UN urged to impose travel ban on Taliban leadership

Human rights groups are urging the UN to end a Trump-era waiver that allows Taliban members most responsible for the oppression of women in Afghanistan to travel abroad.

The travel ban expires automatically on 20 June unless the UN renews it, and key figures in the US administration not only want it renewed, but extended. But there is as yet no official US position.

Currently only 41 members of the Taliban administration are affected by the travel ban after it was partially suspended three years ago to permit 14 members to participate in peace talks.

In a test for the international community’s willingness to isolate the Taliban, critics argue that those Taliban members curtailing women’s right to leave their homes within Afghanistan should at minimum be banned from leaving their country.

The UN has imposed extensive sanctions against the Taliban, but the security council is due to debate next week whether to impose a travel ban on all its leading members as a way of signalling that the Taliban’s route to international recognition, let alone legitimacy, is blocked so long as it continues on its course of driving women from public life and teenage girls out of secondary education.

Heather Barr, from Human Rights Watch, says at a minimum travel bans should be imposed on three individuals: Abdul-Haq Wassiq, the head of the intelligence agency; Sheikh Muhammad Khalid Hanafi, the head of the ministry for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice; and Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s top religious leader, who reportedly played a decisive role in extending the ban on girls’ secondary education.

She said: “It’s a false dichotomy to suggest that ending the travel ban exemption means giving up on engaging the Taliban. It’s time for governments to turn consensus that the Taliban’s actions are unlawful into coordinated actions that show the Taliban that the world is ready to defend the rights of Afghans, particularly women and girls, in meaningful ways.”

The former Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström has come out in support of the move, saying: “The longstanding UN ban on travel for Taliban leaders carries a waiver for some of them. Meanwhile, Afghan women can hardly leave their homes. The travel ban exemption should not be renewed without conditions: real progress for Afghan women and girls.”