Taliban presiding over extensive rights abuses in Afghanistan, says UN | Taliban

Taliban authorities have presided over widespread human rights abuses since they took control of Afghanistan last August, the UN said, including 160 killings of former government officials and members of the security forces, and dozens of cases of torture, arbitrary arrests and inhumane punishments.

A UN report, released on the day an Australian journalist said she had been detained in Kabul and forced to tweet a retraction of her reporting, also detailed a broad assault on the press. In total 173 media workers were affected by abuses including detention, threats, ill-treatment and assault.

“[The United Nations] has documented persistent allegations of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and torture and ill-treatment carried out by the de facto authorities,” the report, titled Human Rights in Afghanistan, found.

“De facto authorities” refers to the Taliban government that has not been recognised by any member of the international community nearly a year after taking control.

The UN said it was “concerned about the impunity” with which Taliban members appear to have carried out human rights violations. A sweeping crackdown on critics, targeting media, protesters and civil society activists has exacerbated the problem.

“The human rights situation has been compounded by the measures taken by the de facto authorities to stifle debate, curb dissent and limit the fundamental rights and freedoms of Afghans,” the report said.

Although civilian casualties fell sharply when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and fighting has stopped in most of the country, the new government was not able to guarantee security for its citizens, particularly religious and ethnic minorities.

Armed conflict killed 700 civilians and injured more than 1,400 between 15 August 2021 and June this year, the UN found. Most died in suicide attacks by Islamic State fighters, and from unexploded weapon remnants left behind when fighting ended in much of the country.

Between 1 January and 14 August 2021, in the final months of intense battle, more than 2,000 civilians were killed and more than 5,300 injured.

The UN also highlighted inhuman punishments and killings of Afghans accused of so-called moral crimes including sex outside marriage.

A Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, criticised the report as “propaganda” and said the incidents documented were not true. “There is no arbitrarily kill or arrest in the country. If someone kills or arrests arbitrarily, the one is considered criminal and will face the sharia law,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

The UN, which required three independent sources on a human rights abuse to include it in the report, detailed some cases where the Taliban had arrested individuals accused of human rights abuses. The UN also “appreciated the level of engagement to date” from Taliban authorities.

In an apparent swipe at the UN findings, Mujahid also hit out at a Facebook ban on the national broadcaster Radio Television Afghanistan and the official Bakhtar news agency. “Now, you will understand what the west calls the freedom of media!? Blocking the social media accounts … shows impatience and intolerance,” he wrote.

Late on Thursday, the Australian journalist Lynne O’Donnell said she had been “detained, abused and threatened” in Kabul and forced to tweet a retraction of previous reporting, some about a year old, before being allowed to leave the country.

The Taliban’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, said O’Donnell had been denied accreditation in Afghanistan “due to her open support for armed resistance and falsifying reports”. She was taken for questioning after she was “discovered hiding in Kabul” after being refused accreditation. She herself had offered to tweet the retraction of her stories, he claimed in response to her statements.

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“She was informed that she will be able to stay and operate in Afghanistan if she can produce evidence to substantiate any of the claims in her report … The new Afghan government remains committed to the principles of freedom of press.”

The UN report raised particular concerns about the Taliban’s intelligence service and the ministry for the propagation of virtue and prevention of vice. The latter has produced many of the harsh directives limiting the lives of women and girls in Afghanistan.

They are now excluded from “most aspects of everyday and public life”, the UN said, including secondary schools and government positions, in a major assault on their human rights.

It also highlighted the devastating impact of the economic collapse that followed the Taliban takeover, fuelled in part by sanctions on the new leadership and an abrupt halt to foreign aid that had funded a large part of the government and public services. Over half of Afghans now need humanitarian aid.

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