Life under Taliban rule

Community-based schools organized by the women-led NGO Shudada in Afghanistan Community-based schools organized by the women-led NGO Shudada in Afghanistan © KIOS Foundation

This article is a brief presentation of “You Have No Right to Complain” by Human Rights Watch (HRW)

HRW is an independent, international organization promoting the defence of people's rights worldwide. The report here presented was published in June 2020 and illustrates the everyday living conditions of Afghani people under Taliban rule.

On 29 February, 2020, with the aim of ensuring a phased withdrawal of US troops deployed in the Afghan territory, the US and the Talibans signed an agreement. The situation remains extremely tense since the purported withdrawal will take place in parallel with negotiations between representatives of the Afghan Governments and Taliban leaders aimed at finding a lasting political settlement after decades of armed conflict. As negotiations slowly advance, along the dividing lines of the two factions, numerous concerns have been raised by civil societies members regarding the respect of human rights, education opportunities, freedom of expression and accountability for war crimes.

By dissecting the impact of Taliban policies on rights and freedoms, including education, information, access to media and movement, the HRW report sheds light on the everyday Afghani people’s life under Taliban rule. The investigation of HRW was conducted between January 2019 and April 2020. A total of 138 interviews were carried out in this reference period and access to pertinent interlocutors was ensured by employing a snowball sampling method. The interviewees included a broad circle of actors, ranging from Taliban-affiliated people to tribal elders and residents in areas affected by Taliban policies and their implementation.

For the sake of the analysis, HRW identifies three critical issues in Afghanistan: education for girls and women, curtailed freedom of expression and ensuing social restrictions and detention and punishment for government contact.

As for education, despite the number of female beneficiaries has surged from 2002, HRW records an alarming downward trend as of 2014, due to factors including rising insecurity, discrimination, corruption and diminished funding. According to HRW findings, the Afghan government has hitherto failed to integrate the growing cultural acceptance of female students into a state education system. As a result, schooling for girls is mainly provided by NGOs supporting “community-based education”. Examining areas under Taliban control, HRW says that girls’ access to schooling depends on Taliban officials’ propensity to authorize it. While in several Kunduz districts girls are sometimes enabled to attend high schools and university in government-held areas, in Helmand Province female students are even denied primary education.

Concerning freedom of expression and social restrictions, HRW highlights that media play an active role in public life and participate in public issues. Yet, threat and violence on journalists criticizing the authority persist. Reportedly, standing against the government positions can cost blatant restrictions on access to information. In Taliban-held areas, instead, practising journalism is conditional on the compliance to Islamic values. In the name of such observance, as reported by HRW, morality officials patrol communities to monitor residents’ abidance to Taliban prescribed social codes. On top of this, limited access to media and abidance to a predefined dressing code are enforced and offenders can be inflicted corporal punishments and detention.

Finally, HRW records the grim reality of Taliban-imposed detentions and punishment for reaching out to/ getting in contact with the government. Any contact with the Afghan government, either civilians or the military, is severely punished. Accordingly, local communities can only turn to the government for obtaining identity cards. 

HRW researchers show how even being accidentally stopped at government checkpoints can trigger brutal reactions from Taliban authorities. Alleged spies incur in arbitrary detentions and risk summary execution. In addition, even minor forms of criticism towards Taliban military activities are strictly forbidden. Due to the fear of retaliation, residents usually relinquish to advocate for their own protection. As reported by HRW, even in the context of existing international provisions on the law of war, precautions to protect civilians are ignored during Taliban raid in villages. Where it exists, Taliban justice is far less receptive to women claims than its governmental counterpart. Another point highlighted by HRW in Afghanistan is that justice proves unable to hold officials and militias accountable for rights violations.

In conclusion, HRW issues its recommendations to enhance the conditions of residents in Taliban-held areas and to achieve a durable peace. In this regard, Taliban leaders are demanded to protect male and female students’ right to attend secondary school and above. For this to be achieved, HRW recommends fostering cooperation with community-based education providers. With a view to address the persistent deficiencies in human rights protection across the territory, HRW asks to Taliban leaders to implement precautionary measures to shelter civilians from the harmful consequences of conflicts. Moreover, local authorities are called to halt any form of illegal retaliation against residents, ensuring free access to media and alleviating the imposition of Taliban social codes on dressing and social activities. Regarding the cessation of hostilities, HRW appeals to the warring parties, the UN and the political stakeholders for the respect of the Afghan Constitution which prescribes the equality of men and women. HRW invites to agree the participation of victims’ representatives, civil society organizations, human rights activists, and constitutional law experts to peace talks.


To read more, please visit:


Author: Gianmarco Italia; Barbara Caltabiano

Read 304 times