UN rights office concerned for safety of disappeared Afghan women’s rights protesters
UN rights office concerned for safety of disappeared Afghan women’s rights protesters

A spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a statement Tuesday expressing concern for the safety of four women who disappeared after participating in a women’s rights protest in Afghanistan.

The Taliban returned to power in 2021 after being ousted by the US-led invasion in 2001. Since their return, they have imposed numerous limitations on women’s rights, as was widely feared. Leading to a growing doubt as to how they would navigate their professional and personal aspirations. The policies have directly impacted their right to education, freedom of movement and expression, and the right to work in professions of their choice.

In light of these circumstances, women have taken to the streets to protest for the reinstatement of their rights, despite harsh reactions from the Taliban officials to the said protests. The protesters have now been sprayed with pepper spray, called derogatory names, and shot by those suppressing their peaceful dissent.

Part of this suppression has been the abduction of women protesters and their continued disappearance. The most recent statement pertains to safety concerns for four women in particular. Parwana Ibrahim Khil was abducted with her brother-in-law while traveling in Kabul on last month. On the same day, the Taliban officials broke into the house of Tamana Zaryabi Paryani and forcefully abducted her along with three of her sisters. Last week, Mursal Ayar went missing after being forcefully taken from her house. Dr. Zahra Mohammadi was abducted from outside her medical clinic the very next day. The common thread that ties all these women is their willingness and courage to protest for their rights. As part of the statement, the UN pressed for information about these arrests and called for a transparent investigation.

In response to these disappearances, the UN has consistently voiced concern. Independent UN human rights experts had warned last month that the policies imposed on women’s rights are a result of Taliban leaders institutionalizing systemic gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls. Ravina Shamdasani, also a spokesperson for the OHCHR, voiced serious concern last week over the continued disappearance of women protesters. She called on the de facto authorities to make public the reports on the findings of investigations into these disappearances, hold the abductors responsible and ensure the safe release of the women arrested. The escalation in violence and continued efforts to stifle the voices of women in the country ought to come to a halt with the restoration of women’s dignity and rights.