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UN Expert: Afghanistan Descending 'Towards Authoritarianism' Under Taliban Rule

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UN special rapporteur Richard Bennett (file photo)

A UN human rights expert says conditions in Afghanistan under Taliban rule indicate a "descent towards authoritarianism" and called for radical changes to stop the trend.

"The severe rollback of the rights of women and girls, reprisals targeting opponents and critics, and a clampdown on freedom of expression by the Taliban amount to a descent towards authoritarianism," Richard Bennett, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, told a UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on September 12.

"This crisis demands ongoing attention from this council," he said, adding that while all Afghans are going through "turbulent times," he is "gravely concerned about the staggering regression in women and girls' enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights since the Taliban seized control of the country."

The mandate to monitor human rights violations in Afghanistan was established by the council almost a year ago after the Taliban takeover last August and is now up for renewal.

Mahbouba Seraj, an Afghan journalist and rights activist, told the council that she was "sick and tired" of sounding the alarm over the decimation of the rights of women and girls, especially in Afghanistan, and seeing no action.

"Women of that country (Afghanistan), we don't exist...We are erased," she said, appealing to the council to take action.

"I'm begging all of you: Please if this council has something to do, do it!" she said. "Otherwise, please don't talk about it because talking has been...cheap" when it comes to Afghanistan. "You've got to do something."

She and others suggested that the council could create an independent group of experts to monitor all abuses, with an eye toward eventually holding perpetrators to account.

"God only knows what kind of atrocities are not being reported," she warned.

The council's meeting came on the same day that the UN mission in Afghanistan accused the Taliban-led government of intimidating and harassing its female workers.

The mission said in a statement on September 12 that there has been “an emerging pattern of harassment of Afghan UN female staff by the de facto authorities.”

It cited an incident on September 12 in which three Afghan women working for the UN were singled out and temporarily detained for questioning by armed security agents.

The UN called on the Taliban-led government to “reiterate and enforce” guarantees for the safety and security of all UN personnel operating in Afghanistan.

A spokesman for the Taliban administration, Bilal Karimi, rejected the accusation about the detention of women working for the UN.

"There was a gathering of women in Kandahar, and when the women were asked for an explanation, it was found that they were UN employees, after which they were released," he said.

Since the Taliban seized power in August 2021, authorities have imposed harsh restrictions on girls and women, including a ban on school after the sixth grade and a requirement that women cover themselves from head to toe in public, with only their eyes showing.

Hard-liners appear to hold sway in the Taliban-led government, which imposed severe restrictions on access to education and jobs for girls and women, despite initial promises to the contrary.

On September 10, Taliban authorities shut down girls' schools above the sixth grade in eastern Afghanistan's Paktia Province, according to witnesses and social media posts. The schools had briefly opened after a recommendation by tribal elders and school principals.

Earlier this month, four secondary schools for girls in Gardez, the provincial capital, and one in the Samkani district began operating without formal permission from the Taliban Education Ministry.

On September 10, all five schools were once again closed by the Taliban, sparking protests.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi
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