The Taliban's treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan could amount to a crime against humanity, according to a UN report presented on Monday at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The Taliban seized power in August 2021, drastically curtailing women's freedoms and rights, including their ability to attend high school and university.
In a report covering July to December 2022, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, found that the Taliban's treatment of women and girls "may amount to gender persecution, a crime against humanity".
"The Taliban's intentional and calculated policy is to repudiate the human rights of women and girls and to erase them from public life," Bennett told the United Nations Human Rights Council. "It may amount to the international crime of gender persecution for which the authorities can be held accountable."
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A spokesperson for the Taliban-run information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The Taliban have in the past said they respect women's rights in line with their interpretation of Islam and Afghan culture and that they plan to open schools in future once they establish certain conditions for girls.
Bennett said the Human Rights Council should send a strong message to the Taliban that the "abysmal treatment of women and girls is intolerable and unjustifiable on any ground, including religion".
"The cumulative effect of the restrictions on women and girls has a devastating, long-term impact on the whole population, and it is tantamount to gender apartheid," he said.
In December, the Taliban banned most female aid workers, prompting many aid agencies to partially suspend operations in the midst of a humanitarian crisis unfolding during the cold winter months.