Taliban authorities have presided over widespread human rights abuses since they took control of Afghanistan last August, according to the UN, including 160 killings of former government officials and members of the security forces , and dozens of cases of torture, arbitrary arrests and inhuman punishments.
A UN report, released the day an Australian journalist said she was detained in Kabul and forced to tweet a retraction of her reporting, also detailed a broad assault on the press. A total of 173 media workers were affected by abuses, including detentions, threats, ill-treatment and assaults.
“[The United Nations] documented persistent allegations of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by de facto authorities,” the report, titled Human Rights in Afghanistan, revealed.
“De facto authorities” refers to the Taliban government which has not been recognized by any member of the international community nearly a year after taking power.
The UN said it was “concerned by the impunity” with which Taliban members appear to have perpetrated human rights violations. A sweeping crackdown on critics, targeting the media, protesters and civil society activists, has exacerbated the problem.
“The human rights situation has been aggravated by 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 ceased in most of the country, the new government was unable to guarantee the safety of its citizens, especially religious and ethnic minorities.
The armed conflict killed 700 civilians and injured more than 1,400 between August 15, 2021 and June this year, according to the UN. Most died in suicide attacks by Islamic State fighters and from remnants of unexploded weapons left behind as fighting ended in much of the country.
Between January 1 and August 14, 2021, in recent months of intense fighting, over 2,000 civilians were killed and over 5,300 injured.
The UN has also highlighted the inhuman punishments and killings of Afghans accused of so-called moral crimes, including sex outside marriage.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, called the report “propaganda” and said the documented incidents were not true. “There is no killing or arbitrary arrest in the country. If someone kills or arbitrarily arrests, that person is considered a criminal and will face Sharia,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
The UN, which requested three independent sources on a human rights violation for inclusion in the report, detailed some cases where the Taliban had arrested individuals accused of human rights abuses. The UN also “appreciated the level of commitment to date” of the Taliban authorities.
In an apparent blow to the UN findings, Mujahid also denounced the Facebook ban on national broadcaster Radio Television Afghanistan and the official Bakhtar news agency. “Now you will understand what the West calls freedom of the media!? Blocking social media accounts…shows impatience and intolerance,” he wrote.
Late Thursday, Australian journalist Lynne O’Donnell said she had been “detained, abused and threatened” in Kabul and forced to tweet a retraction of previous reports, some dating back around a year, before being allowed to leave the country.
Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi said O’Donnell was denied accreditation in Afghanistan ‘due to his open support for armed resistance and falsification of reports’ . She was taken in for questioning after being ‘discovered in hiding in Kabul’ after being denied accreditation. She herself had offered to tweet the retraction of her stories, he claimed in response to her statements.
“She has been informed that she will be able to stay and operate in Afghanistan if she can produce evidence to support any of the assertions in her report…The new Afghan government remains committed to the principles of freedom of the press.”
The UN report raised particular concerns about the Taliban’s intelligence service and the Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The latter produced many of the harsh guidelines limiting the lives of women and girls in Afghanistan.
They are now excluded from “most aspects of daily and public life”, the UN said, including secondary schools and government posts, in a major violation of their human rights.
He also pointed to the devastating impact of the economic collapse that followed the Taliban’s takeover, fueled in part by sanctions against new leaders and the abrupt halt in foreign aid that had funded much of the government and public services. More than half of Afghans now need humanitarian aid.