Post-Taliban Warlords Oppress Afghan Women

, Dec 17, 2002
By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Many Afghan women are still subject to the same abuse as under the ousted Taliban and in some regions, such as the west of the country, face increasing harassment, a human rights group said on Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch, in a 52-page report, singled out warlord Ismail Khan in the city of Herat, instrumental in helping the United States topple the Taliban, for bundling women back into the all-enveloping burka and forcing them to undergo "chastity checks."

"Many people outside the country believe that Afghan women and girls have had their rights restored," when the Taliban was removed from power a year ago, said Zama Coursen-Neff, co-author of the report, "We Want to Live as Humans."

"It's just not true. Women and girls are still being abused, harassed and threatened all over Afghanistan (news - web sites), often by government troops and officials," she said in the report.

The New York-based human rights group concedes that conditions for women have improved and they are allowed to go to school and to work. But in many areas they suffer serious restrictions by government troops and local officials, who invoke vague "Taliban-era" edicts on dress and behavior.

"In 1992, for instance, when Rabbani, Sayyaf, Massood and other mujahideen finally captured the country's cosmopolitan capital, Kabul, one of their first acts was to ban the use of female newsreaders on television."

The Toronto Star, Oct.7, 2001

Khan, the governor of Herat, who has received considerable U.S. financial and military assistance, was named as the most flagrant abuser, inventing a series of draconian measures.

Among them is a religious police and a "youth police" to haul women and girls to hospitals for gynecological examinations for the purpose of "chastity checks."

"Ismail Khan has created an atmosphere in which government officials and private individuals believe they have the right to police every aspect of women's and girls' lives: how they dress, how they get around town, what they say," Coursen-Neff said.


Khan's government has opened few jobs to women and has pressured them not to work with foreign aid groups or the United Nations (news - web sites). At least one Herati woman has been arrested for contact with foreign men during her work with an international organization, the report said.

"Only the doors to the schools are open. Everything else is restricted, " said one Herati woman quoted in the report.

Among the report's recommendation is for the United States and other countries involved in Afghanistan to stop military assistance to local commanders, such as Khan, and to coordinate any future aid through the Kabul government.

The report was the second by Human Rights Watch on Herat. In November the group accused Khan's forces of abuses and atrocities against political opponents and minorities, charges his ministers have vigorously denied.

Even President Hamid Karzai's Kabul government has moved slowly, the report said, noting that the two women cabinet ministers are for women's affairs and health, areas in which female employment is less controversial.

And men dominate the staff of foreign aid groups, including those for the United Nations, as they did under the Taliban, the report said.

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