Afghanistan tipping 'towards authoritarianism', says U.N. rights expert

An Afghan woman walks on a street in Kabul
An Afghan woman walks on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Ali Khara
  • Afghan female activist calls for investigation
  • A 'gender apartheid' in Afghanistan -ambassador of ex-govt
  • Some 850,000 girls have left school, at risk of exploitation

GENEVA, Sept 12 (Reuters) - A U.N. expert said on Monday that human rights had deteriorated under the Taliban, describing a "staggering repression" of women and girls and a "descent towards authoritarianism", while Afghan women urged the global body to act.

Richard Bennett, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, called for radical changes in the country.

"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," he told a Human Rights Council meeting.

Afghanistan Ambassador Nasir Ahmad Andisha who represents the toppled government went further, describing a "gender apartheid" in the country.

Several Afghan women addressed the same meeting, including rights activist Mahbouba Seraj, who urged the 47-member council to set up a mechanism to investigate abuses.

"God only knows what kind of atrocities are not being reported," she told the room full of U.N. diplomats in Geneva. "And I want that to be reported because this is not right. World: this is not right. Please, please, you've got to do something about it."

She described encountering a Taliban official in the streets of the capital Kabul and feeling invisible: "I don't exist in front of him. Not me. All of us, the women of that country. We don't exist. He just looks at us and then that's it. We are erased. Do you know what that feeling is? To be erased?."

Most girls' secondary schools in Afghanistan have been closed since the Taliban took over in August 2021 after the group made a sudden U-turn on promises to open them in March. read more

Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ilze Brands Kehris, said that some 850,000 girls had so far dropped out of school, placing them at risk of child marriage and sexual economic exploitation.

The Taliban, a hardline Islamist group whose administration is not officially recognised by many governments, has said that schools will remain closed until a plan is drawn up in accordance with Islamic law for them to reopen.

The mandate to monitor human rights violations in Afghanistan was established by the Geneva-based council almost a year ago. A draft resolution by the European Union seeks to renew it and a decision is expected by Oct. 7.

Reporting by Emma Farge, editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Bernadette Baum

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.