Human rights groups urged the UN to continue to impose travel ban on Taliban members responsible for curtailing women’s right to leave their homes within Afghanistan.
The groups are calling for an end to a Trump-era waiver that allows Taliban members most responsible for the oppression of women in Afghanistan to travel abroad.
The UN has imposed extensive sanctions against the Taliban, but the Security Council is due to debate next week whether to impose a travel ban on all its leading members as a way of signalling that the Taliban’s route to international recognition is blocked.
The travel ban expires automatically on 20 June unless the UN renews it, and key figures in the US administration not only want it renewed, but extended. But there is as yet no official US position.
In a test for the international community’s willingness to isolate the Taliban, the travel ban is seen as one tool against the hardline regime as it continues on its course of driving women from public life and teenage girls out of secondary education.
Currently only 41 members of the Taliban administration are affected by the travel ban after it was partially suspended three years ago to permit 14 members to participate in peace talks.
Heather Barr, from Human Rights Watch, says at a minimum travel bans should be imposed on three individuals: Abdul-Haq Wassiq, the head of the intelligence agency; Sheikh Muhammad Khalid Hanafi, the head of the ministry for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice; and Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s top religious leader, who reportedly played a decisive role in extending the ban on girls’ secondary education.
She said: “It’s a false dichotomy to suggest that ending the travel ban exemption means giving up on engaging the Taliban. It’s time for governments to turn consensus that the Taliban’s actions are unlawful into coordinated actions that show the Taliban that the world is ready to defend the rights of Afghans, particularly women and girls, in meaningful ways.”
The former Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström has come out in support of the move, saying: “The longstanding UN ban on travel for Taliban leaders carries a waiver for some of them. Meanwhile, Afghan women can hardly leave their homes. The travel ban exemption should not be renewed without conditions: real progress for Afghan women and girls.”
Annie Pforzheimer, a former deputy chief of the US mission to Kabul, has also urged the state department to act. “Suspending the travel ban has allowed the Taliban to pursue the diplomatic recognition it craves, setting in motion the creeping normalisation of an authoritarian and extremist movement that other groups will emulate.”
Critics say the Taliban use overseas visits to mislead diplomats about the potential pluralist trajectory of the Taliban, and it is vital that the international community does not favour engagement for its own sake. Senior Taliban figures were last seen in St. Petersburg for the international economic forum hosted by Vladimir Putin.
Edicts restricting the rights of women have been pouring out of the Afghan government. Most recently, on 17 May, the Taliban dissolved the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, cutting off a crucial source of support for Afghans facing violations of their human rights, including women and girls experiencing gender-based violence.
Nine days later, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan concluded his mission by describing recent measures as “fitting a pattern of absolute gender segregation … aimed at making women invisible in society”. (Source: The Guardian)