HRW for full women’s role in peace talks
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said the current pause in negotiations, due to the disclosure of Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s death and worsening relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan created an opportunity for the government to honour its promises to include women.
“Afghan President Ashraf Ghani promised to include women in negotiations with the Taliban at the ‘right time,’” said Sarah Taylor, women, peace, and security advocate at Human Rights Watch. “But for full and meaningful participation, every stage of the process is the ‘right time’ to involve women.”
The organization said Afghanistan’s foreign donors needed to insist the government improve women’s rights, including by ensuring women’s full participation in future negotiations with the Taliban and other groups.
Talks between the government and the Taliban have picked up amid increased fighting and insecurity, international donor fatigue, and the disengagement of international forces.
A July 7, 2015 meeting in Murree near Islamabad between the Afghan government and the Taliban was seen as the first official meeting between the two warring sides. The Afghan government delegation in Murree included no women.
Afghan women’s rights activists have persistently demanded to be full participants in peace talks, as set out in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and later resolutions.
Ghani has assured them that they will be included, but has also suggested that he did not intend to include women throughout the process, saying that he “will not bother them until the right time.”
“For years, Afghan women have been denied a seat at the table when their future has been on the line,” Taylor said. “For Ghani to claim that he would only ‘bother’ women to participate in talks at the ‘right time’ is a signal that their participation is somehow optional.”
During past efforts to launch negotiations, Afghan women’s rights activists have repeatedly spoken out about their fears that the government will trade away women’s rights in an effort to reach an accommodation with the Taliban.
These fears have been exacerbated by the exclusion of women from the process. A 2014 study by Oxfam found that in 23 rounds of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban between 2005 and 2014, women were present on only two occasions. No women were ever included in discussions between international negotiators and the Taliban.
Previous negotiations have typically occurred with little transparency, with the public often learning of them only after they occurred. This has prevented Afghan civil society groups, including women’s rights activists, from providing meaningful input to the government on their human rights concerns and their recommendations for ensuring human rights protections in the event a settlement is reached.
For instance, activists seeking justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity have had no real opportunities to ensure that amnesty for these crimes will not be on the table in the negotiations.
There have been signs of a greater willingness by the Taliban to discuss women’s rights, though activists have viewed statements by Taliban leaders seeming to support some forms of women’s rights with significant skepticism given the Taliban’s continued abuses targeting women.
At a meeting in Doha in May 2015, three women participated. Malalai Shinwari, a former member of parliament who was one of the participants, told the Wall Street Journal, “They [the Taliban] said they won’t make the same mistakes that they made in the past. They said they would accept the rights we have today.”
This meeting was followed by a June meeting in Oslo bringing together Taliban representatives and Afghan women leaders specifically for the purpose of discussing women’s rights.
Both the Taliban and the Afghan government emphasized that this meeting was not part of the negotiation process.
The negotiation process is in limbo at the moment following the July disclosure that Taliban leader Mullah Omar died on April 23, 2013, the Taliban chose a new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
In August 2015, Mansoor discounted current efforts as “propaganda campaigns by the enemy.” At the same time, relations between the Afghan government and the Pakistani government have become tense, adding another complicating factor to the effort to convene talks.
“The pause in peace negotiations creates the opportunity for the Ghani government to work with women’s rights activists and groups to get the negotiation process right going forward,” Taylor said.
“Ghani should take steps now to genuinely integrate women into the peace process at every level, from district and province peace-building bodies to the highest level team advising the president and sitting across the table from Taliban negotiators.”
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