U.S: Help Center Human Rights, including Women’s Rights, in Discussions and Decisions About Afghanistan

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the New York Times

By Malalai Habibi

The third UN-convened meeting of Special Envoys and Special Representatives on Afghanistan is scheduled for June 30th in Doha, Qatar. The U.S. and other actors should ensure transparency,  inclusion of marginalized voices,  and prioritization of human rights, including women’s rights.

Afghan women have long been at the forefront of the fight for human rights, while facing severe restrictions that impact every aspect of their lives under Taliban rule.

In a report released in July 2022, Amnesty International found “the scope, magnitude and severity of the Taliban’s violations against women and girlsopens in a new tab” is increasing at an alarming rate. And according to another Amnesty International reportopens in a new tab, Afghan women and girls are severely impacted by the Taliban’s discriminatory restrictions, which may constitute the crime against humanity of gender persecution. Yet the international community has failed to take measures proportionate to the gravity of the situation and ensure Afghan women`s meaningful inclusion in international decision-making processes.

Human rights, including women’s rights, in Afghanistan must be prioritized in any discussions and decisions pertaining to the future of the country. These discussions and decisions must include intergenerational Afghan human rights defenders and civil society actors, specifically women from diverse backgrounds, identities, and experiences, both inside Afghanistan and from exile.

Afghan human rights defenders, including women’s human rights defenders, both within the country and in exile, have repeatedly warned against the current trend of increased engagement with the Taliban, citing a lack of strategic vision and meaningful inclusion of Afghans. Therefore, it is critical that the international community develop a principled strategy for engagement conditioned on human rights.

The Taliban must adhere to the UN Charter and other international laws.

It must also respect the human rights of all Afghans, regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, or other identities, and end systemic human rights violations and gender persecution.

Any engagement with the Taliban should be centered on demands that the Taliban respect Afghanistan`s human rights obligations under international law.

States and the international community must send a clear, coordinated and resounding message to the Taliban that intensifying its system of oppression and attempts to erase women from all aspects of life will never be accepted, and that it must take concrete steps and demonstrate progress towards respecting women’s rights. Any forms of leverage to influence the Taliban must not harm the Afghan people. For instance, if the Taliban are received in other countries, the governments of those countries should, in turn, urge the Taliban to lift bans and make it easier for Afghan women to exercise their right to move and travel freely.

Due to its 20 years of stated commitment to advancing women’s and other human rights in Afghanistan and its obligations under international law to respect, protect and fulfill human rights, the United States bears a responsibility to take a proactive role in addressing the situation in the country. The U.S. should continuously and meaningfully consult with Afghan women and girls on political, economic, and humanitarian strategies. As called for in UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the full, equal, meaningful, and safe participation of women in all decision-making processes must be ensured.

The U.S. should ensure its engagement strategy with the Taliban is rights-based and rights-centered. It should send a clear message to Taliban leaders that their discriminatory policies toward women and girls constitute crimes under international law and these policies must end. Additionally, the U.S. should support the creation of a new UN-mandated accountability mechanism by the Human Rights Council, work through the UN Security Council to impose targeted sanctions and travel bans on Taliban leaders, and actively support other states in pursuing all avenues to bring accountability for Taliban abuses; the U.S. also should support prosecution in domestic courts of Taliban officials through the exercise of universal jurisdiction.

While humanitarian aid and diplomatic dialogue are essential, they must not come at the expense of human rights. The rights and well-being of the Afghan population and especially women should be at the forefront of any U.S. strategy, ensuring they are empowered in their fight for equality and justice.


The article was first published in Amnesty International on July 27, 2024.


Malalai Habibi is an expert in women, peace, and security. She has previously served with Amnesty International USA and the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN). Malalai has published opinion pieces in both English and Farsi across a range of national and international media outlets, focusing on women, peace, and security within the context of Afghanistan and the broader region. She is a recipient of the Kroc Fellowship and holds an MA in Global Affairs, specializing in International Peace Studies, from the Keough School at the University of Notre Dame.



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