Geneva - A report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council Monday accuses Afghanistan's de facto Taliban rulers of pursuing a policy "tantamount to gender apartheid.'
Richard Bennett, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, told the council that "the Taliban's intentional and calculated policy is to repudiate the human rights of women and girls and to erase them from public life."
"It may amount to the crime of gender persecution, for which the authorities can be held accountable."
The Taliban regained power in Afghanistan in August 2021 as U.S.-led Western forces left the country after nearly 20 years of war.
Bennett said conditions in Afghanistan have continued to deteriorate since he submitted his initial report to the council back in September and noted, "Afghans are trapped in a human rights crisis that the world seemed powerless to address."
Based on subsequent visits to the country in October and December, Bennett said he observed a harsher crackdown on any form of dissent and increasing attacks on the rights of women and girls, as well as ethnic and religious minorities.
Not only are women and girls barred from visiting parks, gyms, and public baths, but new edicts issued by the Taliban have prevented women from attending universities and banning them from working with non-governmental organizations.
"The abysmal treatment of women and girls is intolerable and unjustifiable on any ground, including religion," he said.
"No country can function with half its adult population effectively imprisoned at home," he added, saying the ban imposed on female NGO workers was adding to nationwide economic, social and cultural distress.
The United Nations reports that since the Taliban takeover of the country in 2021, the poverty rate has doubled with 28 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than six million Afghans on the brink of famine.
Bennett accuses the Taliban of interfering in the delivery of aid instead of intensifying its efforts to remedy the situation.
"I urge them to immediately cease actions that disrupt equitable and speedy access to humanitarian aid to those most in need, particularly women and children," he said. "The role of women employees is critical in aid delivery. I urge the de facto authorities to immediately lift the ban on women working for NGOs."
FILE - Afghan women wait to receive food packages being handed out at a humanitarian aid distribution center in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 25, 2022.
Bennett reported on widespread human rights violations, on the flogging in public of hundreds of women, children and men for alleged crimes including theft and so-called illegitimate relationships. He said he had received credible reports of multiple extrajudicial killings of fighters by the Taliban, of arbitrary arrests, torture, and ill treatment.
"There must be consequences for those responsible for serious human rights violations," he said. "Longstanding impunity needs to be challenged for past as well as present crimes."
The United Nations does not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, so the previous government continues to represent the Afghan people at this international body.
Nasir Ahmad Andisha, ambassador and permanent representative of Afghanistan at the United Nations in Geneva, took the floor before the council, validating the litany of severe abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law described by the special rapporteur.
Andisha said the arbitrary arrests and forceful detentions of peaceful human rights defenders, university professors and activists "should be investigated as gender persecution - a crime against humanity."
He called for the establishment of an independent investigative mechanism that could collect, analyze, and preserve evidence of human rights violations of Afghans, "especially those of women, children, and vulnerable groups."
His words were echoed by the human rights organization Amnesty International, which is calling for the creation of a fact-finding mission like those already in place in countries such as Ethiopia, Iran, and Myanmar.
"The human rights situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating rapidly, and the Taliban's relentless abuses continue every single day," said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International's secretary general.
Callamard said an investigative mechanism is required to meet the enormous challenge of documenting and recording human rights abuses in Afghanistan.
"The creation of a fact-finding mission is essential, with a focus on the collection and preservation of evidence to ensure justice is delivered," she said, adding that all those found guilty of violations are held accountable in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts or international criminal courts.
Callamard warned that "the current accountability gap is allowing grave violations and abuses in Afghanistan to continue unabated, and it must be urgently closed."
Ayaz Gul contributed to this report.