Launching a Global Campaign Against Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan

Three items to share on this, the one-year anniversary of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan:

Register and attend what promises to be a riveting discussion on Global Strategies for Countering Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan on Friday 19 August 2022, with courageous Afghan women human rights defenders like Shaharzad Akbar and Zarqa Yaftali and international partners like the University of Michigan’s Professor Karima Bennoune and Human Rights Watch’s Heather Barr. Register here.

View filmmaker Ramita Navai’s documentary Afghanistan Undercover, about which noted interviewer Terry Gross of the program Fresh Air remarked in her interview with Navai: “I feel like the world isn’t watching as carefully anymore. And your documentary was a wake-up call to me. . . . things have gotten so dire for women there.”

Read Professor Bennoune’s powerful analysis The Best Way to Mark the Anniversary of Taliban Takeover? Launch a Global Campaign Against Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan, which explains why “it is critical to commit to a more effective and principled global response, and to do so by recognizing this grave set of abuses for exactly what it is: gender apartheid.”

Time to act, UN Human Rights Committee

Afghanistan, which ratified the ICCPR in 1983, was last reviewed by the UN Human Rights Committee in 1995 – and it was a truncated review at that. The Afghan head of delegation was unable to be present due to delays en route, so the Chair suspended the review that had barely begun, saying that consideration of the report would be resumed at a subsequent meeting.

No subsequent review has ever taken place. Instead, there has been one postponement after another, as shown by the timeline below.  Why the neglect by the premier human rights treaty body authorized to monitor compliance with civil and political rights?  

Prompted by concerns we heard from Afghan women human rights defenders and Afghan human rights defenders more broadly, three of us wrote to the Human Rights Committee last week urging them to schedule a review of Afghanistan without further delay: Felice Gaer, Former Vice Chairperson and member, Committee against Torture, and Director, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights; Karima Bennoune, Professor of Law, University of Michigan, and immediate past UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; and yours truly, Stephanie Farrior, professor of international law for 30 years and past Legal Director of Amnesty International. We await a response. The Committee has reportedly already set its calendar of reviews for the next several years. If a review of Afghanistan is not already scheduled, it should be, and without yet more delay.  

Afghanistan has seen significant political turmoil in the years since that partial Committee review held in 1995 – from the Taliban, to the Karzai government after the US invasion and now, back to the Taliban, which is not recognized by the United Nations as the official representative of Afghanistan. This has not prevented other UN human rights treaty bodies from holding a review of the implementation of their treaty in Afghanistan (see below).

The Human Rights Committee did schedule review of Afghanistan for March 2000, but the government requested and received a postponement.  

The review was next scheduled to take place in October 2001, and in the preceding session in May, the Committee developed its “List of issues prior to reporting.” However, the events of 9/11 intervened, and the Committee decided “to postpone review of implementation of the Covenant in Afghanistan to a later and more favorable date.” A concern expressed in that meeting by the late Sir Nigel Rodley and shared by other Committee members at the time was that their statement postponing the review “should not be interpreted in such a way as to suggest that the Committee will henceforth no longer consider the reports of States Parties in which an armed conflict is taking place.” Christine Chanet added that the presence of armed conflict does not only not prevent consideration of a state party, but it actually “adds to the concerns of the Committee.”

It was not until a decade later, in July 2011, that a review of Afghanistan was once again on the table, when the Human Rights Committee announced it would develop a “List of issues prior to reporting” at its July 2012 session.  It did indeed adopt a list of issues at that 2012 session, but in the ensuing ten years, no review of implementation of the Covenant in Afghanistan was ever scheduled or held.

Today, the human rights situation in Afghanistan is dire. For women and girls, as a journalist quoted in Amnesty International’s recent report has stated, “it’s death in slow motion.” For some, it’s more than one can bear. According to UN News: “The situation for women is so desperate in Afghanistan that they are committing suicide at a rate of one or two every day, the Human Rights Council has heard.”

In light of the dire situation in Afghanistan, the Human Rights Committee could take action and schedule a long overdue review of the civil and political rights situation there. The Committee’s Rule of Procedure 70 allows for review of a state party in the absence of a report. In this case, the last report submitted by Afghanistan could be updated with the significant body of information documented by UNAMA, the UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, and human rights NGOs.  In addition, Afghan human rights defenders are keen to submit shadow reports. They are also keen to see every human rights mechanism engaged to the extent possible, to keep up international attention and pressure.

In a situation where the de facto entity in control of a state’s territory is not a recognized government, the Committee could nonetheless follow normal procedures and send an invitation to participate in a review to the office of the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan in New York. The UN-recognized (former) government officials could attend, present an oral (or written) report – or not. It should be noted that Rule of Procedure 68.2 allows for consideration of a report if the state party does not send a representative.   

The timeline below shows year after year after year of postponements of a review of Afghanistan by the Human Rights Committee. Other treaty bodies have engaged in periodic reviews of Afghanistan in the years when the Human Rights Committee was not scheduling a review, most recently the Committee against Torture in 2017-2018, and CEDAW in both 2016 and 2020.

It is time for the UN Human Rights Committee to re-engage, and schedule a review as soon as possible, given the critical situation there and the importance of continued international scrutiny. The record of neglect by the Human Rights Committee means that there has been no authoritative analysis of the implementation of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Afghanistan for 27 years. The Committee should correct this situation promptly.  

October 1991: Afghanistan submitted 2nd periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee. 

October 1995: Committee began review of the 2nd report, but soon suspended the review due to the absence of the head of delegation caused by travel delays. “The Chairman said that consideration of the report of Afghanistan would be resumed at a subsequent meeting,” and the Committee requested the Government of Afghanistan to submit information updating the report before 31 May 1996 for consideration at” its session in July 1996.  No additional information was received.

The next mention of Afghanistan in Summary Records after October 1995:

October 1999: The Committee invited Afghanistan to present its report at its March 2000 session. The State party asked for a postponement.

November 1999:  The Committee discussed and adopted a list of issues to be taken up in connection with the consideration of the second periodic report of Afghanistan.  Materials used in the preparation of the list included the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and a report by Amnesty International on the situation of women in Afghanistan.

May 2001: The Committee decided to consider the situation of Afghanistan during its session in October/November 2001, applying Rule of Procedure 68.2, which allows for consideration of a report if the state does not send a representative.

October 2001: The Committee decided to postpone consideration of Afghanistan to a later date, “pending consolidation of the new Government.” “The Committee has very serious concerns regarding the implementation of the provisions of the Covenant in Afghanistan, particularly with regard to the situation of women in Afghanistan, public and extrajudicial executions, and religious intolerance. . . . Despite the fact that, with the current situation of armed conflict in Afghanistan, other serious concerns concerning the protection of the rights guaranteed by the Covenant have been added, the Committee considers that reviewing the report would not be productive in the current situation. [The Chairman] has therefore decided to postpone consideration of the report to a later and more favorable date for the purposes of article 40 of the Covenant.”

Continued postponements: In succeeding annual reports, the Committee duly recorded the previous postponements, but never scheduled a review:

A/58/40(Vol.I)    2002-2003

A/59/40(Vol.I)    2003-2004

A/60/40(Vol.I)    2004-2005

A/61/40(Vol.I)    2005-2006

A/62/40(Vol.I)    2006-2007

A/63/40(Vol.I)    2007-2008

A/64/40(Vol.I)    2008-2009

A/65/40(Vol.I)    2009-2010

A/66/40(Vol.I)    2010-2011

May 2011: “Afghanistan accepted the new optional procedure on focused reports based on replies to the list of issues prior to reporting. It is thus waiting for the Committee to adopt a list of issues prior to reporting.”

July 2011:  The Committee report notes: “The timetable for consideration of reports posted on the Committee website would . . . take account of the States parties for which a list of issues prior to reporting was to be adopted in July 2012, namely Afghanistan, Croatia, Israel, San Marino and New Zealand.”

July 2012:  The Committee adopted a list of issues prior to reporting on Afghanistan with a deadline of 31 October 2013 for its response. In the Committee’s July 2012 LOIPR includes the following  “Please provide any other information on measures taken to disseminate and implement the Committee’s previous recommendations (CCPR/C/AFG/CO/2), including any necessary statistical data.”

For those interested in seeing what those previous recommendations were: Per the UN Library Services, “despite the fact that document CCPR/C/AFG/Q/3 clearly mentions CCPR/C/AFG/CO/2, this document symbol is not recorded in any other source or index and according to the historical research above, the second report issued in 1992 was never fully considered – so no formal documented outcome must have been issued.”

Over the ten years that have passed since it adopted the list of issues, the Human Rights Committee has never reviewed implementation of the Covenant in Afghanistan.

2013-2014: The Annual Report notes the Committee’s adoption of a list of issues prior to reporting on Afghanistan with a deadline of 31 October 2013 for its response. “This report has still not been received.”

Note: The Human Rights Committee’s Rule of Procedure 70 allows for consideration of a State Party in the absence of a report.

2014-2019: The next five Annual Reports of the Human Rights Committee stop giving the prior history of postponed reviews, and only mention Afghanistan in the list of states that are 10 or more years overdue in submitting a report.

There is no further mention of Afghanistan in Annual Reports or Summary Records.

UN Special Rapporteurship on Afghanistan

On Friday 1 April, the UN Human Rights Council relinquished an opportunity to put talk into action and send an important message to the Taliban by appointing what would have been the first woman UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan.   (All those who held the position during its previous existence from 1984-2005 were men.)  

The UN Consultative Group, the body that screens Special Rapporteur applications (made up this year of three men and a woman, representing El Salvador, Malaysia, South Africa and Canada), had short-listed five candidates: four women — three of whom are Muslim or of Muslim heritage — and a man.  As the candidates’ applications show, all five short-listed candidates were well-qualified, all five had relevant experience, and several had considerable direct experience in Afghanistan and other conflict zones.   

CONSULTATIVE GROUP REPORT TO HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL PRESIDENT
Short-listed Candidates for the Position of
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan

First nameLast nameNationalityGender
LeilaALIKARAMIIslamic Republic of IranF
RichardBENNETTNew ZealandM
KarimaBENNOUNEUnited States of AmericaF
KamalaCHANDRAKIRANAIndonesiaF
Kimberley Cy.MOTLEYUnited States of AmericaF

Despite having such highly qualified women candidates for the position . . . the Human Rights Council appointed the only man on the shortlist.  Curiously, in sending its recommendations of candidates to the Council president, the Consultative Group significantly understated relevant experience in its bios of the two women finalists among the final three (Leila Alikarami and Karima Bennoune), even omitting any mention of one candidate’s direct experience in Afghanistan.

Moreover, there was virtually no mention of women’s human rights in the Consultative Group’s entire report on this mandate (except for a brief reference in Alikarami’s bio) — including no mention of any experience at all that the candidate they ranked first might have in this area.   This despite the fact that the Council resolution creating the mandate emphasizes women’s rights and calls on the use of a gender perspective throughout the work of the mandate.    

The new mandate-holder, Richard Bennett, does have considerable experience on and commitment to human rights in Afghanistan, and deserves support in his critically important work.  The statement in his application that if appointed he would give priority to the human rights of women and girls is welcome indeed.  One wonders about the message the Human Rights Council sends, though, as it joins a long list of countries and organizations that are sending all-male delegations to Kabul.  The timing is especially unfortunate coming a week after the Taliban refused to reopen secondary schools for girls, reneging on an earlier pledge to do so.     

Hilary Charlesworth elected to International Court of Justice

Delighted to report that the UN General Assembly and UN Security Council today elected Hilary Charlesworth to the International Court of Justice, to fill the seat prematurely vacated due to the untimely death of James Crawford (see previous IntLawGrrls post here). The appointment, which takes immediate effect, brings to four the number of women sitting on the 15-judge court.

>> Heartfelt congratulations, Hilary! <<

Question for the UN Human Rights Council: So, should only men apply?

At its session concluded earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Council established two new country rapporteurships, one on Afghanistan, and one on Burundi.  The call for applicants has now been posted. However, even before any applications have been collected and reviewed, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights seems to have already decided that both appointees will be men, based on the Name of Mandate-holder column (click screen shot below to enlarge). They’ve done this for the two thematic mandate openings, as well.

UPDATE on 29 October 2021: I see that today the OHCHR has now fixed this issue on the country rapporteur page by removing the “Mr.” from the two open positions in the Mandate-holder column, and on the thematic rapporteur page it has removed the “Mr.” from this column for the newly-created thematic rapporteurship on climate change, but has still left in place the “Mr.” in the opening on the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

FURTHER UPDATE, 5 November 2021: The OHCHR has now removed the remaining “Mr.” from the vacancy listing in the Mandate-holder column on the thematic procedures webpage.

Event Tuesday 26 October: Mixing Cultures is a Human Right

An impressive line-up of speakers is scheduled to discuss a human rights approach to cultural mixing at a side event on Tuesday 26 October for the final report of UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, in an event co-organized with the Coalition for Religious Equality and Inclusive Development (CREID).

Tuesday 26 October 2021  |  12.00-13.30 EST  |  17.00-18.30 BST

Faced with rising claims about monolithic cultures and cultural “purity” around the world, and with rising threats in many contexts, whether of the destruction of the cultural diversity of Afghanistan or the erasure of mixed identities in Japan, the speakers will address how those who value rights-respecting cultural openness and hybridity can defend these practices. How can we preserve histories of cultural mixing in the past and ensure their possibilities in the present and future so as to protect cultural rights for all?

Link to Report and to Annex with the legal framework on cultural mixing and mixed cultural identities.

Link to report press release: Mixing Cultures is a Human Right

SPEAKERS

Karima Bennoune, UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights and Visiting Professor, University of Michigan Law School (Algeria/USA)

Wole Soyinka, Writer, Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1986 (Nigeria)

Omaid Sharifi, Artivist and Co-Founder, ArtLords (Afghanistan)

Pragna Patel, Founder and Director, Southall Black Sisters (UK)

Hiroko Tsuboi-Friedman, UNESCO 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions Expert Facility member (Japan)

Mariz Tadros, Director of the Coalition for Religious Equality and Inclusive Development and Professor of Politics and Development at the Institute of Development Studies (Egypt/UK)

>>> Register here. <<<

This event is co-sponsored by:

Donia Human Rights Center
Feminist Dissent
Southall Black Sisters
Artists at Risk Connection
PEN America

Hilary Charlesworth nominated to International Court of Justice

Delighted to see that Australia has nominated Hilary Charlesworth for election to the International Court of Justice.  The election will take place on November 5, 2021, for the seat that opened upon the untimely passing in May 2021 of James Crawford, whose term was to end in 2024.

Hilary Charlesworth, the Harrison Moore Chair in Law and Laureate Professor at Melbourne Law School and a Distinguished Professor at Australian National University, served on the ICJ as judge ad hoc for Australia in Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan) (2011-2014), and is currently serving as judge ad hoc for Guyana in Arbitral Award of 3 October 1899 (Guyana v. Venezuela)

Photo from the ILG2 post, Women of the ICJ: Judge Xue Hanqin (China), Judge ad hoc Hilary Charlesworth (Australia), Judge Joan E. Donoghue (USA) and Judge Julia Sebutinde (Uganda), next to a portrait of Judge Rosalyn Higgins (Great Britain), the first woman to serve on the ICJ.

Hilary has twice been recognized for her accomplishments by the American Society of International Law, receiving the award for “preeminent contribution to creative scholarship” with Christine Chinkin for the book they co-authored, The Boundaries of International Law: A Feminist Analysis, as well as the Goler Teal Butcher Award, together with Prof. Chinkin, “for outstanding contributions to the development or effective realization of international human rights law.” In 2021 she received the Distinguished Scholar Award from the International Studies Association, and was previously awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium.

Hilary Charlesworth has been a member of the Executive Council of both the Asian Society of International Law and the American Society of International Law, and served as President of the Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law. She has been a visiting professor at a number of institutions including Harvard, Columbia, New York University, Michigan, UCLA, Paris I and the London School of Economics, and has delivered the General Course in Public International Law at the Hague Academy. 

Hilary is also a fellow IntLawGrrl (her ILG profile here).  In 2012 she and her co-authors Christine Chinkin and Shelley Wright shared their reflections as they looked back on their pathbreaking article, “Feminist Approaches to International Law,” 85 American Journal of International Law 613-645 (October 1991). Their post capped a fascinating month-long IntLawGrrls series on the work.

Heartfelt congratulations on the nomination, Hilary!

Go On! Climate Change and Cultural Extinction: A Human Rights Crisis

Photo credit: UNICEF/Akash

The negative impacts of climate change on the enjoyment of cultural rights — along with the positive potential of cultures to serve as critical tools in responding to the climate emergency — must be placed on the international agenda. A cultural rights perspective is a critical component of the holistic approach needed to respond to catastrophic climate change.

To address these issues, an inter-disciplinary panel will convene in a side event / webinar via Zoom on 21 October co-hosted by UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Karima Bennoune and the Human Rights Program of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College in New York. The following day, the Special Rapporteur will present her pathbreaking new report on climate change and cultural rights to the UN General Assembly.

Date: 21 October 2020 Time: 1:15pm – 2:45pm EDT / 5:15pm – 6:45pm GMT

Advance registration required. Click here to register.

Panelists:

Mary Robinson, Chief of The Elders; Former President of Ireland, Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Former Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Climate Change

Karima Bennoune, UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights

David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment

Joshua Castellino, Executive Director, Minority Rights Group International

Noa Petueli Tapumanaia, Chief Librarian & Archivist, Tuvalu National Library and Archives Department; Tuvalu national librarian

Mohamed Hizyam, youth activist, Maldives (video message)

Moderated by Stephanie Farrior, Distinguished Lecturer, Human Rights Program, Hunter College

Discussion Friday 3 April: Domestic Violence During COVID-19: Sheltering at Home When Home is the Most Dangerous Place

The Roosevelt House Human Rights Program of Hunter College and the Sisterhood is Global Institute are hosting a live online discussion on Friday April 3 with frontline women’s rights activists from across the world.

Friday, April 3, 2020 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm EDT (17.00 – 18.00 GMT)

For victims of domestic violence, home is often the most dangerous place on earth. As the world moves towards lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, women may have no safe place to turn. Moderated by Jessica Neuwirth, the discussion will explore current realities of domestic violence victims and solutions for supporting women in this vulnerable moment.

Discussants:
Carmen Espinoza, Executive Director of Manuela Ramos in Peru
Shafiqa Noori, Director of Humanitarian Assistance for Women and Children of Afghanistan
Diane Rosenfeld, Lecturer on Law and Director of the Gender Violence Program at Harvard Law School
Randa Siniora, Executive Director of the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling in Palestine

Registration is required. You may register here and join at zoom.us/j/580841531

Webinar on Wed. 25 March: Human Rights and Public Policy Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute of Hunter College in New York City is holding a panel discussion via Zoom on Wednesday 25 March.  RSVP here so you can join the session when it starts.

 Responding to COVID-19: The Human Rights and Public Policy Implications of the Pandemic

Wednesday 25 March, 1:00-2:30 pm EDT (17:00 GMT – 18:30 GMT)

 With the increasing numbers of confirmed new cases of COVID-19, countries face tremendous challenges and very difficult decisions. Restrictions on freedom of movement and association in the interest of health security have been addressed differently in different countries, with differing results. Join us online for a timely virtual discussion addressing the urgent human rights and public policy implications of the global public health crisis.

Panelists:
Jamil Dakwar, Director of the Human Rights Program at the ACLU
Phelim Kine, Director of Research and Investigations at Physicians for Human Rights
Ram Raju, MD, Senior Vice President and Community Health Investment Officer, Northwell Health
Moderators:
Jessica Neuwirth, Rita E. Hauser Director of the Human Rights Program, Roosevelt House
Shyama Venkateswar, Director of the Public Policy Program, Roosevelt House

Click here to RSVP to this Zoom panel discussion.