While on December 10, around 193 countries will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the people of Afghanistan will continue to grapple with severe human rights abuses under the Taliban. Although the rights of most Afghans are being violated in some fashion by the Taliban, women and girls — who face systematic and widespread discrimination — are among the worst affected.
Since coming to power in August 2021, the Taliban have issued more than 80 edicts aimed at enforcing gender persecution and establishing a gender apartheid. Afghanistan is the only country on earth in which half of its population is systematically discriminated against and denied the opportunity to be educated on the basis of gender alone. Despite the fact that in 1946 Afghanistan was admitted as a U.N. Member State and declared its adherence to the U.N. Charter, and subsequent international human rights instruments, today the Taliban de facto authorities violate all international obligations that Afghanistan once committed itself to.
It is critical that the international community put human rights at the center of their efforts regarding Afghanistan. This is important not only because human rights play a key role in the foreign policies of many countries, but also because Afghanistan under the Taliban has become, as Afghan ambassador to the U.N. Nasir Ahmad Andisha said earlier this year, “ground-zero for human rights and a graveyard of international norms.”
From Hollow Rhetoric to the Grim Reality
Over the last two years, among various forms of civil, political, and armed resistance, the most effective have been the voices of Afghan women, whether on the street of Afghanistan or from outside the country. Whether speaking to world leaders directly, or protesting in Western capitals from Cologne to London to Washington, Afghan women have sent a clear message: They demand a restoration of their fundamental human rights and an end to the gender apartheid in Afghanistan. They demand to be free.
While Afghan women have persistently been at the forefront of protests against the Taliban and are leading civil resistance inside the country, other political and democratic forces are mobilizing and organizing too . Following Tajikistan’s recent hosting of the Herat Security Dialogue, over 40 political and civil opponents of the Taliban came together in Vienna, at a forum organized by the Austria Institute for International Affairs, to continue discussing the future of a democratic Afghanistan.
The Afghan women’s movement, alongside civil society and the various political opponents of the Taliban, have one voice and a common vision for returning power to the people of Afghanistan and forming an inclusive and representative government that mirrors Afghanistan’s pluralistic society. The Taliban are unwilling and unable to form such a legitimate government.
To address the humanitarian, human rights, and political crises in Afghanistan, the U.N. commissioned an independent assessment on Afghanistan, which proposed recommendations and mechanisms for the normalization and representation of the state of Afghanistan into international institutions. While the report stated that “Any formal re-integration of Afghanistan into global institutions and systems will require the participation and leadership of Afghan women,” it was nevertheless criticized by 71 Afghan civil society groups.
The assessment, they said in a statement on November 23, reduced human rights and the plight of women to secondary matters, after security and economic issues. They argued that the assessment seemed to be influenced by the security and geopolitical interests of the member states and regional powers, rather than the plight of the Afghan people.
Centering Human Rights in Intra-Afghan Dialogue
A mono-ethnic, mono-religious, and mono-gender regime such as the Taliban can never fully represent Afghan society. It has failed to achieve legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans, the international community, and even among its historical friends — not even Pakistan has officially recognized the Taliban government.
The only thing that can pave the way for stability and peace in Afghanistan is to commit to intra-Afghan dialogue as a process for the purpose of achieving an inclusive and representative government. The opponents of the Taliban, including the international community and regional countries, must double their diplomatic efforts for supporting intra-Afghan dialogue with a focus on human rights.
Centering human rights at the heart of these diplomatic efforts is vital based on the socio-political past and present of the country. The persistent violation of human rights throughout Afghanistan’s history — often in the name of political compromise — fragmented the very fabric of Afghan society. The Taliban justify their policies and actions by pointing to what they call Afghan culture and their interpretation of both Afghan history and Shariah law. But many Afghans disagree with their version of history and religion, and the Taliban’s harsh policies toward women and girls have been criticized by the wider Muslim world, including the OIC.
The equal rights of citizens were enshrined in Afghanistan’s 1923 Constitution, during the reign of late King Amanullah Khan. While the Taliban may argue that human rights and women’s rights are Western concepts, Islamic legal scholars have demonstrated synergy between Shariah law and international human rights. In fact, Islamic legal scholars advocate for cooperation and peaceful interaction between Islamic principles and international human right norms, and contend that Shariah and human rights are not incompatible with each other. The majority of Islamic countries adhere to international human rights instruments — and Afghanistan must also do so.
To break the current political impasse, it is necessary that all stakeholders infuse their diplomatic efforts with a focus on human rights, not only because human rights plays a key role in the foreign policy of countries, but also because Afghans are experiencing gross violation of every human right.
A failed Afghanistan is a failure of the international system based on the principles of human rights and dignity that humanity has built with great dedication and hard work over generations. The Taliban regime has been faced with strong criticism by the people of Afghanistan. This resentment has created a common vision of an inclusive and representative government in Afghanistan as necessary among opponents of the Taliban. The non-recognition of the Taliban regime by any country reinforces this perception that when a ruling authority does not respect and guarantee rights and freedom to its citizens, it is not suitable for recognition. Recently Chinese leaders said that the recognition of the Taliban government requires the implementation of “political reform.”
Now that political and diplomatic efforts are pushing toward an intra-Afghan dialogue, it is important that all stakeholders remind themselves that Afghans will not relent in their demands for human rights as a prerequisite for peace, security, and justice.
December 10, international human rights day, must be a reminder to us all that when everything seems to be doomed, we must not lose sight of the light that has guided us in past uncertain times. We don’t have a choice to give up. We must prevail.