Top visit by UN women to pressure Afghan Taliban affected

Top visit by UN women to pressure Afghan Taliban affected by security team’s ill-planned photo op

The United Nations on Friday apologized for photos released online of a senior security delegation team posing in front of the Taliban flag during a visit to Afghanistan this week. But Deputy UN Spokesman Farhan Haq told CBS News the photos “should never have been taken.”

The uncomfortable incident illustrates the fine line the international community is trying to walk as Afghans suffer through a harsh winter and their long-vital lifeline to international aid is all but severed due to the Taliban’s draconian crackdown on human rights.


A photo widely circulated on social media shows the security detail deployed to protect a senior United Nations delegation led by Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed flying in front of a Taliban flag during the week of January 16, 2023 in Kabul, Afghanistan, poses. The UN apologized for the photo, calling it a “mistake”. unknown

Neither the UN nor the vast majority of governments around the world have officially recognized the Taliban regime, which regained power in the country with the rapid withdrawal of the US military coalition in August 2021. Most governments, including the US, are reluctant to provide financial support that could bolster the hard-line Islamic group’s power, and it has frozen millions of dollars in Afghan government cash reserves abroad.

But the lack of incoming aid is only half the problem for Afghanistan this winter. Since taking power, the Taliban have systematically erased virtually all of the basic human rights accorded to Afghan women and girls during the two-decade US-led war that ousted them from power in the country. Women were banned from attending universities and most secondary schools, and from working for non-governmental organizations.

After an international uproar, this edict was revised slightly to allow women to work in health care, where there is an urgent need for doctors and nurses. But the other bans on women and girls remain.

Taliban ban women from university education in Afghanistan 05:34

The loss of so much of the workforce has crippled aid agencies, including the UN, which for more than 20 years had supported Afghanistan’s struggling economy and basic food and health infrastructure.

The Taliban have not hesitated in the face of intense international pressure to relax their restrictions on women, dismissing the demands as a “politicization” of human rights. The group’s leaders have repeatedly insisted that they will rule Afghanistan uncompromisingly in accordance with their strict interpretation of Islamic law.

“A good thing,” but not a breakthrough

To pressure the Taliban to ease its restrictions on women, the United Nations this week sent a delegation to the country led by two of its longest-serving female – and explicitly Muslim – leaders.

Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed led the mission together with Sima Bahous, the head of the UN women’s organization. After visiting a number of other Muslim-majority nations and meeting with the leaders of Islamic organizations to build solidarity and raise a unified voice against the Taliban’s anti-women policies, which have been condemned for months as anti-Islamic, the delegation arrived in Kabul mid-week .


Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, speaks at the United Nations International Women’s Day commemoration at the United Nations Headquarters March 8, 2017 in New York. Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty

They were there to meet with Taliban leaders and women’s groups to discuss “the rights and coexistence of women and girls,” according to the UN

After the mission, Mohammed told BBC News on Friday that most of the senior Taliban officials she met seemed willing to engage in a discussion about women’s rights, but she indicated there were none serious breakthroughs or even major advances to force the country’s rulers to back down from their policies.

“I think we’ve heard a lot of voices that are progressive in the direction we’d like to go,” Mohammed told the BBC. “But there are others who really aren’t.”

“I think the pressure we’re putting, the support we’re giving to those who think more progressively is a good thing,” she said. “This visit I think gives them more voice and pressure to support the dispute internally.”

In a UN statement later Friday, Mohammed said the restrictions reinstated by the Taliban “offer Afghan women and girls a future that locks them in their own homes, violates their rights and deprives communities of their services…Right now, Afghanistan is isolating.” in the midst of a terrible humanitarian crisis and one of the most vulnerable nations on earth to climate change.”

“We must do everything we can to close this gap,” she said.

Journalists in Afghanistan struggle to report under Taliban control 03:20

The UN leaders met with the Taliban’s deputy prime minister in Kabul and a senior regional official in the group’s heartland in Kandahar province, but it was not clear if the prime minister had met the women, and a meeting with the top leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada was never an option.

“Afghan women have left us no doubt about their courage and their refusal to be erased from public life. They will continue to stand up and fight for their rights, and we have a duty to support them in doing so,” Bahous said in the statement. The United Nations called the past year and a half in Afghanistan “a grave crisis in women’s rights and a wake-up call for the international community. They show how quickly decades of advances in women’s rights can be undone in a matter of days.”

a mistake”

Haq, the deputy UN spokesman in New York, said the series of photos, smiling from the security detail of the delegation flying the Taliban white flag, was taken “while the deputy secretary-general met the de facto leaders in Afghanistan.”

“The photo should never have been taken. It was a mistake and we apologize for that,” Haq said.

In one of the photos, a member of the security team points to the Taliban flag on a wall behind the group. Similar versions of the same flag, a plain black or white banner with the Arabic inscription: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger,” are used not only by the Taliban but frequently in ISIS propaganda photos after one of the members of the Group perform an attack or pledge allegiance.

“Foreign men with UN badges pose in photos in front of Taliban flag and smile. Under the same flag, women are being wiped out and the people of Afghanistan are being starved and deprived of their basic rights and dignity,” said one of the many critics of the photos, which were widely shared on social media. on twitter. “Well done UNO.”

Afghanistan: The New Reality

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