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Afghan judges encouraged to order stoning of adulterous women

The approximately 14 million girls and women in Afghanistan already had no real rights.

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Afghan judges encouraged to order stoning of adulterous women

The approximately 14 million girls and women in Afghanistan already had no real rights. Since the Taliban's return to power, they have been largely confined to their homes, prevented from studying, working, walking in parks or going to public baths. Their lives are no longer worth much: the number of suicides and suicide attempts by women has exploded, and gender-based violence has reached such a scale that it is no longer even recorded. Now, as during the first Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, judges are encouraged to order the torture and execution of women.

In an audio recording broadcast on state radio, the ruling extremist group's supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, announced an official return to punishments imposed by Islamic law, saying: "we will flog [adulterous] women (...) and stone them in public.” To those who would oppose it, and especially to the West, he sent this message: "you may call this a violation of women's rights (...) because it contravenes your democratic principles (...) but I represent Allah, and you represent Satan. » Because, for him, it is a question of thwarting attempts to westernize the country: “the task of the Taliban did not end with the capture of Kabul; She has only just begun. »

Since coming to power, the Taliban have in fact abolished the Afghan Constitution, written with the help of foreign advisers after the mullahs' first government was ousted in 2001 by a military intervention led by the United States. They abolished texts supposed to guarantee women's rights, and hunted down judges who convicted men guilty of domestic violence.

In November 2022, Akhundzada had already announced the resumption of punishments “according to Islamic law.” According to the NGO Afghan Witness, which records human rights violations in Afghanistan, Taliban judges ordered 417 public floggings and executions – including 57 against women – between October 2022 and October 2023. These convictions, far from being confined to a few ultra-conservative pockets, affected 22 of the country's 34 provinces. On several occasions last February, thousands of Afghans gathered in stadiums in the north of the country to witness public executions.

“Even before their return to power, the Taliban continued to apply these rules in the areas they controlled,” recalls Zahra Joya, founder of Rukhshana Media, a news site specializing in the rights of Afghan women. In 2015, for example, when Afghanistan was still a republic, a 19-year-old girl was stoned by the Taliban in Ghor province, in the center of the country. “Hibatullah Akhundzada's recent announcement is just a sign that the Taliban government is encouraging judges to order this type of punishment on a larger scale, especially against women. »

“It’s atrocious, but not surprising, and in line with what the Taliban have done over the last almost three years,” regrets Mélissa Cornet, specialist in issues related to women’s rights in Afghanistan. The first year of their reign, they instituted rules gradually, to see what the reaction of the international community would be, and because there was dissension within the leadership of the movement. Then everything accelerated. »

When the Taliban came to power, they promised the United States and the international community that they would respect, to a certain extent, human rights, including those of women. The West, by imposing sanctions and banking on the extremist movement's thirst for recognition on the international scene, thought they could get the mullahs to maintain some of their promises. But very quickly, they became disillusioned. “Today, we clearly see that foreign powers and organizations no longer have any leverage over the Taliban government,” adds Mélissa Cornet. The United Nations and NGOs have almost no more power against the Taliban, both internationally and locally. In many localities, current Taliban leaders still prefer that the populations they govern do not have access to humanitarian aid, rather than having to submit to the demands of foreign organizations. »

“The Taliban have no seat in the United Nations, their government is not officially recognized, and their country's economy is paralyzed by sanctions... But that matters little to the Taliban. In fact, they obtained largely what they wanted in terms of diplomatic recognition, photo sessions with senior foreign officials, business contracts... They were given a free hand to reinstate their regime of terror, that of the 1990s, annoys Heather Barr, deputy director of the women's rights unit at Human Rights Watch. The truth is that the Taliban took advantage of the lack of political will on the part of international decision-makers – most of whom are men – to uphold women's rights. What has been evident over the past three years is the overall lack of interest in this subject. »

According to Heather Barr, “the international community could, however, tackle the problem through legal means. The International Criminal Court has been interested - without going very far - in the situation of women in Afghanistan since 2006. And for more than two years, a campaign aimed at encouraging at least one State to file a complaint against the Taliban before the International Court of Justice, in the same way as South Africa recently did towards Israel, has achieved nothing. Many organizations fighting for the rights of Afghan women are also campaigning for gender apartheid to be recognized as a crime in the eyes of international law. But these initiatives remain a dead letter, which shows the lack of interest the international community has in the situation of Afghan women. »

“However, the Taliban know that they will not need to execute large numbers of women to spread a sense of terror among all the women and girls of Afghanistan,” emphasizes Heather Barr. “The latter will live with the fear of contravening the slightest Taliban rule, and the best way to avoid trouble will be simply not to leave their homes. »

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