Since the Taliban seized power in August 2021, Afghanistan has experienced the most severe human rights violations. Richard Bennett, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, talks about the current situation in Afghanistan and Germany's fundamental protection obligations
Since the Taliban seized power in August 2021, Afghanistan has experienced the most severe human rights violations: Minorities are brutally persecuted, peaceful protests are violently suppressed and women are oppressed. What is the current human rights situation in Afghanistan?
Richard Bennett: Since the Taliban's takeover in August 2021, Afghanistan has experienced a serious and continuing deterioration in its human rights situation. Widespread violations, include massive oppression of women's rights, persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture and a crackdown on the media and any form of dissent, including peaceful protests by women. Afghanistan is the only country in which girls are barred from secondary school and women from university. The ongoing turmoil has also exacerbated a humanitarian crisis, with lack of access to essential resources like food, water, and medical supplies. Vulnerable individuals, such as children and the elderly, are especially at risk. The Taliban's return to power has reversed the progress towards enjoyment of basic human rights and liberties achieved over the past two decades. The situation demands ongoing attention to monitor and address the human rights challenges in Afghanistan, while continuing to deliver humanitarian aid and urging the de facto authorities to change their policies and meet the state’s responsibilities under international human rights treaties ratified by Afghanistan to ensure the protection of human rights and equality for all Afghans.
Many Afghan human rights defenders, journalists, women's rights activists, Afghan local staff and other particularly vulnerable Afghans have been able to flee Afghanistan. Nonetheless many Afghans whose lives are at risk have not been able to leave the country yet. What is their situation?
Bennett: Many Afghans find themselves trapped in a complex and perilous predicament, facing numerous challenges that threaten their safety, well-being, and basic human rights. Human rights defenders, journalists and women’s rights activists are exposed and live in fear of their lives because the values they espouse are considered by the Taliban to be unIslamic or against Afghan culture, while no form of dissent or protest is tolerated. Even if some attempt to continue their work quietly, there is a constant shadow of intimidation, retaliation, and violence over them or their families. Women's rights activists and women in general face a heightened risk of gender-based violence and discrimination. What was a largely free press is now controlled by the de facto authorities, although some Afghan media outlets publish abroad. The ongoing stress of living under such conditions is taking a severe toll on mental health. Many Afghans want to leave the country. Others say they will continue the struggle. Not all can leave and many more will remain in the region than will reach secure countries like Germany.
30,300 Afghans have been resettled to Germany as a reaction to the takeover of the Taliban. What should Germany do for Afghans in particular need of protection? What is Germany's human rights obligation? Does this obligation also apply to other states?
Bennett: Germany has taken a significant step by resettling 30,300 Afghans to date. However, this alone does not fulfil Germany’s obligations. There are many more Afghans who are in dire need of protection because they cooperated with Germany’s activities in Afghanistan, whether military or civilian. Others stood up for the values of human rights and equality for women. Germany has fundamental human rights protection obligations towards people in Afghanistan as a result of its international military and civilian operations and withdrawal of international troops in 2021. Its federal admission programmes should ensure timely and fair assessments of individual cases, including identifying vulnerable groups such as women, children, minorities, and those who have worked with international organizations, and granting them expedited protection based on their circumstances. This obligation extends to other states as well, as it is grounded in international human rights principles.
Concerning the Afghans who fled to other countries in the region or in Europe: The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol establish the duty of states to protect refugees and provide them with asylum, regardless of their origin. By working collaboratively and upholding the values of compassion and solidarity, the international community can collectively address the pressing needs of vulnerable populations in times of crisis.
What action should Germany take at the international level?
Bennett: Germany should root its approach to Afghanistan at the international level in international human rights standards and humanitarian principles. This is not the right time for further withdrawal from Afghanistan. Rather, Germany should stay the course and keep faith with Afghans who worked for 20 years in support of the values of human rights and equality, including between the sexes. Ensuring human rights and providing adequate humanitarian assistance must not be equated with any form of recognition of the Taliban-led de facto authorities. As a large country with strong links to Afghanistan, Germany should continue to play a leading role at the intergovernmental level both at the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly where Germany “holds the pen” on the annual resolution on Afghanistan. Equally it should play a prominent role in the EU and work collaboratively with other regional groups and countries close to Afghanistan to promote human rights and the rights of women, in line with Germany’s feminist foreign policy. And, as noted, Germany should continue efforts to providing asylum and protection to Afghans, including the establishment of safe and legal pathways while also urging other countries to share the responsibility.
As UN Special Rapporteur, you have been investigating the human rights situation in Afghanistan since 1 April 2022. What has impressed you most in the past months in the context of your work?
Bennett: During my almost one and a half years as Special Rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, I have been most impressed with the courage and determination of many Afghans to continue to struggle for their human rights against the odds, in particular women who are suffering under a misogynistic regime. I retain faith that while the journey may be long it will be Afghans who bring changes and create durable peace with human rights. Our role is to listen to them, stand with them and take action that support the ambitions for an inclusive and rights-based future.
On 24th and 25th of August Richard Bennett, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, will be visiting Berlin. He was invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for an in-depth exchange on the human rights situation in Afghanistan. In April 2022 he was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan by the Human Rights Council, who has adopted the mandate in 2021. Mr. Bennett is currently visiting professor at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Lund, Sweden. He has served in Afghanistan on several occasions, playing an important role in in the promotion of transitional justice, child rights, rule of law, rights of people with disabilities and a range of economic, social and cultural rights as well as in the protection of civilians and human rights defenders.
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