According to a UN human rights officer, the Taliban‘s violent crackdown on protests against its strict rule has already resulted in four verified deaths, with the group using live bullets, whips, and batons to break up demonstrations.
The UN’s rights spokesman, Ravina Shamdasani, said at a press conference in Geneva that the UN has received allegations of house-to-house searches for those who took part in the protests.
Protests against the Taliban’s re-accession to power, many of which have been led by women terrified of their status under the Islamist group, have been met with violence in a number of areas, and were declared outlawed this week by the Taliban’s new interior ministry without prior authorization.
Shamdasani described the crackdown on dissent as “severe,” adding that journalists covering the protests had faced intimidation, including the threat of “beheading” in one case, presumably a reference to an incident earlier this week in which two Afghan journalists were detained, flogged, and threatened.
“We have seen a reaction from the Taliban, which has unfortunately been severe,” Shamdasani said. “In one case, one journalist was reported to have been told, as he was being kicked in the head, ‘You are lucky you haven’t been beheaded’. Really there has been lots of intimidation of journalists simply trying to do their job.
“We call on the Taliban to immediately cease the use of force towards, and the arbitrary detention of, those exercising their right to peaceful assembly and the journalists covering the protests,” Shamdasani said.
Since the Taliban surged to power last month in the midst of the US-led departure of foreign forces, the UN has expressed growing worry about the deteriorating human rights situation in Afghanistan.
Despite official claims on media freedom, women’s rights, and freedom of expression, the Taliban have moved quickly to suppress growing resistance to their return, including demonstrations in a number of cities.
The new interior ministry, directed by Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is wanted in the US for terrorism, banned protests that had not been pre-authorized by the Taliban earlier this week, in its first step since an interim government made up exclusively of male, Pashto-speaking Taliban loyalists was appointed.
The UN statement backs up widespread media and rights monitor reports of major human rights breaches since the Taliban assumed power, including claims of extrajudicial killings, arrests, violence, and restrictions on freedom of expression and women’s rights.
With a humanitarian crisis developing in Afghanistan, the US underlined on Thursday that aid will only be provided if the Taliban’s caretaker government lives up to its previously stated commitments to stability in Afghanistan and the region, as well as displaying universal inclusion.
Speaking at the UN Security Council on Thursday, US deputy ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis reiterated the US position that “any legitimacy and support must be earned.”
He said the international community’s criteria were clear, and included allowing safe passage for Afghans and foreign nationals wanting to leave Afghanistan, as well as honouring the country’s international humanitarian law commitments, “particularly those relating to the protection of civilians.”
“We’re watching closely to see that those standards are met,” he said.
DeLaurentis added: “The United States remains committed to the people of Afghanistan,” and said that, as the country’s largest humanitarian donor, it was helping partners on the ground provide assistance, “but the needs are vast”.
According to the World Food Programme, roughly 93 percent of Afghan households are not eating enough food as a result of price increases following the Taliban’s return to power. Without international assistance, the country could slide into near-universal poverty by next year, according to a UN development programme assessment released the day before.
As evacuation flights for Westerners resumed, the UN expressed its concerns, but hundreds of at-risk Afghans who had aided the US remained stuck in their homeland, with the US embassy closed, all American diplomats and troops gone, and the Taliban in power.
With the Taliban’s help, a large number of foreigners, including Americans and Britons, left Afghanistan aboard a commercial flight out of Kabul on Thursday.