Afghan warlords still enforcing Taliban oppression

Women forced to have chastity tests

The Guardian
, December 17, 2002
Jonathan Steele

Women in the western Afghan city of Herat are often arrested, taken to hospital and subject to abusive gynaecological examinations just for walking in the street with a man or riding in a taxi without another passenger, Human Rights Watch reports today.

In Herat, every woman has to wear the burqa while TV stations substitute pictures of flowers during foreign programmes when women appear with any hair uncovered.

After conducting more than 100 interviews between September and November in Herat and Kabul, the watchdog shows how little life has changed for women in Herat under the hardline governor, Ismail Khan.

Although particularly bad in Herat, the reports says similar abuses are found all over Afghanistan. In the capital, Kabul, the Taliban's Vice and Virtue squad has been reconfigured under the name "Islamic Teaching" and harasses women for wearing make-up.

Elsewhere, the troops of rival warlords with close military ties with US and other foreign forces have committed gang rapes. The abuses are not confined to Pashtun areas where the Taliban was strong. Mr Khan is a Tajik who opposed the Taliban.

Troops loyal to General Mohammed Fahim, a senior Northern Alliance commander and the central government's defence minister, "have been enforcing Taliban-era 'moral' restrictions" such as "forbidding families from playing music at weddings and dancing, and in some cases arresting and beating musicians", Human Rights Watch says.

"Many people outside the country believe that Afghan women and girls have had their rights restored. It's just not true," says Zama Coursen-Neff, co-author of the report.

"The US-led coalition justified the war against the Taliban in part by promising that it would liberate Afghanistan's women and girls ... The international community has broken that promise."

While conditions in Herat are better than under the Taliban, Mr Khan has pressured women not to work for foreign non-governmental organisations, has urged them to stick to teaching in girls' schools, and has ordered them not to drive.

Women and girls are afraid to go out except on essential business because of tight restrictions enforced not only by the police but by adolescent boys trained to spy on them.

A doctor at Herat's only hospital told Human Rights Watch that police bring in about 10 girls and women a day for "chastity" tests.

In one case in October, police arrested a girl and her cousin in the bazaar. The girl was taken to the maternity ward with such a commotion that at least 100 people saw her. Two doctors examined her and determined she was "perfectly healthy and untouched".

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