UN rapporteur calls for Taliban’s ‘gender apartheid’ to be codified as crime against humanity

The Taliban should be held accountable for violating women’s rights in Afghanistan and its “gender apartheid” should be codified as a crime under international law, a UN special rapporteur has said.

Richard Bennett, who is responsible for monitoring specific human rights in Afghanistan, told the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday that the Taliban’s “pattern of systematic violations of fundamental rights of girls and women has intensified”.

Afghanistan marked 1,000 days of the Taliban’s ban on adolescent girls and women attending school earlier this month.

Female civil servants, who are prohibited from attending work, were told last week that their salaries would be cut to the lowest levels regardless of experience or qualification.

“The Taliban’s institutionalisation of its system of oppression of women and girls, and the harms that it’s continuing to entrench, should shock the conscience of humanity,” Mr Bennett said while presenting his latest report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan.

“These violations are so severe and extensive that they appear to form a widespread and systematic attack on a civilian population which may amount to crimes against humanity. This attack is not only ongoing, it is intensifying.”

Although “gender apartheid” was not yet codified as a crime against humanity, Mr Bennett said, “it most accurately denotes the institutionalised oppression that characterises Taliban governance”.

“Codification of gender apartheid as a crime against humanity would properly reflect its status as a crime that shocks the conscience of humanity and violates jus cogens, a peremptory norm of international law.”

An unnamed Afghan woman also addressed the council from a remote location.

She claimed that many young women were taking their lives or getting married to older men against their will because they had nothing to do and nowhere to go. “We Afghan girls are like birds with broken wings,” she said.

A delegation of Afghan activists who attended the council’s session with Mr Bennett in Geneva slammed the Taliban’s “mehram diktat”, which reportedly prohibits women from going out in public without male chaperones.

Mr Bennett called on the Taliban to take immediate steps to reverse their system of gender oppression which deprives women and girls of their fundamental rights.

He called for an international mechanism to hold the Taliban accountable. “This approach includes the use of international accountability mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice as well as pursuing cases at the national level under the principle of universal jurisdiction,” he said.

He also asked for the UN and its member nations to not exclude women and civil society activists from the upcoming Doha talks and remain committed to feminist foreign policies. The third round of the Doha talks, intended to set out a course for international engagement with Afghanistan, is scheduled to be held at the end of this month. The Taliban wasn’t included in the first round and refused to join the second in February after the UN rejected its demand to act as Afghanistan’s sole official representative.

The Taliban, seeking international recognition as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, have confirmed their participation in the third round.

Afghan activists feared the Taliban would agree to join the talks only if they are excluded.

“The Special Rapporteur is concerned that Afghan women have been all but absent from the deliberations concerning the country’s future, including meetings in Doha, in contradiction to the international obligations assumed under the women, peace and security agenda,” Mr Bennett said in his report.