Essential services for female survivors of gender-based violence in Afghanistan have been “decimated” since the Taliban took control of the country, Amnesty International said on December 6.
In 26 interviews, survivors and service providers told the London-based rights group that the Taliban closed shelters and released inmates from prison, including many convicted of gender-based crimes.
“Women and girl survivors of gender-based violence have essentially been abandoned in Afghanistan. Their network of support has been dismantled, and their places of refuge have all but disappeared,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August, protective shelters were closed and some looted or seized by the Taliban, Amnesty said.
As the shelters shut, staff were forced to send many women and girls back to their families, or the survivors were forcibly removed by family members. Some survivors were forced onto the street or into other difficult situations. In some cases, Taliban members harassed or threatened staff.
Now many survivors – as well as shelter staff, lawyers, judges, government officials, and others involved in protective services – are at risk of violence and death, Amnesty said.
Before the Taliban seized control, Afghanistan had a network of shelters and services for victims of gender-based violence.
“The system was far from perfect, but served thousands of women each year in Afghanistan,” Amnesty said.
As the Taliban rapidly took control of territory in the summer, they also released many militants and other detainees from prisons. Many detainees had been convicted of gender-based violence offenses, Amnesty said.
“It defies belief that the Taliban threw open prison doors across the country, with no thought of the risks that convicted perpetrators pose to the women and girls they victimized, and to those who worked on survivors’ behalf,” Callamard said.
In response to the allegations, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told Amnesty International via telephone: “There is no place for violence against women and girls, according to the rules of Islam… The women facing domestic violence can be referred to the courts, and the courts will hear their cases… and their grievances will be addressed.”
The Taliban also denied releasing criminals, insisting the previous government had opened prisons as security forces collapsed.
Amnesty International called on international donors to provide funding for protective services and evacuate survivors and service providers facing danger.
The rights group also urged the Taliban to uphold their obligations to women and girls, particularly those who survive or are at risk of gender-based violence.
Since it toppled the internationally-backed government in Afghanistan, the Taliban has struggled to turn a guerrilla movement into a functioning administration.
The country is suffering a major economic crisis and the Taliban has struggled to pay civil servants.
Foreign donors had provided around 75 percent of the budget to the previous Western-backed government as well as supported organizations helping women and girl survivors of gender-based violence.