Populations in Afghanistan are facing systematic human rights violations perpetrated by the Taliban de facto authorities. Other armed extremist groups also continue to pose a threat to civilians.
Since Taliban forces effectively overthrew the Afghan government in August 2021, the Taliban and various armed groups, including the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K), have committed widespread and systematic human rights violations throughout the country, including regularly perpetrating attacks that predominantly target ethnic and religious minorities. In addition, the Taliban de facto authorities have imposed severe restrictions on fundamental rights and access to civic and public space, particularly for women and girls. The Human Rights Service of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has documented evidence of the Taliban de facto authorities committing a wide range of human rights violations – including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, incommunicado detention and torture and ill-treatment – against former government officials and armed forces, media workers and human rights defenders.
The Taliban perpetuate extreme forms of gender-based discrimination against women and girls by implementing restrictive policies and practices that deny them of their human rights and fundamental freedoms, in flagrant violation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Sweeping repressive edicts and decrees targeting women and girls severely limit freedom of movement, freedom of opinion and expression, employment opportunities, political and public representation, and access to education and healthcare. Victims of gender-based violence endure physical and psychological suffering with limited access to protection services or accountability mechanisms. Women’s rights activists and human rights defenders have also faced killings, enforced disappearances, incommunicado detention, attacks and harassment.
UNAMA has verified over 3,774 civilians killed or wounded from 15 August 2021 to 30 May 2023, mostly in attacks with improvised explosive devices (IED) and other deliberate attacks. Many of these attacks were attributed to ISIL-K, and over 1,218 of the documented civilian casualties occurred in IED attacks on places of worship, which have been increasingly targeted since the Taliban forcibly took over Afghanistan. ISIL-K frequently claims attacks that directly target Hazara Shias, other Shia Muslims, Sufi Muslims, Sikhs and other minorities. The UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan reported in September 2022 that attacks against ethnic and religious minorities appear to be systematic in nature and reflect elements of an organizational policy, likely amounting to crimes against humanity. The Special Rapporteur also warned of a pattern of forced evictions and land grabbing based on ethnicity or political association. Individuals from ethnic and religious minority communities have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured, summarily executed and forced to flee the country.
The people of Afghanistan are enduring a severe humanitarian crisis, compounded by the impact of sanctions and the freezing of state assets. On 22 December 2021 the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2615, allowing for humanitarian aid to flow into Afghanistan without violating UN sanctions against the Taliban, which have been in place since 2011. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, two-thirds of Afghanistan’s population needs urgent humanitarian aid in order to survive.
The Taliban were the de facto authorities in Afghanistan from 1996-2001 before they were overthrown by a North Atlantic Treaty Organization coalition of military forces. During two decades of insurgency against the internationally recognized Afghan government, the Taliban perpetrated likely crimes against humanity and war crimes while Afghan security forces and members of the United States (US) military and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) also committed likely war crimes. On 5 March 2020 the International Criminal Court authorized the Office of the Prosecutor to investigate alleged atrocity crimes perpetrated in Afghanistan since 1 July 2002. On 27 September 2021 Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan announced his office would focus on crimes allegedly perpetrated by the Taliban and ISIL-K and de-prioritize other aspects of the investigation, including acts committed by Afghan national security forces, US forces and the CIA.
According to a June 2023 joint report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation on human rights in Afghanistan and the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, the Taliban de facto authorities may be perpetrating gender persecution and gender apartheid as they appear to be governing by systematic discrimination with the intent to subject women and girls to total domination. Afghanistan is the only country in the world that bans women from working for international organizations, including the UN. On 27 April the UNSC unanimously adopted Resolution 2681, condemning the Taliban’s ban on Afghan women from working for the UN in Afghanistan, saying that it undermines human rights and humanitarian principles.
The risk of further war crimes and crimes against humanity persists. Ethnic and religious minorities, particularly the Shia Hazara, continue to be systematically targeted, indicating that the Taliban is likely unable or unwilling to protect vulnerable populations. The Taliban de facto authorities have frequently targeted journalists, civil servants, human rights defenders and those affiliated with the former Afghan government with violations that appear to be perpetrated on a widespread and systematic basis. Impunity for past and ongoing violations has enabled crimes to continue. Targeted attacks are largely unreported due to the Taliban’s continued crackdown on independent media and a closed civic space.
Efforts by the Taliban to exclude women and girls from social, economic and political spheres, including the institutionalized large-scale and systematic gender-based discrimination and violence against them, likely amounts to gender persecution, a crime against humanity. Continued restrictions on fundamental freedoms and impunity for abuses against women and girls creates an enabling environment for more severe violations of international law and further atrocity crimes.
As the de facto authorities, the Taliban are bound by all existing international human rights obligations codified in the treaties to which Afghanistan is a state party, including CEDAW. They must uphold these obligations, including by halting all violations and abuses perpetrated by their officials and guaranteeing the equal protection and promotion of human rights of all people in Afghanistan, regardless of gender, ethnic background, religious belief or political affiliation.
The Taliban must investigate patterns of human rights violations documented by UNAMA and the Special Rapporteur and take immediate steps to prevent future violations, including by holding perpetrators accountable. The Taliban should allow the international community to provide assistance in meeting these obligations. It is imperative that the Taliban cooperate with and facilitate access for the Special Rapporteur, UNAMA and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as ensure the safety of all humanitarian workers and organizations.
The international community should continue to pursue justice for war crimes committed in Afghanistan, regardless of the position, nationality or affiliation of the alleged perpetrator. All UN member states should ensure that UNAMA’s Human Rights Service is sufficiently resourced to carry out its full mandate.