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Afghanistan is facing a ‘cultural disaster’

Afghanistan faces a “cultural disaster”, following the fall of Kabul to Taliban forces, a UN Special Rapporteur said on Tuesday, in a statement urging countries to provide urgent assistance to human rights defenders, including those working on women’s and cultural rights, as well as artists, trying to flee the country.

“It is deplorable that the world has abandoned Afghanistan to a fundamentalist group like the Taliban whose catastrophic human rights record, including practice of gender apartheid, use of cruel punishments and systematic destruction of cultural heritage, when in power, is well documented,” said Karima Bennoune, the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.

The independent rights experts called for all forms of culture and cultural heritage to be protected, as well as those who defend it, and implored cultural and educational institutions everywhere to extend invitations to Afghan artists, cultural workers and students, especially women and members of minorities, to enable them to continue their work in safety.

“It is not enough for foreign governments to secure the safety of their own nationals”, said Ms. Bennoune. “They have a legal and moral obligation to act to protect the rights of Afghans, including the rights to access to education and to work, without discrimination, as well as the right of everyone to take part in cultural life.”

The Special Rapporteur said she was gravely concerned at reports of gross abuses by the Taliban, including attacks on minorities, the kidnapping of a woman human rights defender, the killing of an artist, and the exclusion of women from employment and education.

Ms. Bennoune recalled that the Taliban’s own cultural officials in 2001 had attacked the country’s national museum, destroying thousands of the most important pieces, as well as banning many cultural practices, including music.

ADB/Jawad Jalali

“Afghan cultural rights defenders have worked tirelessly and at great risk since then to reconstruct and protect this heritage, as well as to create new culture. Afghan cultures are rich, dynamic and syncretic and entirely at odds with the harsh worldview of the Taliban,” she said.

“Governments which think that they can live with ‘Pax Taliban’ will find that this is grave error that destroys Afghan lives, rights and cultures, and eviscerates important advances that had been made in culture and education in the last two decades with international support and through tireless local efforts.”

Ms. Bennoune said such a policy will harm Afghans most but will also setback the struggle against fundamentalism and extremism, and their harmful effects on cultures, everywhere in the world, threatening the rights and security of all.

Special Rapporteurs, like Ms. Bennoune, are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor specific countries or thematic issues. They serve in their individual capacity and are not UN staff, nor do they receive a salary from the Organization.

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