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Visit by top UN women to pressure Afghan Taliban rights marred by ill-planned security photo shoot

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The United Nations on Friday apologized for the photos published on the Internet of a high-ranking security guard of the delegation posing in front of Taliban flag while visiting c Afghanistan this week. But UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told CBS News that the photos “should never have been taken.”

The embarrassing incident shows the tightrope the international community is trying to walk as Afghans suffer through a harsh winter and their long-held lifeline of international aid is all but cut off by the Taliban’s draconian human rights crackdown.

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In a photo widely shared on social media, a security detail assigned to protect a high-level United Nations delegation led by Under-Secretary-General Amina Mohammed poses in front of a Taliban flag in Kabul, Afghanistan, during the week of January 16, 2023 The UN apologized for the photo, which it called a “mistake”.

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Neither the UN nor the vast majority of governments around the world have officially recognized the Taliban regime, which has regained power in the country following the imminent withdrawal of the US military coalition in August 2021. Most governments, including the US government, are unwilling to provide any financial aid, which could bolster the hardline Islamic group’s power, and they froze millions of dollars in Afghan government cash reserves held abroad.

But the lack of a helper is only half the problem for Afghanistan this winter. Since regaining power, the Taliban have methodically revoked virtually every basic human right that Afghan women and girls gained during the two-decade US-led war that stripped them of power in the country. There were women banned from attending universities and most secondary schools, as well as from working in non-governmental organizations.

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


The Taliban forbid women in Afghanistan from getting an education at university

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The loss of such a huge part of the workforce has paralyzed aid agencies, including the UN’s own, which for more than 20 years have supported Afghanistan’s weak economy and basic food and health infrastructure.

The Taliban has not wavered in the face of immense pressure from the international community to ease its restrictions on women, dismissing these calls as the “politicization” of human rights. The group’s leaders have repeatedly insisted they will rule Afghanistan according to their strict, uncompromising interpretation of Islamic law.

“Good job” but no breakthrough

In an attempt to pressure the Taliban to ease its restrictions on women, the United Nations sent a delegation to the country this week led by two of its most senior women — and, incidentally, Muslim leaders.

Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed led the mission together with Seema Bachus, head of UN-Women. After visiting several other Muslim-majority countries and meeting with leaders of Islamic organizations to build solidarity and speak with one voice against the Taliban’s policies against women, which have been condemned as anti-Islam for months, the delegation arrived in Kabul in the middle of this week.

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Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, speaks at the UN International Women’s Day celebration at the UN headquarters on 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 with were willing to engage in a discussion about women’s rights, but she did not respond to any major breakthroughs or even major progress in force the country’s leaders to abandon their policies.

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

“I think the pressure we’re putting on, the support we’re putting on those who are more progressive is a good thing,” she said. “This visit, I think, gives them more voice and pressure to help the internal argument.”

In a statement delivered to the UN later on Friday, Mohammed said the restrictions re-imposed by the Taliban “open up Afghan women and girls to a future that locks them in their own homes, violates their rights and deprives communities of their services… Afghanistan is now isolating itself in the midst of a dire humanitarian crisis and is one of the most vulnerable countries on earth to climate change.”

“We have to do everything we can to bridge that gap,” she said.


Journalists in Afghanistan struggle to report under Taliban control

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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 unclear whether the prime minister had met with the women, and a meeting with the Taliban’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, never took place. on the cards.

“Afghan women have left us in no doubt about their courage and refusal to be erased from public life. They will continue to defend and fight for their rights, and we are obliged to support them in this,” Bachus said in a statement from the UN, calling the last year and a half in Afghanistan “a serious crisis of women’s rights and a wake-up call for the international community.” It shows how quickly decades of progress in women’s rights can be undone in a matter of days.”

error”

Haq, the UN’s deputy spokesman in New York, said a series of photos that emerged showing a delegation security detail smiling under a white Taliban flag were taken “when the deputy secretary-general was meeting with the actual leaders in Afghanistan.”

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

One photo shows one of the security personnel pointing to a Taliban flag on a wall behind the group. Similar versions of the same flag, a simple black or white flag with the words “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger” in Arabic, are used not only by the Taliban but are often seen in ISIS propaganda photos after one of the group carries out an attack. or swear allegiance.

“Foreign men with UN badges pose for photos in front of the Taliban flag and smile. Under the same flag, women are being erased, and the people of Afghanistan are starving and deprived of their basic rights and dignity,” said one of the many critics of the photo, which was widely shared on social networks. on Twitter. “Well done UN”.



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