Young girls gather at a camp for displaced people in Kandahar in southwestern Afghanistan. (Image courtesy UNICEF Afghanistan)

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Child Rights Committee (CRC) are deeply concerned by the deteriorating human rights situation of women and girls in Afghanistan.

They jointly issued a statement today, calling on Taliban to honour their pledge to protect Afghan women and girls, and respect, protect and fulfil their human rights enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

Their statement is as follows:

The human toll of spiralling hostilities in Afghanistan is immense.  Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes since the beginning of the year, adding to the 2.9 million Afghans already internally displaced across the country at the end of 2020.  Approximately 80 per cent of those forced to flee since the end of May are women and children.

More women and children were killed and wounded in Afghanistan in the first half of 2021 than in the first six months of any year since 2009.

The Committees are alarmed by the violence directed at women and girls and the ongoing reports of targeted attacks on women and girls including academics, health workers, human rights defenders, media workers, civil servants and many others who have contributed to the country’s development in the past twenty years, as well as those exercising their right to education. These women should be praised for their important roles and contributions to the economic, political, and social development in Afghanistan rather than being subjected to merciless attacks.

The Committees recall that excessive and arbitrary restrictions on women’s and girls’ rights to freedom of movement and expression, education, work, and their right to participate in public life are incompatible with the principles of proportionality and non-discrimination. Both Committees urge those in power and exercising effective control in Afghanistan to comply with the basic tenets of international human rights and humanitarian law, including their due diligence obligation to prevent and protect women and girls from gender-based violence and discrimination.

The Taliban spokespeople issued a number of statements in recent days referring also to their plans to form an inclusive government. They pledged to uphold the rights of women to work and of girls to go to school. The Committees urge the Taliban to honour these statements and not let history repeat itself.

The Committees, however, note with deep concern the caveat that women “will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam”.  They reiterate that under international human rights law, including both Conventions, which are binding on those exercising effective control in Afghanistan, religious norms and traditions cannot be invoked to justify violations of women’s and girls’ human rights. The right to freedom of religion protects individuals and not religions as such. The Taliban and any State organs must respect and ensure to all persons under their jurisdiction or effective control, including women and girls, the human rights set forth in the Conventions and in all other human rights treaties to which Afghanistan is a party.

A humane and inclusive transition will be pivotal in setting the future path for women and girls in Afghanistan and in ensuring that their human rights are respected and protected.

It is essential to uphold the hard-won rights of Afghan women and girls and to preserve the social progress and development achieved in the past twenty years.

The two Committees call on the Taliban and all parties to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of women and girls enshrined in both Conventions and look forward to engaging with Afghanistan on the implementation of the recommendations issued by CEDAW in February 2020 in its concluding observations (CEDAW/C/AFG/CO/3) on Afghanistan’s third periodic report, and at the upcoming dialogue of the CRC with Afghanistan, scheduled to be held in September 2021, respectively.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women monitors States parties’ adherence to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which to date has 189 States parties. The Committee is made up of 23 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child monitors States parties’ adherence to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols on involvement of children in armed conflict, and on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The Convention to date has 196 States parties. The Committee is made up of 18 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties.