Global Policy Forum

Afganistan's Record Still Poor on Human Rights


By Elizabeth Olson

New York Times
April 8, 1999

Geneva, April 6 - Despite the apparent relaxation of some restrictions on women in Kabul, the United Nations special investigator for Afghanistan said today that Taliban officials had not moved to significantly restore human rights to the country's citizens.

Dr. Kamal Hossain, the former foreign minister of Bangladesh, presented his findings to the 53-country United Nations Human Rights Commission, which is meeting in Geneva. Based on a visit in March, Dr. Hossain reported "continuing violations of and denial of human rights" despite a lull in the fighting.Dr. Hossain was appointed to his post last year, but had to delay his visit to the country because of the unstable security situation.

"While they seek international recognition, they continue to pursue policies which are in conflict with international human rights standards by which Afghanistan in bound," Dr. Hossain said. The country has signed most major international treaties that commit the Government to guarantee human, economic, and social rights to its citizens.

Taliban authorities, however, recently exempted needy widows form the prohibition on employing women in urban areas. They also had expressed "a more flexible attitude about girls' access to education, indicating that girls could return to school if more of the war-damaged schools were reopened, Dr. Hossain said.

Taliban officials told him that law and order had been sufficiently restored for "people to carry on some of their normal avocations: going to market, opening shops or having their children attend some of the schools." Nonetheless"hardly any girls" attend school and only 24 percent of boys receive schooling, Dr. Hossain noted. This is because, prior to the Taliban takeover, as many as 80 percent of the teachers were women.

In addition to widespread lack of education, food and health problems were slaos pervasive, Dr. Hossain said. The health situation is equally severe, with infant and maternal mortality rates among the highest in the world, he said.

Taliban officials, who had no immediate comment on the report, cooperated with the visit of Dr. Hossain, who is the third independent fact-finder assigned to Afghanistan.

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