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Friday, July 19, 2024

Taliban Told To “Include Women” In Public Life At Their First UN Meet

The UN-hosted meeting is the first to include the Taliban authorities who seized power in Afghanistan for a second time in 2021.

Doha, Qatar: Taliban authorities were told women must be included in public life, UN Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo said on Monday as she defended a decision to sideline civil society groups at official talks in Doha.

Rights organisations have strongly criticised the controversial UN move to exclude the groups, including women’s rights activists, from the two-day meeting on Afghanistan as the price for the Taliban government’s participation.

“Authorities will not sit across the table with Afghan civil society in this format, but they have heard very clearly the need to include women and civil society in all aspects of public life”, DiCarlo told a Doha news conference.

The UN-hosted meeting began on Sunday and is the third such gathering to be held in Qatar in a little over a year, but the first to include the Taliban authorities who seized power in Afghanistan for a second time in 2021.

The talks were due to discuss increasing engagement with Afghanistan and a more coordinated response to the country, including economic issues and counter-narcotics efforts.

The international community has wrestled with its approach to the Taliban since they returned to power, with no country officially recognising its government.

 ‘Gender apartheid’ 

The group has imposed a strict interpretation of Islam, with women subjected to laws characterised by the UN as “gender apartheid”.

The Taliban refused an invitation to Doha talks in February, insisting on being the only Afghan representatives, to the exclusion of civil society groups. But their condition was accepted in the build-up to this latest round.

The United States said it agreed to participate in Monday’s talks after receiving assurances that the talks would meaningfully discuss human rights.

US point man on Afghanistan Thomas West and Rina Amiri, the US special envoy on the rights of Afghan women and girls, in Doha “made clear that the Afghan economy cannot grow while half the population’s rights are not respected”, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said.

DiCarlo, who chaired the UN talks in the Qatari capital, said she “hopes” that “there’ll be new consideration” of Taliban government policy on women in public life including girls’ education.

The UN and international delegations will have the chance to meet with civil society representatives, including women’s rights groups, following the close of the main meetings.

But Amnesty International chief Agnes Callamard said in a statement ahead of the talks that “caving into the Taliban’s conditions to secure their participation in the talks would risk legitimising their gender-based institutionalised system of oppression”.

The Taliban authorities have repeatedly said the rights of all citizens are guaranteed under Islamic law.

The head of the Taliban delegation, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, told the more than 20 assembled special envoys and UN officials at the opening session that diplomats should “find ways of interaction and understanding rather than confrontation”, despite “natural” differences in policy.

 ‘Engaging constructively’ 

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is keen on engaging constructively with Western nations as well,” Mujahid said.

“Like any sovereign state, we uphold certain religious and cultural values and public aspirations that must be acknowledged,” he added.

Mujahid also pressed to end sanctions, saying Afghans are “being ganged up on”.

The Taliban government spokesman questioned whether ongoing sanctions were “fair practice” after “wars and insecurity for almost half a century as a result of foreign invasions and interference”.

Russia, which has maintained an embassy in Kabul, hinted it could drop its own sanctions, saying the group were the de facto authorities.

“We’ve been saying consistently that you have to recognise this fact and deal with them as such because, whether you like it or not, this movement is running the country now. You cannot simply ignore that,” said Russia’s envoy to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya.

DiCarlo said the issue of sanctions was “raised” but not discussed in depth.

“It’s a member-state issue whether they’re going to continue certain sanctions or not. The sanctions are on people, not on the country at large,” she said

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