UN lashes out at Taliban for Violence against Women

AFP, September 13, 1999

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - A United Nations human rights investigator Sunday called for the dismantling of the ruling Taliban's religious police because of systematic discrimination against women in Afghanistan. "We found official, widespread, systematic violations of the human rights of women in the Taliban areas of Afghanistan," Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Rapporteur for violence against women, said on return from Afghanistan. She said women's rights to education, health and employment and freedom of movement and association were restricted in Afghanistan.

The militia, which controls some 80 percent of the war-torn country, has enforced its ultra-puritanical interpretation of Sharia. Coomaraswamy told a news conference here that the Taliban's ministry for propagation of virtue and suppression of vice, known as the religious police, had enforced its edicts which were "quite unacceptable." "If you compare these edicts with any of the international standards, they are in complete violation," she said. Women are beaten publicly and public lashings of women are held on Fridays, mainly for the violation of the ministry's edicts, she added.

The Afghan government has an "official policy" of discrimination against women, she observed, adding in many rape cases women were punished publicly for adultery. "I think the dismantling of this ministry is something the international community should call for." The UN rapporteur said she was told that because of war and poverty and loss of jobs, the level of begging by women was "extremely high." She said she received reports prostitution did exist in Kabul and many people told her about trafficking of Afghan women abroad.

However, the UN was yet to confirm these reports, she added. Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan and lawyer by training, said the freedom of movement of women was restricted and women were not allowed to go out without a "Mehram," a closely related male companion. The UN rapporteur, who held talks with the Taliban, said she was not optimistic about an improvement in the situation in the near future. She said she asked the authorities in Kabul if they were committed to the development of women and their education, but received no reply. However, they reiterated their commitment to all international agreements signed by Afghanistan.

The UN investigator said despite dire poverty, the state of women's rights was "much better" in northern Afghanistan, which is controlled by the anti-Taliban alliance. But she added there were "grave" human rights violations and violence against women during the rule of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani who was ousted by the Taliban. Coomaraswamy, who will shortly submit her report to the UN Human Rights Commission, suggested humanitarian aid to non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan should not be stopped.

"The ministry of vice and virtue is the most misogynist department in the whole world"

News Network International, September 13, 1999

ISLAMABAD (NNI): The UN Special Rapporteur for Violence against Women Radhika Coomaraswami Sunday lashed out at the ruling Taliban for systematic violation of the human rights of women.

"We found widespread systematic violation of the human rights of women in the Taliban areas of Afghanistan," Coomaraswami told a news conference on return from a 4-day visit to Afghanistan.

She said public beating of women, by a leather cricket bat continues in Afghanistan, which is mainly for the violations of edicts by the department of virtue and vice. The UN rapporteur urged the Taliban authorities to respect international conventions on human rights and dismantle Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

"We found violations in the areas of physical security, the right to education the right to health the right to employment of movement freedom of association, protection of the rights of women, protection of the family and trafficking and prostitution," she said. Public lashing of women on Fridays for violations of the Hadood Ordinance also continue, she said.

She said because of war and poverty many of the women cannot work, level of begging by women is extremely high and "we did find that prostitution does exist in Kabul and that many people told us that it was on the increase".

Coomarswami said the freedom of movement of women is extremely restricted. "There are allegedly no passports for women in Afghanistan. But we still have not confirmed it. There seems to be a fact that women cannot go out without a Mahram".

The Taliban's ministry of vice and virtue has authored edicts that ban women from working, going to school, forces them to wear the all-econompassing burqa, ordered people to paint their first floor windows black so passers by could not see women inside.

Sje said the ministry issued edicts saying women should travel outside their home only when accompanied by a close male relative. She said violators are publicly beaten, sometimes with a car antennae ripped off the nearest vehicle.

"The ministry of vice and virtue is the most misogynist department in the whole world their edicts are quite unacceptable," Coomaraswamy said. She interviewed scores of Afghan women, both in Afghanistan and - - neighboring Pakistan, where tens of thousands live as refugees.

She said discrimination against women exists throughout the world but in Afghanistan it is the official policy of the Taliban. The ruling militia has imposed their own interpretation of Islamic laws.

She said also visited the areas controlled by the opposition United Front led by Burhanuddin Rabbani adding she was shown girls school and was told of the opposition's support for women.

However, she said "for the record" Rabbani's government ruled Afghanistan from 1992 until 1996 when bitter factional fighting destroyed 70 percent of the city and "some of the worst violence against women in a war" was committed.

She said women's begging is on the increase in capital Kabul adding that depression among women is rampant. There were reports of trafficking in women, forced marriages and prostitution. She said women were separated from their husbands and relocated to camps from the Shomali Plains. There also were reports of sexual assaults, which should be investigated.

She said that she has never seen the people's suffering as much as in Afghanistan. "The situation looks very bleak in terms of poverty, in terms of war, in terms of the rights of women."

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