Interview: Aman Mirzaei
Afghanistan has signed the Convention against Violence against Women, Torture, and the Rights of the Child. Afghanistan is a member of the International Criminal Court and all of these cases can be used as a tool of UN diplomatic pressure against the Taliban.
Nimrokh: How do you evaluate the recent meeting of Afghan women in the European Parliament and what was the result of this meeting?
Shaharzad Akbar: The two-day meeting for Afghan women held in Brussels (the European Parliament) was good because it provided an opportunity to make specific demands. Together with the members of the European Parliament, which is a relatively powerful foundation, although it is not governments and states, members of parliament influence EU decisions, the EU is soon to have a resolution on the situation in Afghanistan and it will be finalized in the European Parliament. In this case, it provided a face-to-face opportunity with members of the European Parliament and another opportunity to draw attention to the human rights situation in Afghanistan.
In the current situation, because the majority of European countries do not have embassies in Afghanistan, they are unaware of the real situation in the country and the only people they talk to are the so-called Taliban officials, so they do not have access to the extensive information about the situation in Afghanistan. We take this opportunity to provide them with some information about the real situation in Afghanistan, such as targeted killings, torture, extrajudicial arrests, and facts because the only voice they hear should not be the voice of the so-called Taliban officials. I had certain desires but I am not sure if they meet them or not! in the first step the issue of non-recognition of the Taliban and in the second step, any action is taken to interact with the Taliban, especially if meetings are arranged with the Taliban outside Afghanistan and outside Doha, one of the conditions should be specific human rights issues, especially women’s rights.
Nimrokh: The Taliban have violated human rights conventions during their presence in Afghanistan, both as rulers of the 1990s and during the Republican government. Did you refer the international community to these documents at this meeting?
Shaharzad Akbar: Exactly, we talked about the human rights situation. The women who came here are from different backgrounds, and everyone with the amount of information they had about the current human rights situation in Afghanistan generally referred to the Taliban’s human rights approach and its violation by the Taliban.
In the events leading up to 15 August, the international community made a clear decision to stop human rights abuses by the Taliban at the time, as the international community’s civil servants and diplomats themselves fell victim to Taliban suicide attacks, terrorist tactics used by the Taliban towards their staff, such as the Taliban bombing at Esteghlal High School, several bombings in front of embassies, they were fully aware and knew the situation, but since 15 August, as the Taliban have full control of the country, EU access to information has diminished. In the same way, the possibility of media activity has decreased and we have focused a lot on informing them about the situation in Afghanistan, especially from August 15 onwards because they are not present in Afghanistan but when we describe the real situation they say: “It is shocking”.
We agree with you, the Taliban are grossly violating human rights, but all the tools we have are diplomatic, and we have used our diplomatic tools to the best of our ability to put pressure on the Taliban. But some diplomatic tools that affect many countries do not affect the Taliban, because many things were not important to the Taliban. The discussion we had with them was what do the Taliban want from you? Do they have any demands from the international community? For example, they want money for their ministries, for their departments, or they want to be recognized.
When they need something, you have to have very specific conditions to meet those needs, and you have to make those conditions with what is happening inside Afghanistan, not based on the talk that the Taliban are making of you because the Taliban is telling I do not violate the rights of minorities, I do not violate the rights of women, these women who say that their rights have been violated, want to leave the country and… they are lying to you. So you do not listen to the Taliban, you listen to the human rights activists, you listen to the ethnic minorities, and they argue that the tools we have are very limited, especially according to the human rights situation in Afghanistan.
Can you tell us what to do, how to put pressure on the Taliban? One thing we told them was that you should not invite them, that you should not roll out the red carpets for them before the Taliban allowed the “woman” to work before the Taliban allowed the girls to go to school. These were our demands.
Nimrokh: What do you think are the human rights mechanisms that can put more pressure on the international community and the Taliban?
Shaharzad Akbar;There are some mechanisms, but the amount of pressure that these mechanisms can bring is limited. This means that the expectation that you and I can have will not be easy compared to the extent of widespread human rights abuses committed by the Taliban. That is why I say that we understand what is possible and what is not possible from the discussions we have. We and the international community are aware of the previous government documenting and presenting when it committed human rights abuses.
For example, the Minister of Education once said: “Girls can not be in the song team, or there were cases where soldiers went and harassed civilians, or laws were made that did not respect human rights issues, then we, through the international community, put pressure on the government.” Because the government’s budget came directly from the international community, we asked the United Nations, “How can you give money to a government that deprives a girl of music education?” The UN wrote to the Ministry of Education that I would not pay you unless you change this, or if the number of women in the cabinet should be increased, or if the rights of minorities are systematically violated by the government, we will stop our assistance in this area or we reduce your military budget. Now the discussion among international communities is the way they give money to the Taliban because sanctions do not allow it. Also, they do not recognize the Taliban.
The only role that the international community has in Afghanistan right now is humanitarian aid. If we say that humanitarian aid should be conditional, millions of Afghans will starve to death. Do not distribute oil, bread, and flour to them unless the Taliban open girls’ schools. I can not make this request as a human rights activist. I request that you distribute aid, not through the Taliban, but directly and through humanitarian organizations. Do not allow the Taliban to take aid to their troops. I can make this request in the current situation. If you want to pay the people tomorrow, do not pay the people through the Taliban, give it directly and ask the Taliban to pay the people, provided that the schools are open to all girls.
The diplomatic tools in the international community’s hands are this they say:” We do not recognize you because you violate human rights”.
This is exactly the current situation in Afghanistan. We do not recognize the Taliban, they say what can we do? What do you suggest? We said: You can appoint a special rapporteur and support this special rapporteur for the litigation of the commission and human rights institutions to assess and document the human rights situation. Talk about the human rights situation on an ongoing basis, and if the Taliban arrest someone, legally contact the Taliban and say: We know about this situation and release those you have arrested. At the same time, give asylum to people at risk, increase the number of people you accept from Afghanistan and do not return refugees who are in your country to Afghanistan.
The situation in Afghanistan is very difficult for women, journalists, government employees, and ethnic minorities. These are the things they can do. But beyond that, it is very difficult, if you have a plan or the people of Afghanistan have a plan beyond these diplomatic tools, we can raise it.
Nimrokh: The Taliban have always been condemned under human rights conventions, some of which are sanctioned by the United Nations and recognized as criminals. Have you and the Afghan women representatives who attended this meeting emphasized these conventions?
Shaharzad Akbar: Exactly, one of the very important things and we have to remember and we reminded them, regardless of who is in power in Afghanistan, Afghanistan has human rights obligations. That is, Afghanistan has signed the Convention against Violence against Women, Afghanistan has signed the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Afghanistan is a member of the International Criminal Court, and all of this can be used as a tool of UN diplomatic pressure against the Taliban.
The amount of pressure they can put on these mechanisms must be increased and made more visible to the Afghan people, who are really using these mechanisms to put pressure on the Taliban. I work with the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute victims, families of victims, and Afghan human rights organizations, including the Commission.
It was a long-running lawsuit. First, they investigated in Afghanistan. When the court decided not to investigate, it was again the case of Afghan human rights activists who changed the court’s view and decided to start their investigation in Afghanistan. Now in Brussel, I reminded that you call the court and ask them to start an investigation into Afghanistan and speed up the opening of a window of hope for the victims of the war. Those involved in war crimes are eventually punished and held accountable.
Nimrokh: How can lobbying be done to deny the Taliban’s recognition and their condemnation?
Shaharzad Akbar: Exactly how can we not recognize the Taliban? In my opinion, the Taliban should be responsible in case of human rights. They should not be recognized unless they respect human rights. Recognition is a privilege, a privilege worthy of those who and governments who did not first come to power by force and then, to a large extent, did not commit crimes against the people. What is our main problem with this lawsuit?
We must provide accurate documentation and information on the Taliban’s treatment. If we represent one, two, or three inaccurate cases, the credibility of the Afghan human rights community is questioned because it seems that it is just a political opposition to the Taliban so we want to show a bad face of the Taliban. That’s why when I talk to the international community, everything I say to them is very well documented. I think your work is very important as much as the Nimrokh can document the widespread human rights violations by the Taliban, the same documentation can be used by me and all those who interact with the international community.
And let us say that we are very well documented and relying on this very prestigious publication of Afghan women, we tell you that the Taliban say that the university opened in these few provinces and the number of girls who go to university is this many because of these problems, or such changes in education. The Taliban say: “There is no problem for women to commute, but Nimrokh reported that in these 5 provinces women without Mahram can not come out, even if they are very ill.” Thus, a woman’s access to her health rights is limited, and…, that is, documentation is very important, enabling accurate and documented reports of our demands. The world can recognize the Taliban when it feels that the Afghanistan situation is normal for its people.
These are democratic countries and they must be accountable to their people. They do not bow to our pressure, but they are fragile to the pressure of their people. They may lose the trust of their people forever. As a result, we need to draw the attention of the people of these countries to the turbulent situation in Afghanistan through conferences, news, and extensive interactions. The Norwegian prime minister was initially held firm by Norwegian journalists and citizens as to why the Taliban had been invited to Oslo. They are afraid of their citizens and we must work to make our documents and information about Afghanistan available to the people of these countries to stand by us and pressure their governments not to side with the Taliban for their political interests.
Nimrokh: The Taliban’s rapprochement with the United States and the West in the future has led to a shift in Iranian and Russian policies toward the Taliban, and they may include a policy of equipping the opposition Mujahideen in their plans. What is your analysis?
Shaharzad Akbar: I do not see the situation in Afghanistan as predictable, because the course of events in the last few months, especially after August 15, was such that things happened so fast and the situation in Afghanistan changed. I can not say with humility that what will happen is unpredictable, neither the attitude of the United States, nor the Western countries, nor the countries of the region. Because their actions are different from their words.
Nimrokh: The biggest factor that the international community does not recognize the Taliban is the presence of women on the streets and their protests. What do you think?
Shaharzad Akbar: Yes, of course, one of the main factors is the human rights situation of women and the women protest in Afghanistan, and the Taliban understand that, so they are trying to suppress the women protest, of course, alongside one of the issues during the peace talks. The international community, especially the European Union, has repeatedly argued that the Taliban should not come to power by force if they want to be recognized. Only if they come to power through the peace process we can recognize that government. And there should be an inclusive government, which of course will not happen.
This is one of the things that matter to the region and the world, how inclusive the Afghan government is.
Nimrokh: The news of the arrest of protesters in Afghanistan is heard a lot these days, but there is no voice or action from the international community, why?
Shaharzad Akbar: Regarding the detainees, the UN Department of Human Rights wrote for the first time in a long time, followed by the UN Office in Afghanistan, and made specific demands of the Taliban. After repeated requests by Afghanistan organizations, civil society, and human rights activists. We called the ambassadors, we sent a message. A number wrote about this, which was influential for the release of two Ariana journalists who were detained by the Taliban a few days ago.
They were released. But where there is a deafening silence is our region. We hear nothing from civil society activists or governments in Iran, in Pakistan, in Qatar, all over the Islamic world, they are completely silent about the oppression of the Afghan people, the women of Afghanistan, the ethnic minorities, and the protesters. It’s very upsetting to me, our neighbors, the people around us, are silent, and the international community is not talking about it enough and fast enough. They need to be pressured to act more decisively.
Nimrokh: Who are the representatives of Afghan women? Some in Afghanistan say that those who attend these meetings do not represent them, some agree and some disagree, what is your view?
Shaharzad Akbar: My definition of a representative is to be elected through direct popular vote in elections. Like the President, the member of parliament and I do not consider myself the representative of the people of Afghanistan, the representative of the women of Afghanistan, the representative of no one, no one has voted for me to be their representative, I do not see myself in a position to represent the women of Afghanistan. It is so difficult and heterogeneous.
My presence in the meetings is not because I represent the women of Afghanistan, I am invited as a human rights activist and I try to formulate views as much as possible and to take into account the collective and macro demands of the Afghan people, some projects And the views, I have some information about the human rights situation of the Afghan people and they want me to give them the same information, plans, and views. The officials of these meetings believe: My views do not arise from the political agenda, my views arise from my beliefs and knowledge of human rights. All our colleagues and fellow countrymen who say that Shaharzad is not our representative are right,
but, people think that participants are invited to these meetings based on representation, participants are based on their expertise, experience, stances, knowledge of the situation, and there are many different factors as to who is elected and invited to these meetings. If the people of Afghanistan want only their directly elected representative to attend these meetings, they should share this request with these countries. Hold a nationwide referendum, which, of course, will never happen under the current situation in Afghanistan.
Nimrokh: The international community seems to be moving towards recognizing the Taliban. What do you think about the Taliban?
Shaharzad Akbar: For us, European countries have repeatedly emphasized that they do not recognize the Taliban even other countries, such as Pakistan, have not yet recognized the Taliban. There are countries where human rights violations are taking place, Saudi Arabia is one of the countries, there are non-Muslim countries like the Philippines, African countries, and Latin American countries, however, they were recognized. Six months are passed, the Taliban have not yet been recognized by Pakistan, although they beg in front of the international community, that does not mean that they will not recognize them ten days later, or a month later. But it is not as simple as the Taliban pretend. The Taliban have power in Afghanistan but do not yet have foreign exchange reserves and the process is so complicated.
However, I can not say for sure whether they will be recognized in the future or not! The only thing we can do is 1. Explain the situation honestly. 2- We should try not to condemn the people of Afghanistan for the guilt of the Taliban during this period. Humanitarian aid should reach Afghanistan and the economic situation of the people should improve so that the people do not die of hunger. People used to die of war in the past but now they die of hunger. 3- If we do not want the Taliban to be recognized, we should work with human rights organizations in the region to the extent that we spend all our days seeking justice.
Nimrokh: What is your message to the protesting and fighter women of Afghanistan?
Shaharzad Akbar: I am indebted to every one of the protesters and fighters, their courage is praiseworthy and the most important source of inspiration and hope in the middle of this darkness. To the best of my ability, I do my best to reflect their demands and draw the world’s attention to the importance of their struggle and their safety, and I am concerned for their safety every day and every hour.
Translated by: Jahan Raha