Dossier 17: NGO Sign-on letter to the UN Secretary-General regarding Women's Human Rights Abuses in Afghanistan

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WE ARE For Human Rights
September 1997
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We seek to have a large international response to stress to the Secretary- General the outrage that women feel. We also want to show our solidarity with our sisters in Afghanistan, who have been asking what we in the international community are doing to assist them. Therefore, it is important to have NGOs from as many countries as possible sign-on to this letter. Please distribute the letter to other NGOs for their signatures and thank you for doing so.

The letter will be finalized the last week of March, in order to send it to Secretary-General Kofi Annan and distribute it in Geneva, before the Commission on Human Rights finalizes a resolution on Afghanistan.

If your organization can sign the letter, please send your organization’s contact information to W.E. A.R.E. for Human Rights, telephone: 1-301-270-0436; fax: 1-301-270-0321; or e-mail:

The final letter will include only names, organizations, and addresses; however, to receive a final copy of the letter and any follow-up information, please also include your phone and fax number and e-mail address, if you have one.

Thank you,

WE ARE for Human Rights

Baha’is of the US

Amnesty International USA

Co-Chairs of the Working Group for the Human

Rights of Women

The deadline for signatures is 24 March 1997.

His Excellency Kofi Annan


United Nations

Your Excellency:

As non-governmental organizations working to promote and protect the international human rights of women, we are writing to express our appreciation for the actions taken to date by the United Nations to restore respect for the human rights of women in Afghanistan. The appeals by the United Nations to the Taliban to honor their obligations under human rights instruments and to protect the human rights of women have been of utmost importance. However, we continue to be concerned about the pervasive abuses and violations of the rights of Afghan women and girls and, therefore, respectfully urge the United Nations to continue its efforts to ensure that respect for their rights is restored.

Afghanistan is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Accordingly, Afghanistan is obligated to protect the human rights defined therein. The acts undertaken by the Taliban are in violation of Afghanistan’s obligations under these treaties.

The General Assembly has deeply deplored the grave deterioration of the human rights of women noted by the Special Rapporteur [on Afghanistan] in his report, and urged the Afghan authorities immediately to restore respect for all human rights of women, including the right of women to work and the right of girls to education, without discrimination…» (GA Resolution 51/108, 12 Dec. 1996).

The Commission on Human Rights has called upon all Afghan parties to «respect fully all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the rights of women and children, in accordance with international human rights instruments, and called upon the Afghan authorities to ensure the effective participation of women in the social, economic, political and cultural life throughout the country, including education and employment.» (CHR Resolution of 23 April 1996, contained in UN Doc. E/1996/23).

In addition, both the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Bhoutros Bhoutros-Ghali, and the then- Chairperson of the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Ms. Ivanka Corti, publicly expressed their concern about the status of women in Afghanistan. They noted reports that women are being denied access to education and employment in contravention of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Nevertheless, action still is needed to ensure that the Taliban and all factions cease to violate the human rights of the Afghan people. In particular, action is needed to protect:

1. Women’s right to security. Women continue to be harassed and beaten for failure to comply with the dictates of the Taliban, such as leaving their home unless accompanied by a close male relative or for not dressing according to the Taliban’s dress code.

2. Women and girls’ right to equal access to education. Girls’ schools have been closed, thus denying girls access to education and eliminating jobs for many women. (The education of boys also is being negatively affected because most of the teachers in Afghanistan were women.)

3. Women’s right to employment outside the home. The Taliban has ordered women to stay home from work (except under special circumstances applicable principally to doctors and nurses). Because so
many men have been killed or disabled in the 17 years of war in Afghanistan, women were the main economic support in many families. The health and well-being — indeed the survival — of these families are severely endangered by this dictate of the Taliban.

Furthermore, action is needed to ensure that women are participating in the peace process. The majority of the people in Afghanistan are women. For their voices to be heard fully, a woman must be included in the Special Mission for Peace in Afghanistan. In September 1996, representatives from the Afghan Women’s Network met with Rosario Green, the former Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Gender, to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the importance of including a woman in the Special Mission. Her office agreed to begin looking for a suitably qualified woman to recruit for the Special Mission for Peace for Afghanistan. To our knowledge, no woman has been recruited for this important post.

We respectfully:

— Appeal to you to speak publicly about the flagrant discrimination and violence against women currently taking place in Afghanistan; call on the warring groups in Afghanistan to ensure an end to such actions; and inform them of the human rights of women pursuant to the international conventions ratified by Afghanistan.

—Urge strongly that a qualified woman be appointed to the Special Mission for Peace in Afghanistan.

— Urge that women be present and participate in all negotiations and meetings with representatives from the Taliban or other factions in Afghanistan, especially in peace negotiations.

— Recommend that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other UN agencies monitor the situation and work toward the restoration and protection of fundamental human rights throughout Afghanistan, ensuring the protection of the human rights of women.

—Encourage the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other UN agencies working in Afghanistan to increase the number of qualified specialists on gender and human rights issues, preferably with experience in working in traditional and Islamic countries.

— Encourage coordination between the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and the UN High Commissioner on Refugees to ensure adequate protection and assistance for women refugees in flight and in refugee camps.

— Recommend that the experts of the UN special procedures, including the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women communicate their concerns about women’s human rights to the Taliban and other warring factions on an urgent action basis. Further, we appeal to you to urge the above-mentioned Special Rapporteurs to contact the Taliban and other factions with a view toward arranging on-site visits as soon as possible.

In the face of these flagrant human rights abuses and violations, your continued attention to human rights in Afghanistan is critical.

With highest regards,

[Signatures follow]

Editor’s Note:

In response to an Alert for Action sent out by WLUML concerning the situation of Women in Afghanistan, the Palestinian Feminist Activists from Jerusalem wrote the following:

"...the measures taken by the Taliban have nothing to do with Islamic law.

In the Sunna (reports on the living practices of the prophet Muhammad) and the Hadith (reports on what the prophet Muhammad said) which are, besides the Qur’an, the basic resources of Islamic law, it is clearly documented that the Prophet always motivated girls to learn and asked their families to support them. Education was considered one of the values in the young Muslim community - a value that applied to men as well as to women. Many of the important religious women in the Islamic tradition to whom Islamic law refers, were working outside the house. More than this, they became famous for their social engagement and were and are considered to be a model for all Muslim women. There is no source in Islamic law that prohibits women to leave their houses and thus no law that gives men the right to beat them when they do so. And there is definitely no Islamic law that permits killing and beating of females who exercise their rights of employment, education and development. The orders of the new military government in Kabul don’t have any justification and are a terrifying example of how power can be abused to discriminate against women.

We have started a campaign on the local level here in Palestine. We got a statement by a Sheikh in which he states that Women on the Qur’an and Islamic history do have the rights to security, education, employment outside the home. We further are busy connecting with other organisations and institutions, NGO’s, government bodies and religious bodies to make them support our campaign. We then plan to address with all the supporting letters by different institutions to the Mufti in Jerusalem and ask him to issue a Fatwa on the treatment of women in Afghanistan.

On the regional level we want to address all Women’s Rights organisations to make them follow our example and start a campaign in their home country. Last year was the first regional conference in Amman for all women’s organisations who work in the field of Legal aid for Women and Women’s Human Rights. One of the outcomes of the conference was the desire to establish a network between all organisations to continue exchanging our experiences, develop common strategies and support each other... .

The next step on the International level would be to address the Islamic states which support the Taliban to exert pressure on them and shame them in the name of Islam."

Signed by Tanja Tabbara

Women’s Centre for Legal Aid

PO Box 51678

Jerusalem (Israel)