Afghanistan: UN experts urge swift global action to protect human rights and prevent ‘civilian slaughter’

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OHCHR | Afghanistan: UN experts urge swift global action to protect human rights and prevent ‘civilian slaughter’

GENEVA (16 August 2021) – UN human rights experts* today issued a statement calling on Member States to take immediate and preventive action to prevent the slaughter of civilians, the destruction of essential civilian infrastructure, and the undoing of decades of human rights, rule of law and gender equality work to advance the health, education, culture and social infrastructure of Afghanistan. Their statement is as follows:

“The work undertaken in partnership over the last 20 years by the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the international community with Afghan human rights defenders, women’s groups, other civil society organisations and the Afghan people is under grave threat.

The Taliban’s recent military offensive appears to have taken over much of the country by force and has directly targeted civilian city centres. In addition, as previously reported by Special Procedures and as was recently captured in the Statement from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Taliban’s military offensive has been marked by a relentless campaign of direct targeting of civilians, civil society and journalists, summary executions, assassination of human rights defenders, arbitrary detention, mass executions of civilians, and unlawful restrictions on the human rights of women and girls.

We adamantly reiterate that it is unacceptable for States to stand on the sidelines when the Taliban, first designated as a terrorist organization in 1999 by the United Nations Security Council, and which continues to have many of its associated entities and individuals listed, overruns the territory of Afghanistan and engages in acts that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. In parallel, we identify the particular responsibilities of States who have led and engaged in a peace process with the Taliban, where the most basic of commitments made in the current agreement, namely, a commitment to engage in an intra-Afghan dialogue, rather than pursue a military offensive, is being broken with impunity. International law requires that those engaged in acts of terrorism be dealt with fully with the considerable capacity of the law and practice that has developed since the Taliban were first designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council.

We are outraged by the wanton attacks on civilians, the targeting of independent journalists and media, and the violence being directed at women and girls including the imposition of strictures on their capacity to function in any independent way in society, which is entirely inconsistent with the dignity and rights of women and girls. Today, reports from 16 provinces continue to show that the majority of women are experiencing the same rights violations as 20 years ago at the control of the Taliban, including the forced wearing of a Burka, forced marriage, restriction on freedom of movement and required use of a mahram, prohibition on working and restricted access to health care, education and more. Some 80 percent of nearly a quarter of a million Afghans forced to flee since the end of May are women and children.

To date, the Security Council has issued one statement and hosted one emergency meeting on Afghanistan. The Council has been unequivocal in rhetoric, recalling resolution 2513 (2020) and reaffirming that ‘there is no military solution to the conflict’ and declaring that ‘they do not support the restoration of the Islamic Emirate’. Now, as the Taliban has entered Kabul, the last stronghold of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Council must now be unequivocal in action. The people of Afghanistan deserve better than to endure the silence and by-standing of the Member States of the United Nations at this perilous moment.

We call for:

  1. The Security Council to take appropriate action under Chapter VII of the Charter to safeguard the human rights and humanitarian needs of the people of Afghanistan, including its most vulnerable, and to address the role of Member States to prevent acts of terrorism under international law.
  2. To apply to the fullest extent and consistent with international law, the international sanctions on designated terrorist organizations, including the obligations of all States to suppress and prevent terrorist acts.
  3. To ensure that civilians have full and free access humanitarian aid as the needs for emergency assistance grow exponentially, including through the imposition of such sanctions.
  4. Member States to keep their borders open to receive asylum seekers from Afghanistan while ensuring adequate protection and humanitarian assistance of Afghan refugees and internally displaced persons.
  5. The Human Rights Council to address in an emergency session the obligations of all States to advance the promotion and protection of human rights including:
    1. By the speedy establishment of a fact-finding mission to be deployed urgently to Afghanistan to assess the situation on the ground and report back to the Council on human rights violations and responsibilities, including, but not limited to, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
    2. By supporting the High Commissioner for Human Rights in her efforts to prevent the further commission of systematic human rights violations and create a mechanism of international accountability for these systemic human rights violations.
    3. By engaging UN Special Procedure mandates to support fact-finding and accountability on the serious human rights violations occurring in Afghanistan.
    4. By paying particular attention to the protection of the most vulnerable in Afghanistan including children, women and girls, those internally displaced, the disabled, human rights defenders, journalists and the media, educators and civil society actors using the full capacity of the Council’s diplomatic and political capacity to engage with all stakeholders to protect and support these groups.

We recall that over two decades of sustained partnership between the international community and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan have steadfastly aimed to support the people of Afghanistan. In this moment, we should not forget or ignore the achievements and progress made to advance full and dignified lives for all the people in Afghanistan. The results of this partnership, however, are not only at risk, but have already been a casualty of the current state of inaction. The lives of over 1,000 civilians killed last month alone must be accounted for. The hundreds of thousands displaced must be accounted for. The rights of the Afghan people to live in peace, with human rights and dignity must be accounted for.

We cannot stand idly by as the lives of the Afghan people are treated with contempt, derision, and weariness. Afghanistan is a test case for the value of the UN Charter, and the commitment of States to prevent the scourge of terrorism from destroying rights-bearing societies and values. We urge all States to stand firm and have the moral courage and clarity to act in order to prevent further violence and harms. The international community will be judged on our actions, our fortitude, and our willingness to make our words about rights have meaning in this decisive moment.”


*The experts: Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorismClément VouleSpecial Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of associationMary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Irene KhanSpecial Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expressionNils MelzerSpecial Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or PunishmentKarima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Siobhán MullallySpecial Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Elina Steinerte (Chair-Rapporteur), Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Vice-chairperson), Leigh Toomey, Mumba Malila, Priya Gopalan, Working Group on arbitrary detentionReem AlsalemSpecial Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequencesMelissa Upreti (Chair), Dorothy Estrada-Tanck (Vice Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Ivana Radačić, and Meskerem Geset Techane, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Cecilia Jimenez-DamarySpecial Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced PersonsTomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issuesFelipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older personsMama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on sale and sexual exploitation of children; Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers;

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Michelle Erazo ( 22 917 9449).

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact: Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 22 917 7578 /

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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