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Taliban’s gender-based persecutions are likely crimes against humanity: Amnesty International and International Commission of Jurists

Since taking over Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, the Taliban have introduced increasingly draconian measures designed to restrict the lives of girls and women. Resistance to those human rights violations have been met with intimidation, persecution, and violence. Though the regime is not internationally recognized, it has de facto control of Afghanistan. As reports of abuses poured into humanitarian agencies and organizations, legal scholars began the meticulous analysis needed to determine whether the Taliban’s actions were so egregious that they crossed a legal line and amounted to crimes against humanity.  

On May 25, Amnesty International effectively ended any debate. “Erasing women and girls from public life is a crime against humanity. The Taliban must be held accountable for its war on women,” stated the human rights organization on social media, calling attention to the detailed report, “The Taliban’s War on Women: The Crime Against Humanity of Gender Persecution in Afghanistan” that it produced with the International Commission of Jurists, an independent international body of legal experts that “promotes and protects human rights through the rule of law.”   

The joint report, which covers the period from August 2021 to January 2023, states that “the weight of evidence suggests that these egregious human rights violations may amount to the crime against humanity of gender persecution.” As well, the experts suggest the Taliban’s actions in cracking down on any perceived dissent may amount to “crimes against humanity of imprisonment, enforced disappearance and torture.”  

Furthermore, the authors state that their report “provides a legal assessment of why women and girls fleeing persecution in Afghanistan should be presumptively considered refugees in need of international protection.” 

In its meticulous, comprehensive report, the authors lay out the case against the Taliban: “The circumstances surrounding the acts of persecution under discussion indicate that the alleged perpetrators, as part of the Taliban leadership, acted with the specific intent to target Afghan women and girls on the basis of their gender. The restrictions against women and girls clearly target them, violating their human rights, including the right to public participation, given their general exclusion from participation in society and their right to equality and non-discrimination because of their gender. The discriminatory nature of such policies is unquestionable.” 

The authors issue 12 comprehensive recommendations to the International Criminal Court (ICC), United Nations, donor countries and the wider international community, including:  

  • States should exercise “universal jurisdiction” (meaning they can prosecute for crimes against international law) for members of the Taliban leadership whenever they travel outside Afghanistan, which “should send a clear message to Taliban leaders and members that their discriminatory policies against women and girls are not, and never will be, tolerated.” 
  • The UN and its agencies have to step up its activities regarding the protection of females in Afghanistan.  
  • Countries should “consider all Afghan women and girls fleeing Afghanistan as prima facie refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention, due to the persecution they risk because of their sex and gender,” and reopen rejected asylum applications.  

In addition, the report issues four major recommendations to the Taliban, essentially ordering it to reverse its discriminatory policies against girls and women, “conduct an independent, transparent, and impartial investigation into all allegations of early and forced marriage – including where the Taliban members and officials are implicated,” and develop a strategy to address gender-based violence.  

The authors, who include judges and lawyers from around the world, couch their conclusions with legalistic words such as “may” and “could” as they ground their analysis on the “reasonable basis to believe” evidentiary standard, which is required under international law. Yet, their most fundamental recommendation is written in plain, urgent words and directed to the international community, which has been largely silent as the Taliban commits its horrors: “The dire situation in Afghanistan and the crimes affecting women and girls warrant a robust response involving thorough, independent and effective investigations to lay the foundation for justice and accountability.”