Afghanistan
The Consequences (Part 4-1)

Schule Afghanistan
Afghanische Mädchen in der Schule. Die Taliban versuchen nun, ihnen nach und nach wieder ihre Rechte und Freiheit zu nehmen. © Sven Gückel

Can the Taliban provide a modicum of respect and protection for citizens’ human rights in Afghanistan? If not, what does this entail for Afghanistan and the neighboring region?

 

During the peace dialogues in Doha and after the Taliban took over, one of the most important concerns of the Afghans and the international community was the protection of the citizen's human rights in Afghanistan. However, during the Doha conference and later on, after taking over Afghanistan, the Taliban repeatedly announced that they are committed to respecting and protecting citizens’ human rights “according to the Islamic Sharia”. In addition to the vague stipulations of “according to Islamic Sharia” (which in itself is a major cause for concern), there were serious doubts about the Taliban’s capacity and more importantly, their will to fulfill this commitment.

A mere twelve months of the Taliban’s reign have produced various instances of human rights violations around the country, which place the Taliban’s initial commitment and will to respect and protect human rights in Afghanistan under a cloud. Citizens’ right to life, women’s rights, personal security, participation, access to justice, right to development, and other human rights are systematically being violated or are at potential risk of erasure owing to the Taliban’s lack of will to fulfill its obligations.

Prolonging the current situation will not only worsen the long-run tragedy in Afghanistan but will also have disastrous impacts on the region and the world. For this reason, it is important to provide an in-depth analysis of the human rights situation in Afghanistan and its possible consequences, so as to help decision-makers deal better with the Taliban at the political level. Though the Taliban has restricted access to information in Afghanistan  (making it difficult to systematically document the various and extensive human rights violations around the country), there are still ways to provide a credible analysis (using a methodological approach based on reports on Afghanistan from international organizations, social media and specific cases communicated by individuals or local organizations).

This article (and the three that shall follow) will provide an analysis about Afghanistan’s human rights situation, considering six principles of international human rights: universality and inalienability, indivisibility, interdependency and interrelatedness, equality and non-discrimination, participation and inclusion and accountability and rule of law. These principles will be used as the bases of this analysis. To this end, reports on the human rights situation and violations of citizens' rights at the local level (provided by individuals, social media, and news agencies) will be reviewed and documented as much as possible. Proven human rights violations are compared with reports from international human rights institutions and different governments' agencies to provide an overview of the situation in the country.

To avoid providing a prolix text, this article is divided into four parts. Each part will cover one or two main principles. Accordingly, the first part concentrates on universality and inalienability, the second part will provide an analysis of indivisibility, interdependency, and interrelatedness, the third part will cover equality, non-discrimination and participation and inclusion, and the last part will analyze accountability and the rule of law under the Taliban’s second reign.

Subverting the universality and inalienability of human rights

The Taliban's vague reservation of respecting and protecting only those human rights that are in line with Islamic Sharia has provided it ample leeway to undermine the human rights principle of universality and inalienability. Using this reservation and with its narrow interpretation of Islamic Sharia, the Taliban continues to commit large scale human rights violations while legitimizing its acts as conforming to divinely inspired law.

Such violations are evidenced by the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights[1], corroborated by many other international organizations including (but not limited to) Human Rights Watch[2], Amnesty International[3], Peace Women[4], US State Department[5] and EU Foreign Affairs’[6]. These reports are supported by proven cases or credible allegations of extrajudicial killings of former Afghan security forces, employees of governmental organizations or their family members and persons suspected of membership of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - Khorasan (ISIL - K); this is in addition to enforced disappearances of ordinary citizens, torture, ill and degrading treatment of citizens, deprivation of women's rights (ranging from rights to education, work, and participation to traveling without a Mahram), systematic discrimination (on the basis of gender, language, religion and political and ethnic affiliation), and arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of citizens and former NGO members, former government employees and traders for extortion[7].

The limitations and violations of civil and political rights of citizens include those of right to life, access to justice, right to protection against torture, cruel and inhuman behaviour, political participation, freedom of assembly and demonstration and freedom of expression[8]. Economic, social and cultural rights of Afghan citizens are also violated and/ or directly or indirectly limited by the Taliban’s systematic measures. For instance, in Zabul province, the Taliban forced people to pay seven years of retrospective taxes, which were exempted by the previous government[9]. Likewise, according to credible allegations from several provinces, the Taliban extorts shopkeepers into paying illegal taxes (Ushr and Zakat). Moreover, limitations recently placed upon women (such as injunctions to cover their faces), the separation of boys and girls in universities, displacement of people in Daikundi, Balkh and Baghlan, enforcement of dress codes upon people, compulsory growing of beards for men, extrajudicial killings of citizens and the beheadings, degrading treatment, torture and killing of war prisoners are only a small fraction of large-scale human rights violations caught by the media and observed by international organizations. There are also unconfirmed allegations of rape and the feeding of live humans to wild animals; most of these allegations can be investigated and proven with open-source data and information on the ground.

The rapid closure of such investigations into the latest cases, under the strict supervision of the Taliban, and the dearth of information regarding these cases serve to confirm such allegations. For example, two women were left hanging in a water well for days in the Hazrat Sultan district of Samangan province[10]; the Taliban opposed an investigation into these murders and didn’t release the victims’ identities, which reinforces the suspicion that the Taliban were the perpetrators. Likewise, from the first to the fifteenth of May 2022, the Taliban killed 75 civilians[11]. According to local sources from Herat province, one of the governmental employees who continued to work in his position for the Ministry of Interior was reportedly raped, with a pornographic film made of the horrific act; he then disappeared. The Taliban, overseeing the governmental organization the employee worked for, is allegedly responsible for this humiliating act[12].

The purpose of such large-scale human rights abuses by the Taliban is to control Afghan society and divert all its capacities towards its own favor and its goals. To this end, it opposes international human rights laws using a specific and narrow interpretation of Islamic Sharia and severely violates any human rights that conflict with its interpretation. Because human rights values such as freedom of belief, expression, conscience, participation and (more important) women’s rights to education and fundamental freedoms challenge the foundations of the Taliban’s ideology, hence it responds to questions using only the most violent methods.

It’s with these methods that the Taliban wants to draw a clear line between human rights and Islamic Rights, which it wants to impose on Afghan society, on the basis of its specific interpretation. At first glance (for a fragile society like Afghanistan, suffering from 42 years of continuous conflict and civil war), this might not seem a crucial issue; it might seem intuitive to prioritize adequate food over freedom, security over participation and government over equality. But this approach seriously undermines the universality and inalienability of human rights.

Such a situation raises the question of whether people can have dignity in a society where freedoms of belief, expression, conscience, justice, and equality are sacrificed for food and security and their fate is wholly determined by others. If not, what can a society with no dignity offer to humanity?

Consequences

The Taliban is an Islamist extremist group that is part of a larger network, the International Islamic Radicalism Movement (II-RM). It follows that the Taliban’s vision and strategy would be in line with II-RM because its legitimacy is defined in the paradigm outlined by the II-RM. Moreover, the vision and strategy of the International Islamic Radicalism Movement are defined on the basis of opposition to human rights values enforced globally by western countries. Since Islamist extremist groups favor authoritarianism, the II-RM and its member groups are opposed to human rights values and put tremendous effort into defining these values as non-Islamic and anti-Islamic. It is for this reason that they need a narrow and strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia. But the imposition of such interpretations of Sharia conflicts with the core value of human beings, human dignity. Therefore, they do not directly attack this value but seek to degrade individuals by limiting their freedoms and violating their basic rights.

In Afghanistan’s case, by means of continuous humiliation and human rights abuses, the Taliban attempts to completely dehumanize Afghan society and break its spirit. This approach works in a society with a high incidence of poverty. Hence, it targets the rich, damaging the economy, destroying production and trade systems, and threatening any form of investment. A society where people can’t find food has scarce time to think of freedom and equality. And those thinking of freedom, justice and equality face serious violence, degradation, and threats. They are forced to leave the country, stay silent or risk being killed. This leaves no access to justice, and those in a society without justice can find no dignity.

On the other hand, Afghanistan society has fundamentally and positively changed in the past two decades and evolved sensibilities to reject radicalism and extremist interpretations of Islamic Sharia. This is evidenced by the increase in incidents of large-scale violence (particularly) against intellectuals challenging the Taliban’s base of power (their Sharia interpretation). We see Afghan women and men countering the Taliban’s ideology using different methods, demonstrating and calling for justice, equality and freedom at the national and international levels. This change in Afghanistan society is clearly visible if we contrast present-day societal reactions to those seen during the first Taliban takeover in 1995-96. Between 1996 and 2001, the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan, with very limited civil resistance; in the past twelve months, however, we have witnessed large-scale national and international demonstrations and opposition, particularly from women.

Understanding Afghanistan's societal changes, the Taliban has divided human rights values into two: those it sees as in line with Islam and those against it. This approach presents a specific number of fundamental human rights values as non-Islamic or even anti-Islamic. This is only the first step. The second step involves limiting these so-called anti-Islamic human rights, and the last step entails undermining human rights including those of dignity, and citizens who are demanding these rights are met with violent methods. We can observe such an approach in some of Afghanistan’s neighbors.

Using this approach, the Taliban is not only systematically undermining the universality and inalienability of internationally accepted human rights standards but, also creating an ill, fragmented and extremist society which very easy to control. Such a society with tens of thousands of radically motivated religious schools becomes the world’s center for the production and export of international terrorism. Such a society, which considers everyone its enemy and thinks it has an order from God to kill non-Muslims, can be a potential threat to any part of the world that respects, accepts, and upholds human rights values. A poor state such as Afghanistan (with an authoritarian regime and a society immersed in deep disasters) can establish relationships and earn the support of other powerful authoritarian states in the region. It can easily be instrumentalized by regional powers and become an easy pawn against the interests of the liberal world. Even as such a society experiences large-scale human rights violations internally, it poses a major threat to regional and global security. Because such a society considers all means permissible to fight its enemies (those who uphold human rights values), it will participate in the export of narcotics, terrorism, and religious radicalism from Afghanistan to countries in the region and around the world.

 

[1] The situation of human rights in Afghanistan - Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/49/24). The report is submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council Special Session resolution S-31/1, in which the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was requested to submit to the Human Rights Council at its forty-ninth session a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan focusing on, accountability of all perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses in the conflict. The report focuses mainly on the period since the Human Rights Council resolution S-31/1 was adopted on 24 August 2021 until the end of February 2022.

[2] https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/afghanistan

[3] https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/asia-and-the-pacific/south-asia/afghanistan/report-afghanistan/

[4] https://www.peacewomen.org/node/89159

[5] https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/afghanistan/

[6] https://www.eeas.europa.eu/eeas/afghanistan-statement-recent-taliban-decision-deny-afghan-girls-right-education_en

[7] https://www.independentpersian.com/node/249956/س

[8] https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/afghanistan/

[9] https://8am.af/zabul-people-complain-taliban-demand-tax-exemption-from-people-seven-years-ago/

[10] https://fa.al-ain.com/article/hanged-body-women-found-samangan. The case is also confirmed by local sources.

[11] https://8am.af/killing-of-civilians-more-than-57-people-have-been-shot-in-the-past-two-weeks/

[12] The case is reported by local sources and is proved by documents. For specific reasons including the security of the person, it cannot be published in detail.