In the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, a spate of rape cases perpetrated by the group’s fighters against women and children has come to light. While the exact number of cases is unknown, it is believed that many have gone unreported.
In the most recent incident, two fighters of the Taliban terrorist group are accused of sexually assaulting a woman and her two children, aged 12 and 14, in Sar-e Pul province, in the north of the country.
Around a week after the fact, media outlets reported on a disturbing incident that occurred on February 28, 2023, in Khanqah village, located in the Souzma Qala district of Sar-e Pul province.
A video surfaced on social media shows a woman recounting the incident in Uzbek. The woman, clad in a burqa, can be seen weeping as she speaks to a group of men and a woman in a room.
“At eleven o’clock at night, I heard a knock on the door,” she recalled. “With my daughter, we went to check who it was. The people outside were aggressively kicking the gate and demanding that we open the door. Eventually, they barged into the house, tied up our hands and feet, doing with us whatever they wanted”.
The gang rape of a woman and her daughters by the Taliban was described as “horrific” and an “appalling violation of human rights” in Afghanistan by Amnesty International in a statement. The organization urged the group to investigate the incident “independently, transparently, and impartially”.
In light of the aforementioned incident, this report delves into several cases of sexual assault perpetrated by Taliban fighters and examines how the group handles such cases.
Silence and Denial in the Lack of Statistics
While there are no specific statistics available, cases that have been publicized in the media indicate that sexual assault by fighters of the Taliban terrorist group on women is prevalent, especially in villages and northern provinces of Afghanistan.
Since August 2022, at least one case of sexual assault by Taliban fighters and commanders on women has been publicized and reported in each of the provinces of Badakhshan, Takhar, Kunar, Faryab, Parwan, Panjshir, Samangan, Sar-e Pul, and Kabul.
Three cases of sexual assault by Taliban fighters, however, have gained international attention and sparked reactions from human rights organizations and Afghan citizens.
One such case involved former Taliban Ministry of Interior Affairs spokesperson Saeed Khosti, who was accused by a female student named Elaha Delavarzi of rape and forced marriage, publicized on August 31, 2022.
Elaha Delavarzi made public allegations against Saeed Khosti, accusing him of rape, forced marriage, torture, and physical assault. The accusations were made through videos that were released on social media. While Khosti acknowledged the marriage to Delavarzi, he denied the allegations of torture and beating, and claimed that he had divorced her.
Another case involved the gang rape of a woman and her four daughters by Taliban militants in the village of Deh Khawak, located in the Paryan district of Panjshir province. It was publicized on November 26, 2022.
A leaked audio tape later revealed in which a member of the commission for handling complaints against the Taliban fighters and the head of the city court, Maulvi Aminul Haq, confirmed the rape to a person named Ziaee but denied that the daughters were also raped.
The third case involved the gang rape of a woman and her two children by Taliban fighters in the village of Khanqah in Sar-e Pul province. On March 8, 2023, the news of this event was first revealed, and since then, the public’s reactions to it have been ongoing.
Despite these cases and others, the leadership of the Taliban, its official representatives, and the Bakhtar news agency, which is now run by the group, have remained silent on the issue of sexual assaults committed by their fighters against women.
Despite being active on Twitter, spokespersons of the Taliban, such as Zabihullah Mujahid, have yet to acknowledge or comment on any of the reported sexual assault cases involving the group’s fighters.
The Bakhtar News Agency has refrained from reporting on any incidents of rape committed by the Taliban fighters over the past six months. This has raised questions about the agency’s decision to deliberately ignore the crimes committed by the group.
Local officials of the Taliban have consistently denied accusations of sexual assault by their fighters, and in some instances where rape has been confirmed, they have claimed that the perpetrators were not members of the group.
The Taliban have reportedly used intimidation tactics to keep incidents of sexual assault committed by their fighters under wraps. Reports indicate that victims and their families have been threatened in an effort to silence them.
After the recent revelation of a woman and her two children being sexually assaulted by Taliban fighters in Sar-e Pul, the group’s intelligence chief in the province allegedly threatened the victim’s family with death and urged them to keep the incident under wraps. This is just one example of how the Taliban has attempted to suppress reports of sexual assault by its fighters by intimidating the victims and their families.
Despite the Taliban’s policy of silence, denial, and repression regarding sexual assault by its fighters, sources within the group have consistently confirmed such crimes, albeit anonymously.
Immunity of Criminal Militants from Punishment
Since taking control of Afghanistan, the Taliban have held numerous field courts and publicly trialed women, men, and children for various crimes.
According to a statistical report by Nimrokh, the group held 46 field courts in 2022, trialing 81 women and 273 men. In at least one instance, a man and a woman were stoned to death for engaging in extramarital sex, while in others, men and women were publicly flogged.
However, none of the Taliban fighters who committed these crimes have been trialed in these courts, leading some to believe that the group only holds such courts to trial Afghan citizens.
The Taliban’s control of key government institutions, including the Ministry of Interior, the General Directorate of Intelligence, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Supreme Court of Afghanistan, has raised concerns about their willingness to hold their fighters accountable for crimes such as rape. Despite reports of sexual assaults committed by Taliban militants, these institutions have not issued any official statements or press releases regarding the punishment of these individuals.
Despite sources from within the Taliban confirming sexual assault by the group’s fighters, the Taliban authorities have shown no interest in arresting and punishing these individuals, effectively granting them immunity from all crimes, including sexual assault.
Under the Taliban’s control, the judiciary has not taken any action against their fighters who have committed sexual assault, and in some instances, victims of rape and forced marriage have been prosecuted and arrested. The case of Elaha Delavarzi is a clear example of this trend.
The Taliban’s legal and judicial institutions have been criticized for granting immunity to their perpetrator fighters, which has raised concerns about the continuation of such crimes against women in Afghanistan. Their double standard regarding the implementation of Islamic Sharia law has led to an increase in the scope of sexual violence against women.
UN Office Remains Silent
Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, all legal structures and institutions protecting women, such as special courts for dealing with violence against women, organizations defending women’s rights and Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission have been destroyed and/or ceased operations.
In the absence of any supporting structure for women and the Taliban’s refusal to punish the perpetrator fighters, the United Nations and its Human Rights Council have become the only authorities able to investigate such cases.
The Office of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Afghanistan have yet to address the Taliban’s gang rape in Sar-e Pul Province.
Several Afghan women have taken posted videos on social media protesting against the lack of response from the United Nations Office and other international institutions. They claim that the “silence” and “indifference” of these organizations have led to “anger and despair” among women.
According to these protesting women, the Taliban’s fighters continue to commit any crime against women, including rape, with full impunity. These women express frustration at what they see as a lack of action on the part of international organizations, such as UNAMA, who they believe are more concerned with appeasing the Taliban than holding them accountable for their actions. They criticize the “policy of condemnation” of international organizations as insufficient and only serving the Taliban’s interests. The women believe that international organizations must take a stronger stance to protect Afghan women from these crimes.
Afghan women call for an independent investigation into the case and access to justice for the victims of these crimes.