Taliban Accountability: International Sanctions Won’t Work Unless They Bite Commentary
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Taliban Accountability: International Sanctions Won’t Work Unless They Bite
Edited by: JURIST Staff

Last December, US authorities marked Human Rights Day and the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by imposing a tranche of sanctions against human rights abusers spanning the globe, targeting perpetrators from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

In Afghanistan, two members of the Taliban government were targeted, as announced by a State Department press release that took pains to make clear that US authorities place no weight on the regime’s claims to legitimacy.

Fariduddin Mahmood, described in a State Department release as a “member of the Taliban’s so-called ‘cabinet’” was targeted for his role in imposing educational bans against the country’s women and girls.

Khalid Hanafi, described in the same statement as the “so-called ‘Minister’ for the so-called ‘Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice,’” was targeted for human rights abuses and crackdowns against citizens who object to systemic gender discrimination.

To Afghan citizens struggling with the various humanitarian crises that have gripped the nation since the Taliban’s resurgence, this might at first glance appear to be welcome news. But to those who have been waiting for years for the sanctions to make an impact, hope is dim.

In the context of international justice, sanctions are meant to pressure foreign individuals to alter unjust policies or other troubling behaviors. But they can only work as intended if they are rigorously enforced. And two months after the Human Rights Day announcement, there is no clear indication that the lives of Mahmood and Hanafi have been affected by their sanctions designations.

Despite the imposition of sanctions on Taliban officials implicated in severe human rights abuses, there remains a glaring disparity between the imposition of sanctions and their enforcement.

According to a report published by the US Congressional Research Service, sanctions have already been levied against most members of the Taliban regime. “Over half were, and remain, designated for terrorism-related U.S. and/or U.N. sanctions, including the Acting Interior Minister, Sirajuddin Haqqan,” the report said.

These sanctions take a host of different forms, with some. And while some Taliban figures are subject to travel sanctions, many are not, enabling them to perpetuate the oppressive regime’s propaganda campaign as it seeks international legitimacy.

Nazila Jamshidi, an expert in international development and democratization, described the situation in a recent interview. “Not all Taliban leaders are under travel sanctions; only 135 members of the Taliban officials are subject to such sanctions. Many mid-level officials who are not under sanctions may not seem significant individually, but collectively, they contribute to the functioning of the oppressive regime.”

The plight of Afghan women under Taliban rule exemplifies the urgency of robust enforcement of sanctions. Despite purported progress touted by Taliban officials, such as unsubstantiated claims of encouraging the employment of women in the public sector, the reality for Afghan women remains dire. Reports of travel restrictions, enforced chaperone requirements, and systemic oppression paint a grim picture of gender apartheid enforced by the Taliban.

In this context, the international community’s commitment to upholding human rights must be unwavering. Merely imposing sanctions without robust enforcement allows perpetrators to evade accountability and perpetuate atrocities.

Ms. Jamshidi rightly advocates for a broader application of travel sanctions to all Taliban members, irrespective of rank, to prevent them from propagating their harmful ideologies globally.

The failure to enforce sanctions effectively not only undermines the credibility of international efforts to address human rights abuses but also emboldens oppressive regimes like the Taliban. It is incumbent upon the United Nations Security Council and the broader international community to uphold the principles of accountability and human rights by rigorously enforcing sanctions against the Taliban regime and its officials.

As the Afghan people continue to endure oppression and deprivation, it is imperative that the international community stands in solidarity with them, demonstrating a steadfast commitment to justice and human dignity. By holding perpetrators accountable and ensuring the enforcement of sanctions, we can send a clear message that impunity for human rights abuses will not be tolerated, and that the rights and freedoms of all individuals must be upheld and protected.

The author, an Afghan legal scholar, has requested to remain anonymous due to acute security risks.

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