of child pneumonia and malnutrition, with the poverty level increasing compared to previous years, as humanitarian conditions plummet and the country braces itself for a second winter under Taliban rule.