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Afghanistan: Talks Shouldn't Ignore Taliban Abuse of Women

Any Deals With Insurgents Should Guarantee Women's Rights


Ongoing Taliban attacks on women in Afghanistan show why women's
rights should be a priority in any political agreement with insurgent
forces, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The
Afghan government and its international supporters have ignored the need
to protect women in programs to reintegrate insurgent fighters and have
not guaranteed that women's rights will be included in potential talks
with the Taliban, Human Rights Watch said.

The 65-page report, "The
'Ten-Dollar Talib' and Women's Rights: Afghan Women and the Risks of
Reintegration and Reconciliation
,"addresses the potential
challenges to women's rights posed by future government agreements with
insurgent forces. The report describes how in areas under Taliban
control, women are often subjected to threats, intimidation and
violence, girls' education is targeted, and women political leaders and
activists are attacked and killed with impunity.

"Afghan women shouldn't have to give up their rights so the
government can cut a deal with the Taliban," said Tom Malinowski,
Washington director at Human Rights Watch. "It would be a tragic
betrayal to snatch away the progress made by and for women and girls
over the past nine years."
In areas they control or influence, the Taliban have threatened
and attacked women in public life and ordinary women who work outside
their homes. A common form of threat is the "night letter," a note often
left at a house or school.

A female government employee quit her job after receiving this letter
in February 2010: "We Taliban warn you to stop working for the
government otherwise we will take your life away. We will kill you in
such a harsh way that no woman has so far been killed in that manner.
This will be a good lesson for those women like you who are working."

Hossai, a 22-year-old working for an American development
company, received similar threats by phone but continued to work. In
April, unidentified gunmen shot her dead as she left her office. Soon
after, another woman received a night letter telling her that she would
be next: "In the same way that yesterday we have killed Hossai, whose
name was on our list, your name and other women's names are also on our

Taliban and other insurgents regularly target girls' education,
including threatening and attacking female teachers and students. In
February, a girls' school in a northern province received the following
night letter:

"You were already informed by us to close the school and not mislead
the pure and innocent girls under this non-Muslim government; however
you did not pay attention.... This is the last warning to close the
school immediately... If you remain in the province, remember that you
and your family will be eliminated."

There is little sign so far that the government of President Hamid
Karzai is adequately addressing concerns about these attacks in its
programs to reintegrate insurgents or in proposals to shift from
fighting the Taliban to reconciling with senior Taliban leaders, Human
Rights Watch said.

The Afghan government has offered only weak assurances for women that
it intends to safeguard the freedoms they have regained since the fall
of the Taliban government in 2001. In recent years, Karzai has sold
women short when it was politically expedient. In March 2009, for
example, he signed the discriminatory Shia Personal Status Law (which
denies Shia women the rights to child custody and freedom of movement,
among other rights), and in 2008 he pardoned two convicted gang rapists
for political reasons.

Some international advocates of reintegration are recasting the
insurgency as primarily non-ideological, highlighting "ten-dollar
Talibs," who fight only for money. United States and NATO forces and
several major donors are strongly backing reintegration programs, which
they will largely finance. Their support for reconciliation with the
Taliban is more limited.

Despite promises from Afghanistan's international supporters to
promote women's rights, Human Rights Watch remains concerned that they,
too, may sacrifice women's rights as part of an exit strategy from
Afghanistan. For instance, although the Afghan government has said that
insurgents who reintegrate or reconcile with the government will have to
agree to the Afghan constitution, which upholds equal rights for women,
there is no vetting or mechanism to ensure compliance.

Human Rights Watch interviews suggest that there is division among
Afghan and international actors about whether it will be possible to
offer explicit safeguards for women's rights to education, work, and
political engagement.

"Donor governments rightfully stress Afghan leadership of these
processes," Malinowski said. "But that doesn't mean they have to
bankroll Afghan deals that will endanger women."

The Afghan government has sought to co-opt opposition factions by
offering them impunity for war crimes and other serious violations of
international law. But justice and accountability for serious crimes
should be at the core of any reconciliation process with the Taliban and
other insurgents, Human Rights Watch said. That requires bringing
current government officials to justice for serious crimes, as well as
stronger vetting of candidates for elected office and political

The report outlines conditions that should be included in any
reintegration and negotiation or reconciliation process to ensure
women's rights. The rights of women to work, obtain an education, and
engage in political life should be explicitly safeguarded, Human Rights
Watch said. Individuals with a history of serious abuses against women
and girls should be excluded from power. And women leaders need to be
fully involved in the decision-making processes for both reintegration
and reconciliation, since they are themselves the best guarantors of
their rights.

"Afghan women are paying a heavy price in this conflict, and no
one wants peace more than they do," Malinowski said. "But their rights
don't have to be traded away in hasty deals. There can be peace with

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.