MIL-OSI United Nations: AFTERNOON – Human Rights Council Hears that the Severity of Violations against Women and Girls in Afghanistan Might Amount to Crimes against Humanity, and that Nearly 18 Million Individuals Face Acute Hunger in Sudan Amidst Looming Famine

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Source: United Nations – Geneva

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, hearing that the severity of violations against women and girls in Afghanistan might amount to crimes against humanity.  It also began an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission for Sudan, hearing that nearly 18 million individuals faced acute hunger amidst looming famine and that the civilian population was placed at the centre of extreme violence.

Nada Al-Nashif, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, extended a welcome of solidarity to the courageous Afghan women participating in the dialogue.  It was critical to ensure their voices remained at the centre of the Council’s discussions and across all other international fora.  Systematic, extreme discrimination and violence against women and girls must not be normalised, nor tolerated by the international community.

Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, said his new report found that the Taliban’s institutionalised system of gender oppression, established and enforced through its violations of women’s and girls’ fundamental rights, was widespread and systematic, and appeared to constitute an attack on the entire civilian population, amounting to crimes against humanity.  Since last June, the de facto authorities had issued at least 52 edicts that intensified restrictions on Afghan women and girls which were increasingly enforced.  Women and girls excluded from the education system faced heightened risks of forced marriage and debt bondage.  Mr. Bennett said the violations against women and girls in Afghanistan were so severe and extensive, he had concluded that they might amount to crimes against humanity, including gender persecution.

Mr. Bennett recommended that the Taliban should immediately dismantle their institutionalised system of gender oppression; and should engage constructively with United Nations human rights mechanisms, including his mandate.  He also called on the international community to avoid normalisation or legitimisation of the de facto authorities until and unless there were demonstrated, measurable and independently verified improvements against human rights benchmarks, particularly for women and girls. 

Nasir Ahmad Andisha, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, welcomed the latest report by the Special Rapporteur.  Afghanistan under Taliban rule faced one the most serious institutionalised human rights crises in the world, particularly for women and girls, and it was increasingly worsening.  He emphasised that gender apartheid should be recognised as a crime against humanity, and called for an independent investigative mechanism by the Council that reflected the gravity of the situation.

Laila, a young girl from inside Afghanistan, said that she could not continue her education after being banned from universities. She could not graduate from school and had lost many opportunities in life.  Now, she felt helpless and had lost hope.  She called on the international community to keep supporting the women and girls to Afghanistan, including to access education. 

Benafsha Yaqoobi, women and disability rights activist, said women and girls in Afghanistan endured gender-based discrimination from the very beginning of their lives.  For nearly three years, a system of gender apartheid had been unfolding, entrenched with intersectional impacts of discrimination based on ethnicity, class, religion, marital status and disability.  This had doubled the impacts on women in marginalised groups. 

Shafiqa Khpalwak, poet, writer, and human rights activist, said to imagine a world where, one day, you wake up and your children do not have the right to attend school, particularly your daughters.  The right to have a job was denied and the right to freedom of speech and expression was taken.  It seemed impossible to imagine such a world, but it was a harsh reality for Afghan women every single day. 

Lina Tori Jan, women, peace and security advocate, said without the education she had received after the first regime’s collapse in 2001, she would not be speaking to today.  She was saddened to see the past echoing the present.  Countries should stand firm on conditions for dialogue at the upcoming Doha meeting.  It was essential that the international community insisted that Afghan members of civil society, minorities, and women were represented in these talks.

In the ensuring discussion, speakers, among other things, said the de facto Afghan authorities had institutionalised discrimination, segregation, gender-based violence and other human rights violations perpetrated against women and girls in Afghanistan.  Increasing restrictions were being placed on Afghan women’s access to the rights to work, freedom of movement, health and access to justice and recreation, among other rights.  The exclusion of girls from education heightened the risk of other abuses, including forced marriage and gender-based violence, and restricted women’s participation in society.  Some speakers said some countries had imposed unreasonable unilateral actions against Afghanistan, harming the rights of the Afghan people.  These needed to be revoked.  The speakers called for “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” responses to the crisis.  The international community needed to work with the de facto authorities to achieve peace.

The Council then started an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission for Sudan.

Mohamed Chande Othman, Chair of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission for Sudan, said Sudan had been engulfed in a devastating conflict for over a year now, characterised largely by its urban and widespread nature, with its civilian population placed at the centre of extreme violence.  Blatant disregard for fundamental human rights and international humanitarian law had led to killings, looting, mass displacement, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and resulted in a grave humanitarian crisis, with around 18 million people acutely food insecure and five million facing starvation.  Since the outbreak of the conflict, almost nine million individuals had been forcibly displaced from their homes, with more than 1.8 million fleeing to neighbouring countries. 

Mr. Othman said it was hard to see the human rights and humanitarian situation in Sudan improving without an immediate ceasefire.  The commanders of warring parties needed to issue instructions to the forces or militias under their control to strictly abide by international humanitarian law, as per their international obligations, as also iterated in the Jeddah Declaration.  Civilians needed to be protected, and attacks against them, including killings, looting, sexual violations and forced displacement needed to be punished in conformity with human rights law.  The warring parties needed to refrain from attacking humanitarian workers, stop obstructing the delivery of aid, and allow unfettered humanitarian access to the millions of civilians in need in every part of Sudan. 

Yassir Bashir Elbukhari Suliman, Chief Prosecutor of Sudan, speaking as a representative of the country concerned, said the world had witnessed the violations, crimes and atrocities committed by the rebel Rapid Support Forces against unarmed civilians, including killing, displacement and systematic attacks amounting to genocide against the Masalit tribe in West Darfur, which had left 5,000 dead and 8,000 wounded, as well as a recent massacre in a village in Gezira province, which left 227 dead and more than 150 wounded, and recent flagrant attacks on the village of Sheikh Sammani, killing 21 people and wounding 15. 

The rebel forces committed all these crimes with the help of foreign mercenaries from 11 countries, in violation of international and regional conventions.  Mr. Sulilman said Sudan was ready to engage in technical cooperation. 

In the discussion, some speakers, among other things said they were alarmed by the continued escalation of the conflict in Sudan, as well as by the severe deterioration of human rights and the catastrophic humanitarian situation nationwide with millions on the brink of famine.  Some speakers strongly appealed to the warring parties for an immediate and durable ceasefire, and said they would continue to support regional and international mediation efforts to bring peace to Sudan. Some speakers noted that the political process needed to be owned by the Sudanese, and any foreign intervention in Sudanese affairs should be rejected.  The Council must take into account the consent of the country concerned when establishing new mechanisms.

Speaking in the discussion on Afghanistan were Finland on behalf of a group of countries, Canada on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Liechtenstein, Chile, Kuwait, United Nations Women, United Nations Children’s Fund, United Arab Emirates, Türkiye, Ireland, Japan, Iran, Sierra Leone, Indonesia, Luxembourg, Israel, Spain, Germany, Poland, Belgium, Qatar, Czechia, Republic of Korea, Italy, China, United States, Costa Rica, Russian Federation, Malta, Malaysia, Pakistan, Albania, Bulgaria, Austria, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Ghana, Romania, Venezuela, South Africa, India, Malawi, Montenegro, Mexico, Ukraine, Dominican Republic and France.

Also speaking were Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, Freedom Now, Madre, Inc., Interfaith International, Afghanistan Democracy and Development Organization, Human Rights Research League, and International Service for Human Rights.

Speaking in the discussion on Sudan were the European Union, Norway on behalf of a group of countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Qatar on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Jordan on behalf of the League of Arab States, New Zealand on behalf of a group of countries, United Kingdom on behalf of a group of countries, Gambia, Liechtenstein, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Qatar, Japan and United Nations Women.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s fifty-sixth regular session can be found here.

The Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 19 June, to conclude the interactive dialogue with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission for Sudan, to be followed by an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and in Israel.

Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan

Report

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan (A/HRC/56/25).

Opening Statements

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, extended a welcome of solidarity to the courageous Afghan women participating in the dialogue.  It was critical to ensure their voices remained at the centre of the Council’s discussions and across all other international fora. Today’s dialogue built upon the dialogue held a year ago, with the Special Rapporteur and the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls.  Since then, the situation had worsened.  Restrictions on all rights had tightened and women were now essentially confined to their homes. 

Although the de facto authorities continued to claim that women’s rights would be protected, over the past year more intrusive restrictions had been applied to women’s and girls’ lives.  Afghanistan remained the only country in the world where girls were denied education beyond primary level.  Through this ban, the Taliban continued to restrict girls’ development opportunities and their ability to live independently in the future.  The Taliban also continued to apply their ban on women from working for international organizations, including the United Nations, as well as outside the home.  Just last week, the de facto authorities cut female civil servants’ pay relative to male employees.  Ongoing restrictions on movement, including the requirement of a “mahram” or male chaperone to travel further than a small radius from their homes, left women and girls with limited ability to undertake social, cultural or economic activities outside of their homes. 

The Office welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, which highlighted the systematic and all-encompassing restrictions women and girls continued to face. It focused on intersectional forms of repression and oppression, and the realities of what Afghan women of all ages faced.  The Office remained deeply concerned at the ongoing discriminatory and restrictive environment and its consequences.  This had enormous impacts on women and girls’ mental health, represented in the shocking increase in suicides in the past year.  There remained little accountability for violence against women and girls, or for other violations of their rights.

Such systematic, extreme discrimination and violence against women and girls must not be normalised, nor tolerated by the international community.  Ms. Al-Nashif hoped today’s dialogue would lead to an agreement on the need for concerted action by the Council, and the wider international community.  The brave women activists present today should see that the international community stood with them and were committed to finding ways to influence the de facto authorities to reverse their regressive edicts. The future potential of Afghanistan could only be realised through upholding the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by all women and girls.   

RICHARD BENNETT, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, said his new report built on and deepened the findings of his joint report with the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls on the Taliban’s discriminatory and misogynistic policies.

Mr. Bennett said he had shared a draft of the report with the Taliban.  Instead of engaging with the report’s very serious findings, which were well documented by both the Special Rapporteur and others, the Taliban instead described the report as “false” and indicated that they were not interested in cooperating with the mandate. 

The report found that the Taliban’s institutionalised system of gender oppression, established and enforced through its violations of women’s and girls’ fundamental rights, was widespread and systematic, and appeared to constitute an attack on the entire civilian population, amounting to crimes against humanity.  This attack was intensifying.  The Taliban’s system of discrimination, segregation, disrespect for human dignity and exclusion was pervasive, methodical, and imposed through edicts, policies and enforcement, sanctioning severe deprivations of fundamental rights, each systematically interacting with others, creating a mutually reinforcing architecture of oppression.

Since last June, the de facto authorities had issued at least 52 edicts that intensified restrictions on Afghan women and girls which were increasingly enforced, sometimes violently.  The institutionalised deprivation caused profound gendered harms, spreading across Afghan society and cascading down through generations. Women and girls excluded from the education system faced heightened risks of forced marriage and debt bondage. Day by day, Afghanistan was being deprived of its future women engineers, journalists, lawyers, biologists, politicians and poets.

Systematic restrictions of women’s right to work and freedom of movement had robbed them of their financial autonomy, forcing dependence on male relatives.  Families had plunged deeper into poverty, with increased reports of depression and suicide among women and girls.  Mr. Bennett said he admired the ingenuity and determination of Afghan women who continued to find ways to sustain themselves and their families. Afghans with intersecting marginalised identities – including people with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, and those from ethnic, religious, linguistic and other minorities – also faced heightened discrimination and violence. Mr. Bennet called on the Council to consider the impact on Afghanistan’s children and particularly girls.

The Special Rapporteur said the violations against women and girls in Afghanistan were so severe and extensive, he had concluded that they might amount to crimes against humanity, including gender persecution.

Survivors had emphasised that the term “gender apartheid” most accurately described their experience and were calling for its recognition as a crime against humanity.  This system of domination and oppression of women and girls should propel discussion on codification of gender apartheid as a crime against humanity and as a human rights violation, defined in a gender inclusive way.  The international community needed to ensure that all victims and survivors could access justice for the totality of crimes committed against them.

The gravity and scale of the crimes could not be overstated.  The international community had a collective responsibility to challenge and dismantle this appalling system and to hold those responsible to account. 

No single approach was likely to be effective on its own. What was needed was an “all tools” approach centring around justice and accountability; incorporating human rights and women’s voices in political processes and diplomatic engagement; bolstering documentation; and reinforcing protection and solidarity for Afghan women, girls and human rights defenders.

In 12 days, a major meeting would take place in Doha. This offered an important opportunity to affirm that the rights and voices of women and girls would not be sidelined.  Civil society, including women, needed to be meaningful participants in the meeting and women’s rights needed to be central to discussions.  For the credibility and the sustainability of international engagement, it was vital that it was underpinned by a principled, human rights-centred approach.

The Taliban were not recognised as a government and should not be treated as such.  They should not be allowed to dictate the terms of United Nations-hosted meetings. Meaningful and sustained improvements in human rights needed to form a central part of any way forward for Afghanistan.  Failure to learn the lessons of the past and sideline human rights could have devastating and long-lasting consequences.

Mr. Bennett recommended that the Taliban should immediately dismantle their institutionalised system of gender oppression, and should engage constructively with United Nations human rights mechanisms, including his mandate.  He also called on the international community to avoid normalisation or legitimisation of the de facto authorities until and unless there were demonstrated, measurable and independently verified improvements against human rights benchmarks, particularly for women and girls.  The international community should prioritise protection, solidarity and support for Afghan women and girls, including human rights defenders.

The Taliban’s institutionalisation of its system of gender oppression should shock the conscience of humanity.  It was incumbent upon all to take decisive action to stand with Afghan women and girls, hold the perpetrators accountable, and restore dignity, equality and justice for all.

NASIR AHMAD ANDISHA, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, welcomed the latest report by the Special Rapporteur.  Afghanistan had fallen into a state of darkness and repression, marked by severe and systemic violations of fundamental human rights.  Afghanistan under Taliban rule faced one of the most serious institutionalised human rights crises in the world, particularly for women and girls, and it was increasingly worsening.  The ongoing entrenchment of the Taliban’s gender oppression and its inherent dehumanisation of women and girls was likely sowing a dangerous ideology in new generations of Afghans, particularly boys and young men, which could potentially lead to future security risks in the region and beyond.

As a member of the United Nations, Afghanistan had obligations under the United Nations Charter, international treaties and resolutions which mandated the elimination of discrimination against women, promoted gender equality in the workplace, and ensured women’s participation in peace and security processes.  However, the Taliban’s rhetoric and actions starkly contravened these obligations. Since the drafting of the joint report, approximately 52 edicts issued between June 2023 and March 2024 had further restricted the rights of women and girls across the country.  The United Nations Charter unequivocally reaffirmed the equal rights of men and women.  In the past nearly three years, the Taliban Government had proved that it was neither willing nor capable of carrying out these basic obligations.   

Therefore, the people of Afghanistan appealed to Council members to uphold the core values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, recognising Afghanistan’s role as one of its original signatories.  The United Nations should prioritise the protection of fundamental human rights under Taliban rule.  Women’s basic rights should be recognised as essential and non-negotiable, rather than as a means to serve other interests.  The protection and empowerment of women were paramount in ensuring a just and equitable future for Afghanistan.  United Nations Member States had heightened obligations to address severe breaches of fundamental norms in the current context.  They must avoid normalising or legitimising the Taliban under any guise, including during the upcoming United Nations-led Doha conference on 30 June. 

As the report showed, the worsening and unprecedented situation of human rights in Afghanistan demanded full accountability. The Special Procedures mandate holders and the treaty bodies were urged to monitor and coordinate efforts closely. States engaging with the Taliban must demand human rights respect and include women in their dialogue.  Mr. Andisha emphasised that gender apartheid should be recognised as a crime against humanity, and called for an independent investigative mechanism by the Council that reflected the gravity of the situation.

LAILA, a young girl from inside Afghanistan, said that she could not continue her education after being banned from universities. She could not graduate from school and had lost many opportunities in life.  Now, she felt helpless and had lost hope.  All Afghan girls had lost their freedom and could not participate in activities they had participated in in the past.  They were no longer free to travel alone.

Laila said she was worried of being captured.  She was trying to deal with the problems she faced. She had not given up; she was helping her mother and learning to cook.  But this was not her future.  She wanted to help other girls; to be successful and make her parents proud. Since the regime change, girls’ mindsets had changed.  A few months ago, authorities had detained a number of girls Laila knew, claiming that they were not wearing a hijab.  Three or four of those girls had committed suicide after returning.  Many of Laila’s friends had given up hopes of studying and had married.  She said she thought she could face the same fate and her children would not be proud of her.

She said the courageous young girls of Afghanistan kept her hopeful.  She called on the international community to keep supporting women and girls in Afghanistan, including to access education.  She expressed thanks for the support that the international community had provided thus far and called for more support to be provided.

BENAFSHA YAQOOBI, women and disability rights activist, said women and girls in Afghanistan endured gender-based discrimination from the very beginning of their lives.  Women and girls had always fought against gender persecution to claim their fundamental human rights.  They had been suppressed, had fallen, but had always risen again.

During the two decades leading up to 2021, known as the Republic Era, Afghanistan had received support as per national laws and international treaties.  The 2004 Constitution of Afghanistan, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provided the country with a legal framework that allowed for relative access to rights.  Despite challenges, women could pursue education, work, and participate in society without fear of detention or torture by the then governance for their choices in attire or for commuting between home and work without a male guardian.

However, the Taliban’s second takeover in Afghanistan had plunged the nation into darkness, especially for women and girls.  Their extremist orders and dogmatic interpretation of religion had imposed severe restrictions, turning Afghanistan into a vast prison for its people, particularly women and girls.  The documentation and monitoring of human rights violations in custody and detention centres had become a dreadful struggle.

For nearly three years, a system of gender apartheid had been unfolding, entrenched with intersectional impacts of discrimination based on ethnicity, class, religion, marital status and disability.  This had doubled the impacts on women in marginalised groups.  Countless cases of multifaceted discrimination went undocumented and unreported.

Ms. Yaqoobi told the story of “Amina”, a mother of five daughters, one of whom had disabilities.  Her heartfelt plea for her daughter was simple: she wanted to ensure that her child was saved from the nightmare of being forced into an unwanted marriage simply because of her disability and poverty.

Ms. Yaqoobi said there should be no retreat from universally accepted human rights values and principles.  These should remain non-negotiable when engaging with Afghanistan’s ruling system. All efforts needed focus on restoring the nation’s lost rights and returning to a life based on global standards and norms.  Women and marginalised groups needed to see themselves represented and their voices heard in every stage of strategy, policy and planning.  When allocating humanitarian aid, as a response to the current crisis, the inclusion and engagement of marginalised women/girls, particularly those with disabilities, needed to be a pre-requisite.

Ms. Yaqoobi called on the international community to join hands to make Afghanistan a much better place by making the political system a responsive one, not just to the nation, but to all the world.  This was what Amina, her children, and millions like them expected.

SHAFIQA KHPALWAK, poet, writer, and human rights activist, said to imagine a world where, one day, you wake up and your children do not have the right to attend school, particularly your daughters. The right to have a job was denied and the right to freedom of speech and expression was taken.  You cannot have any say in how the government or policies should be.  Most importantly, you cannot even complain about any of these injustices because you are even deprived of having access to the justice system.  So, you become a nobody.  It seemed impossible to imagine such a world, but it was a harsh reality for Afghan women every single day.

When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021, she had been faced with the choice of leaving her country, or staying and becoming a nobody.  Under the Taliban’s rule, women in Afghanistan had become voiceless, faceless, and nameless creatures.  In the past three years, the Taliban had systematically institutionalised policies, stripping women of their identities and dignity, turning them into nobody. Afghan women were forbidden from being students, teachers, doctors, pilots, journalists, judges, politicians, because, in the eyes of the Taliban, they were nobody.  Ms. Khpalwak told the story of Asma, her sister Lima and her mother Frida, who were a generation that had fallen victim to the Taliban’s systematic discrimination.  This was not only the story of Asma and her family but was the bitter reality of millions of Afghan mothers and daughters.

Despite all this segregation and discrimination, Afghan women and men seized every opportunity to resist gender apartheid in Afghanistan, including by speaking anonymously to international media, secretly documenting human rights violations, taking bold actions such as the resignation of over 50 university professors, the refusal to take exams by university students in Nangarhar, or the protests of young girls and women who bravely took to the streets.  In recent days, a campaign “IQRA” was launched to mark 1,000 dark days, where millions of Afghan girls were forbidden from getting an education.  In this campaign, hundreds of Afghan men and women raised their voices for the reopening of girls’ schools. 

Afghan women asked the international community, with all their power and influence, what had been done in the past three years?  In the fight for existence, they felt alone, betrayed and abandoned.  All they asked was to be listened to and consulted because they were not nobody. They were somebody, who had the right to change their fate, elect their leader, and be treated equally.

LINA TORI JAN, women, peace and security advocate, said she came before the Council as someone who grew up under the Taliban’s first regime and as an Afghan woman now working at a Washington DC-based non-governmental organization, supporting a network of exiled Afghan women leaders. Without the education she had received after the first regime’s collapse in 2001, she would not be speaking to the Council today.  She was saddened to see the past echoing in the present with the Taliban’s restrictive policies of her early childhood again stripping the rights of millions of Afghans, under a regime that had not changed for the better but instead had adopted draconian measures to oppress Afghan women and girls.  Ms. Jan drew attention to avenues for accountability regarding Afghanistan which were not new, but underutilised.

On 5 March 2020, an official investigation into Afghanistan was opened at the International Criminal Court.  Four years on, the investigation was ongoing, and no charges had been filed.  As the investigation continued, the International Criminal Court should ensure that Afghan women and minorities were included in evidence collection.  By ratifying the Convention on the Elimination against Women in 2003, Afghanistan consented to the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction to adjudicate disputes.  The Taliban was violating the Convention.  Any party to the Convention could challenge Afghanistan’s alleged violations in the International Criminal Court and countries were encouraged to engage in this litigation. 

Existing legal frameworks did not sufficiently capture the crimes perpetrated against women and girls in Afghanistan.  Women around the world and the 10 Member States that had expressed openness to exploring the codification of gender apartheid states were encouraged to refer action on gender apartheid to their capitals. Countries could elect to unilaterally continue to withhold formal recognition of the de facto regime and support sanctions to restrict its leaders’ travel.  Engagement necessary to deliver essential aid should continue but relations with the de facto regime should not be normalised.  Countries should also stand firm on conditions for dialogue at the upcoming Doha meeting.  It was essential that the international community insisted that Afghan members of civil society, minorities, and women were represented in these talks.  These experiences were currently missing from the conversation.  More than ever, there needed to be leadership grounded in shared values of empathy and human dignity.

Discussion

In the discussion, many speakers, among other things, said the de facto Afghan authorities had institutionalised discrimination, segregation, gender-based violence and other human rights violations perpetrated against women and girls in Afghanistan.  This situation was alarming and reprehensible, the speakers said, condemning the actions of the authorities.  Increasing restrictions were being placed on Afghan women’s access to the rights to work, freedom of movement, health, and access to justice and recreation, among other rights.  The Taliban’s measures caused trauma, suicide and loss of life.

There were reports of rape, forced sterilisation, arbitrary detention, forced displacement, gender-based violence and other forms of abuse of women and girls, who were being forced to the shadows. This system of oppression could amount to gender persecution, a crime against humanity.  Traditions and religions could not be used to justify the repression of women and violations of their rights.  The effects of the Taliban’s actions would be felt for generations. The Taliban had failed to live up to the human rights conventions to which Afghanistan was a party.  Some speakers thanked the brave Afghan women who had provided testimony to the Council.

Some speakers expressed concern over the implications of the Taliban’s measures on millions of children in Afghanistan.  There had been a 25 per cent increase in child marriage and an over 50 per cent increase in maternal mortality in Afghanistan since 2021.  Around 21 million children required urgent humanitarian assistance.  One child was killed or maimed each day by unexploded ordnances. Children were being recruited by the Taliban for sexual or military purposes.

Recently, Afghanistan marked 1,000 days since the de facto authorities banned girls from attending education above grade six, one speaker noted.  Another speaker expressed concern that the ban on education had recently been extended to private education.  The exclusion of girls from education heightened the risk of other abuses, including forced marriage and gender-based violence, and restricted women’s participation in society.  Speakers said that denying girls their right to education was neither humane nor Islamic. Such measures were denying the country of Afghan women doctors, nurses and other professionals who could assist the population.  The measures also affected men and boys, some speakers noted, saying that they taught them to impose gender stereotypes in their households.

Recent mass public floggings and flagellation were a worrying manifestation of the repression of several rights, including the right to freedom of speech and assembly.  Speakers condemned these actions, expressing concern that several human rights defenders had been arbitrarily detained and calling for their immediate release.

Some speakers noted the report’s definition of a possible “gender apartheid” occurring in Afghanistan and called on the international community to investigate this possibility and make it a topic of discussion in international settings.  The expression best defined the oppression being faced by Afghan women and girls. The codification of this crime could be an important measure for seeking accountability for it, the speakers said. One speaker, however, rejected the use of the term “apartheid” in this context, saying that it diluted the meaning of this heinous crime against humanity.

Some speakers also expressed their concern regarding the effects of the Taliban’s measures on women with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, calling for an end to discrimination of these groups.  One speaker expressed concern that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people were not considered in the Special Rapporteur’s definition of gender apartheid.  There needed to be increased efforts to document crimes against these groups, including flogging.

Many speakers expressed support for the women and girls of Afghanistan.  They said the de facto authorities needed to uphold the rights and dignity of all its citizens, including women and girls, and respect the human rights treaties to which the State was a party.  There needed to be an end to the cycle of impunity; the authorities needed to be held accountable for all rights violations against women.  Some speakers proposed the establishment of an authority to seek accountability for violations.  Women needed access to justice and women’s rights needed to be incorporated in all interventions.  Their rights to education, employment and freedom of movement needed to be restored. There needed to be increased investment in basic services for women and girls affected by the crisis.  The international community must not recognise or normalise the actions of the Taliban authorities.

Some speakers regretted that civil society had not been offered a seat at the upcoming Doha talks.  One speaker regretted that the United Nations had issued travel waivers on Taliban leaders who had committed rights violations, calling for travel bans and asset freezes to be imposed on them.  This situation required urgent, coordinated action with civil society, some speakers said.

A number of speakers said that the situation needed to be considered in the context of the State’s history, security and geopolitical situation.  The irresponsible withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan in 2021 had led to the deaths of many women and children.  The root causes of the problems that Afghanistan faced should have been addressed in more detail by the report, they said.  One speaker regretted that some parts of the report dwelled on divisive and unverified themes.  Another speaker, however, said that the historical context should not be used as an excuse for the actions of the Taliban.

One speaker welcomed that the interim authorities had been promoting the return of Afghan refugees.  Some countries had imposed unreasonable unilateral actions against Afghanistan, harming the rights of the Afghan people, some speakers said.  These needed to be revoked.  The speakers called for “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” responses to the crisis.  The speakers praised the Afghan interim authorities’ efforts to combat instability and poverty in the country.  The international community needed to work with the de facto authorities to achieve peace.

Some speakers called for a democratic response to the crisis in collaboration with the people of Afghanistan, which included dialogue with the Taliban.  Inclusive governance was critical for promoting women’s rights, they said. 

A number of speakers expressed their commitment to alleviating the suffering of the Afghan people, presenting their efforts to achieve this, including capacity building programmes that supported development, and aid projects that promoted access to education and health rights.  Other speakers reported on efforts to engage with the de facto authorities in bilateral and multilateral fora, including to restore women’s and girls’ right to education.  One speaker presented programmes to support Afghan refugees to access education overseas.

Speakers asked how the international community could support women’s full participation in deliberations about Afghanistan’s future; how civil society’s meaningful participation could be best ensured in the Doha process; how the international community could step up efforts to combat gender-based oppression in Afghanistan; and practical measures to ensure that discrimination against women and girls in Afghanistan was a topic of focus in international and regional fora.

Questions were also asked about measures to increase accountability for the negative impacts of unilateral coercive measures on the people of Afghanistan; how the Taliban could be held accountable for their crimes; how the international community could best manage the threat posed by terrorism in the country; measures to protect at-risk Afghan women and girls; how States could monitor violations of human rights in Afghanistan more effectively; how the international community could support acts of Afghan resistance; and where the international community should invest support to best address discrimination against women and girls.

Concluding Remarks

LINA TORI JAN, women, peace and security advocate, encouraged Member States to look at the document that had been sent to the Security Council which outlined recommendations for the upcoming meeting in Doha.  Women and civil society needed to be included in all parts of the dialogue concerning Afghanistan.  Women and human rights needed to be on the agenda for the upcoming meeting in Doha. The Special Rapporteur should be invited to the Doha meeting to share his findings from his report.  It was important not to be fatigued by lack of progress.  Commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should not be neglected. Ms. Jan asked States to follow through on their commitments, not just through words but through actions.  It was important not to betray the future for Afghan children. 

SHAFIQA KHPALWAK, poet, writer, and human rights activist, said she and millions of other women, who were somebody in the country, were also the political, social and economic reality of Afghanistan. They could not be ignored.  She thanked everyone for their solidarity. In the short term, it was important to invest in mechanisms, whether online or clandestine schooling, for girls’ education.  In the long term, perhaps the United Nations and Member States could lead an alliance for girls’ education.  This had begun in Afghanistan and others were called on to join.  Women’s employment was directly related to poverty. Therefore, it was important to take the small opportunities to support Afghan-women businesses.  The Taliban should be pressured to allow women to receive humanitarian aid. 

BENAFSHA YAQOOBI, women and disability rights activist, said gender apartheid and gender persecution were ongoing in the country. Women in Afghanistan were standing strong, supported by people who believed in the value of human rights. Different delegations had expressed solidarity with Afghanistan.  All delegations needed to consider what they could do for women and girls and marginalised groups in the country.  Afghanistan needed their solidarity in action.

NASIR AHMAD ANDISHA, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the depth of the abyss and the demands of the people of Afghanistan had been made very clear in the debate.  There was consensus that the current situation was not sustainable, and agreement among United Nations members about what a sustainable outcome for Afghanistan should look like.  Afghanistan needed to be at peace with its neighbours and ensure the rights of its populace, including women and girls.  The existing general agreement on the path to peace for Afghanistan required engagement with the Taliban and the placement of the people at the centre of deliberations.  Ensuring space for civil society in United Nations-led efforts could be a first step on the path to peace.

RICHARD BENNETT, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, expressed gratitude to the Afghan human rights defenders who gave presentations.  Their call for action was clear and compelling.  Mr. Bennett thanked Member States and non-governmental organizations for their support and interventions.  Questions had been asked about next steps.  Mr. Bennett stressed the importance of an “all-tools-approach” which placed human rights at the heart.  It was important to strengthen relationships between the Council and the United Nations bodies in New York to ensure the situation remained high on the United Nations’ political agenda. 

Several members had asked about representation at Doha. It was important to have principled, human rights-based engagement.  While an international process, the success of the next Doha meeting should not be measured solely on when the Taliban came to the table, especially if the cost was the representation of Afghan women and girls.  Gender apartheid should be approached as a crime against humanity and a human rights violation.  Mr. Bennett regularly attempted to raise human rights concerns with the Taliban and had sent the report ahead of its publication.  Regretfully, instead of engaging with the findings, the Taliban dismissed them as false.  Mr. Bennett reiterated his call to the international community not to engage with the de facto authorities unless there were improvements in the rights of women and girls.  Allowing another year to pass risked claims of complicity.  The international community owed it to Afghans to meet their bravery with effective action. 

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission for Sudan

Presentation of Oral Update by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission for Sudan

MOHAMED CHANDE OTHMAN, Chair of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission for Sudan, said Sudan had been engulfed in a devastating conflict for over a year now, characterised largely by its urban and widespread nature, with its civilian population placed at the centre of extreme violence.  Blatant disregard for fundamental human rights and international humanitarian law had led to killings, looting, mass displacement, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and resulted in a grave humanitarian crisis, with around 18 million people acutely food insecure and five million facing starvation.

The Fact-Finding Mission was deeply aware of the urgency of the situation.  It had initiated contacts with the Government of Sudan and with the Governments of its neighbouring countries: Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, as well as Kenya and Uganda.  It had also engaged with organizations and entities involved in the situation in Sudan to coordinate efforts.  Even without physical access to Sudan, the Fact-Finding Mission had been able to conduct about 80 interviews so far, including with victims and eyewitnesses. It also held meetings and consultations with a considerable number of stakeholders, including civil society representatives and human rights defenders.

The information gathered so far indicated that the deadly conflict that broke out in Sudan on 15 April 2023, mainly between the Sudan Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, was continuing unabated on a massive scale.  It now involved multiple actors within and outside Sudan and had spread from Khartoum and Darfur to most of the country.  The Mission was deeply concerned that the fighting persisted with tragic consequences and enormous suffering of the civilian population.  It had received credible accounts of indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including through airstrikes and shelling in heavily populated residential areas, as well as ground attacks against civilians in their homes and villages. 

In the capital Khartoum and in its close vicinity Omdurman and Bahri, at the outbreak of the conflict, intense clashes, airstrikes and heavy artillery shelling, including in residential areas, and attacks on schools, hospitals and medical facilities had resulted in killings and injuries of civilians, including women and children, and forced many to leave their homes and property to seek refuge in other locations.

The siege of El Fasher, North Darfur, by Rapid Support Forces was particularly concerning.  El Fasher was the capital of Darfur, with 1.5 million inhabitants.  It hosted approximately 800,000 internally displaced persons.  Already, heavy fighting between the warring parties in different parts of the city had led to significant civilian casualties, damaged homes, and caused mass displacement.  The attack on one of the main and last functioning hospitals in the city on 8 June led to its closure, leaving the civilian population without access to life-saving medical care.

The Mission called on all parties to abide by Security Council resolution 2736, which demanded that the Rapid Support Forces halt the siege of El Fasher and called for an immediate halt to the fighting. The Mission called upon all States to abide by the Security Council arms embargo imposed on Darfur, and noted the call of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for information regarding this unfolding situation, urging all parties to fully cooperate with his Office.

Previous attacks on other areas compounded concerns. The Mission was currently investigating earlier large-scale attacks against civilians based on their ethnicity in other areas of Darfur, which included killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture, forced displacement and looting, including in Geneina and later in Ardamata between April and November of last year. Ethnic-based attacks were also under investigation, including in Zalingei, Nyala, and other areas of Darfur as well as in Kordofan, Al Jazirah and parts of greater Khartoum.  With regard to the situation in Al Jazirah, the Mission was investigating attacks, including on its capital, Wad Madani in December 2023, and related killings, injuries, arbitrary arrests and torture of civilians and mass displacement.  Recently, on 5 June, Wad al-Noura village in Al Jazirah was reported to have been attacked with heavy artillery, leading to hundreds of civilian deaths, including numerous children.  In all these areas, massive looting and extensive destruction of civilian homes and property continued.

Additionally, health facilities had been attacked, pillaged and destroyed, making it impossible for the many injured civilians to get any medical attention.  Medical supplies had also been blocked from reaching critical areas.  There were reports that many civilians had died from injuries sustained in the conflict due to the unavailability or inaccessibility of medical facilities.  The conflict had also led to significant damage of essential infrastructure, including electricity and water supply lines as well as communication networks. Attacks on medical personnel, including those providing support to victims of sexual violence, were highly disturbing.

The conflict continued to cause mass displacement of the civilian population at unprecedented levels.  Since the outbreak of the conflict, almost nine million individuals had been forcibly displaced from their homes, with more than 1.8 million fleeing to neighbouring countries.  The Mission appreciated the efforts of the countries which, despite their limited resources, continued to support the refugees who fled the conflict in Sudan. 

Nearly 18 million individuals were facing acute hunger, amidst looming famine.  At least five million civilians, including children and pregnant women, were at risk of starvation, with a minimal response as warring parties continued to obstruct humanitarian access, attack humanitarian workers, and loot humanitarian supplies.  In the face of this immense suffering, the humanitarian response plan, which remained severely underfunded, with only 16 per cent of the required funds having been received, required urgent international attention.

There were also credible reports of many cases of sexual violence being committed by the warring parties across various parts of the country since the start of the conflict.  Women and girls had been, and continued to be subjected to rape and gang rape, abduction and forced marriage.  Women and girls not only endured violent rape, including gang rape, and denial of medical support, but also were stigmatised and subsequently abandoned by their families.  There were reports of sexual slavery and sexualised torture in detention facilities, including against men and boys, which the Mission was investigating. 

Widespread recruitment and use of children at checkpoints to gather intelligence, as well as to participate in direct combat and commit violent crimes, were also frequently reported, placing the lives and future of many children at risk.  The United Nations Secretary-General had ranked Sudan amongst the countries where the highest number of grave violations against children were reported.  From the outset of the conflict, the warring parties appeared to have been targeting civil society actors and human rights activists, and subjecting them to threats, attacks, arbitrary arrests, torture, detention, enforced disappearance and killings. 

The Mission had so far identified a number of structural and systemic issues as well as those related to policies and conduct. These included the continued arming of civilians without meaningful control, the mobilisation of militias and armed groups on an ethnic basis, and shielding from accountability those persons and entities responsible for atrocious crimes.  Some of these practices were being revived by the warring parties from past conflicts and were laying the ground for current and future cycles of serious violations.  The national legal system appeared unable to conduct prompt, independent and credible investigations or to prosecute persons in a manner consistent with international human rights norms and standards.  It was therefore critical to combat impunity. 

It was hard to see the human rights and humanitarian situation in Sudan improving without an immediate ceasefire.  The commanders of warring parties needed to issue instructions to the forces or militias under their control to strictly abide by international humanitarian law, as per their international obligations, as also iterated in the Jeddah Declaration.  Civilians needed to be protected, and attacks against them, including killings, looting, sexual violations and forced displacement needed to be punished in conformity with human rights law.  The warring parties needed to refrain from attacking humanitarian workers, stop obstructing the delivery of aid, and allow unfettered humanitarian access to the millions of civilians in need in every part of Sudan.

The Mission also appealed to the States with influence over any of the warring parties to urgently step up efforts to halt the fighting and bring the parties back to the negotiation table in order to prevent further violations and abuses.  The people of Sudan were crying for help to restore their dignity and rights.  They needed the support and attention of the Council.

Statement by the Concerned Country

YASSIR BASHIR ELBUKHARI SULIMAN, Chief Prosecutor of Sudan, speaking as the representative of the country concerned, said the world had witnessed the violations, crimes and atrocities committed by the rebel Rapid Support Forces against unarmed civilians, including killing, displacement and systematic attacks amounting to genocide against the Masalit tribe in West Darfur, which had left 5,000 dead and 8,000 wounded, as well as a recent massacre in a village in Al Jazirah province, which left 227 dead and more than 150 wounded, and recent flagrant attacks on the village of Sheikh Sammani, killing 21 people and wounding 15.  They were also responsible for the killing of Governor Khamis Abkar; the rebel forces had mutilated his corpse.  Two hundred and sixteen women had been subjected to violence and rape.  In addition to the forced recruitment of as many as 6,000 children, the number of children killed in military operations had reached about 4,850 children. 

Since its rebellion in April 2023, the rebel Rapid Support Forces had been attacking and occupying civilian buildings and citizens’ homes, which led to the forced displacement of more than 15 million citizens inside and outside the country, and they also attacked places of worship. In an attempt to sow chaos, the rebel forces stormed prisons and released around 19,000 inmates.  In addition, they attacked the headquarters of law enforcement agencies and courts, looting, destroying, burning, destroying documents, and killing horses and police dogs.  The rebel forces committed all these crimes with the help of foreign mercenaries from 11 countries, in violation of international and regional conventions. 

In its investigations, the National Committee had defended the right to a fair trial.  More than 12,000 cases and lawsuits had been received and the rebel forces were classified as a terrorist group in accordance with the law and the relevant Security Council resolutions.  There were around 65 criminal cases in which investigations had been completed, where the national judiciary had issued convictions and acquittals. 

Mr. Sulilman said Sudan was ready to engage in technical cooperation.  The international community was called on to provide the technical assistance requested by Sudan.  Sudan urged neighbouring countries to facilitate the Committee’s task of allowing access to victims and witnesses.  The international community should assist in the establishment of an international fund for reparations and compensation, provide technical and logistical support, including advisory support.

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, some speakers, among other things, said they were alarmed by the continued escalation of the conflict in Sudan, as well as by the severe deterioration of human rights and the catastrophic humanitarian situation nationwide with millions on the brink of famine.  The recent escalation of violence between the warring parties demonstrated how crucial the Mission’s mandate was.  After more than a year of fighting, thousands of lives had reportedly been lost, and the country was now facing the largest displacement crisis in the world with 20 per cent of the population displaced.  An unprecedented five million people were now a step away from famine.

Some speakers were deeply armed at the recent violence and condemned the continued widespread disregard for international human rights law and international humanitarian law.  Speakers were particularly concerned by the perpetration of sexual and gender-based violence, especially against women and children, the attacks against health and humanitarian workers and infrastructure, and the targeting of civilians, including on the basis of ethnicity.  Perpetrators needed to be held to account.  Accounts of child recruitment, crackdowns on freedom of speech and journalists, enforced disappearances, and an escalation of hate speech brought back dark images from Sudan’s past into the present. 

Some speakers strongly appealed to the warring parties for an immediate and durable ceasefire, and said they would continue to support regional and international mediation efforts to bring peace to Sudan. The International Criminal Court’s recent call for evidence was welcomed.  Many speakers reaffirmed their strong support for the Fact-Finding Mission’s mandate and welcomed the regional efforts to bring peace and stability to Sudan. Both parties must stop the looting of and obstructions to aid delivery and ensure the protection of civilians, as demanded at the Paris Conference.  Speakers called on all Sudanese parties to continue dialogue towards a peaceful and just transition.

Many speakers reaffirmed their solidarity with the Sudanese people, and called for the implementation of the Jeddah Declaration to protect civilians.  Some speakers noted that the political process needed to be owned by the Sudanese, and any foreign intervention in Sudanese affairs should be rejected.  The Council must take into account the consent of the country concerned when establishing new mechanisms.  All those who committed atrocities needed to held accountable for their actions. 

Some of the questions posed during the dialogue, included: after the Paris Conference, what could the international community do to aid efforts towards accountability?  How could the work of the Mission be supported to provide the people in Sudan with a hope for freedom, peace and justice?  How could regional actors contribute to the Mission’s work?  How could the international community ensure accountability in Sudan?

Produced by the United Nations Information Service in Geneva for use of the media; 
not an official record. English and French versions of our releases are different as they are the product of two separate coverage teams that work independently.

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