KABUL, Afghanistan — Farzana Ahmadi watched as a neighbor in her village in northern Afghanistan was flogged by Taliban fighters last month. The crime: Her face was uncovered.
“Every woman should cover their eyes,” Ms. Ahmadi recalled one Taliban member saying. People silently watched as the beating dragged on.
Fear — even more potent than in years past — is gripping Afghans now that U.S. and NATO forces will depart the country in the coming months. They will leave behind a publicly triumphant Taliban, who many expect will seize more territory and reinstitute many of the same oppressive rules they enforced under their regime in the 1990s.
The New York Times spoke to many Afghan women — members of civil society, politicians, journalists and others — about what comes next in their country, and they all said the same thing: Whatever happens will not bode well for them.
military and police, held political office, become internationally recognized singers, competed in the Olympics and on robotics teams, climbed mountains and more — all things that were nearly impossible at the turn of the century.
President Biden made his final decision to pull out all U.S. troops by September, some lawmakers and military officials argued that preserving women’s rights was one reason to keep American forces there.
more than 1,000 schools have closed in recent years.
“It was my dream to work in a government office,” said Ms. Ahmadi, 27, who graduated from Kunduz University two years ago before moving to a Taliban-controlled village with her husband. “But I will take my dream to the grave.”
If there is one thing that decades of war have taught Afghans, it is that conflict was never a good way to achieve human or women’s rights. Since the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, war has continuously fueled more war, eventually undermining any humanitarian achievements.
Under the U.S. occupation, education opportunities, cultural shifts, employment and health care have benefited some and barely affected others, especially in rural areas. In those places, some of the war’s most brutal chapters played out with many civilians dead and livelihoods devastated.
Often, women’s opinions are unclear in these parts, where roughly three-quarters of Afghanistan’s 34 million people live, and are often unreachable because of geographical, technological and cultural constraints.
report released in February said. “U.S. efforts to support women, girls and gender equality in Afghanistan yielded mixed results.”
Still, the Taliban’s harshly restrictive religious governing structure virtually ensures that the oppression of women is baked into whatever iteration of governance they bring.
The Taliban’s idea of justice for women was solidified for Ms. Ahmadi when she saw the insurgents beat the unveiled woman in front of her in Kunduz Province.
For many other Afghan women, the government’s judicial system has been punishment of a different kind.
Farzana Alizada believes that her sister, Maryam, was murdered by her abusive husband. But a police investigation of any sort took months to start, thwarted by absent prosecutors and corruption, she said. Ms. Alizada’s brother-in-law even pressured her to drop the charges by accusing her of stealing. The police asked her why she was pushing the case if her sister was dead.
Domestic violence remains an enduring problem in Afghanistan. About 87 percent of Afghan women and girls experience domestic abuse in their lifetimes, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
“I lost all the hope I have in this government. In some cases, maybe the Taliban is better than this system.” Ms. Alizada said. “No one is on my side.”
Ms. Alizada’s sentiments were similarly portrayed in Doha, Qatar, at the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Despite months of negotiations, there has been little progress, especially when it comes to discussing women’s rights, which neither side has made a priority.
At a separate peace conference held in Moscow in March between the Afghan government, political power brokers and the Taliban, only one woman, Habiba Sarabi, was on the 12-member delegation sent by the Afghan government. And only four are a part of the 21-person team in Doha.
“Moscow — and Doha, as well, with its small number of women representatives — laid bare the thin veneer of support for genuine equality and the so-called post-2001 gains when it comes to who will decide the country’s future,” said Patricia Gossman, the associate Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
But one of the gains that is almost indisputable has been Afghanistan’s access to the internet and the news media. Cellphone coverage extends across much of the country, meaning that Afghan women and girls have more space to learn and connect outside their familial bubbles and villages. The Afghan news media, too, has blossomed after large investments from foreign governments and investors, and many women have become nationally known journalists and celebrities.
But even their futures are uncertain.
Lina Shirzad is the acting managing director of a small radio station in Badakhshan, in Afghanistan’s restive north. She employs 15 women and fears, given the growing insecurity, that they will lose their jobs. Even some of the larger national outlets are looking to relocate employees or move some operations outside the country.
“With the withdrawal of foreign forces in the next few months, these women that are the breadwinners for their family will be unemployed,” Ms. Shirzad said. “Will their values and achievements be maintained or not?”
Fahim Abed contributed reporting from Kabul, and Taimoor Shah from Kandahar.
HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe released at least 320 prisoners from its jails on Saturday to ease congestion in the country’s notoriously overcrowded jails as a second wave of the coronavirus devastates the country.
The move comes amid growing allegations that a government crackdown has sent dozens of activists, journalists and opposition leaders to prisons.
The prisoners were released under an amnesty program established by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in 2018, the year after he seized power, ending decades of the strongarm rule of Robert G. Mugabe. The amnesty does not include prisoners convicted of crimes that include murder, human trafficking, sexual offenses and treason.
Most of those released on Saturday had been convicted of nonviolent crimes, according to Zimbabwe’s Prison and Correctional Service, but were being held in the infamous Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. That is the country’s largest correctional facility, and it is known for overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.
released 4,208 prisoners under the amnesty order.
The decision to release the latest round of prisoners comes after the variant first identified in South Africa, B.1.351, flooded into Zimbabwe at the start of the year, straining a system that already lacked enough drugs, equipment and medical staff. To date, Zimbabwe has recorded nearly 38,000 coronavirus infections, including 1,551 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In February, the country launched a national vaccine campaign with 200,000 doses donated by the Chinese vaccine maker, Sinopharm. The country is set to receive an additional 1.1 million doses as part of Covax, a global sharing program which is distributing vaccines to poor and middle income countries.
Zimbabwean officials have portrayed the vaccine rollout as a major win in the government-led response to the pandemic. But in recent months, human rights organizations have accused leaders of using coronavirus restrictions as a pretext to arrest opposition leaders in a crackdown on dissent.
A U.S. State Department human rights report released last month accused Zimbabwe’s security forces of engaging in serious human rights violations last year — including arbitrary killing and torturing civilians. The report also noted harsh and life-threatening conditions for political prisoners and detainees inside the country’s prisons.
On Saturday, human rights investigators commended the latest release of some prisoners and called on the Zimbabwean government to expand upon the initiative immediately.
“The Zimbabwe authorities should also release those in pretrial detention for nonviolent and lesser offenses, many of whom are political activists whose continued detention is unnecessary and unjustified,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director of Human Rights Watch.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Eritrean troops continue to commit atrocities in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray, despite assurances by Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, that they were leaving, a senior United Nations official said Thursday.
Mr. Abiy has come under pressure over reports of massacres, looting and sexual assaults by Eritrean troops. Last month, he flew to the Eritrean capital, Asmara, and announced that his ally, the autocratic Eritrean leader Isaias Afwerki, had agreed to bring his soldiers home.
But the U.N. and its humanitarian partners have seen no evidence that such a withdrawal has taken place, Mark Lowcock, the top U.N. humanitarian official, told the Security Council. In fact, Mr. Lowcock said, Eritrean soldiers had begun to disguise their identities by wearing Ethiopian military uniforms, and some had killed civilians during indiscriminate attacks as recently as Monday.
The Times obtained a transcript of Mr. Lowcock’s remarks, which were made in a private briefing. They paint a grim picture of the violence in Tigray, where a clash between Mr. Abiy and regional leaders in November has degenerated into a chaotic and pitiless conflict that threatens to destabilize the entire Horn of Africa region.
“ethnic cleansing” earlier this month by the United States Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken.
Hunger is spreading with up to 150 people starving to death recently in one district south of the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, Mr. Lowcock told the Security Council.
involve sexual violence, the majority by men in uniform, he said. Girls as young as eight have been targeted.
In one instance, Mr. Lowcock said, Eritrean soldiers gang raped a woman in front of her children, days after her husband had been killed and she had lost a newborn baby.
said in a statement. “The U.N.’s most powerful body needs to end its paralysis.”
Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.
The reality of an imminent American withdrawal from Afghanistan differs from its long-anticipated likelihood. Already the anxiety engendered by this new certainty in the capital, Kabul, and other urban centers is making itself felt.
Afghans’ fear is multifaceted, evoked by the Taliban’s grim record, bitter and vivid memories of civil war and the widely acknowledged weakness of the current government. These conditions in turn push Afghan thinking in one direction: The country’s government and armed forces won’t survive without American support. Many American policymakers, security officials and diplomats concur with this gloomy view. Just this week, the U.S. intelligence assessment, presented to Congress, suggested as much: “The Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay if the coalition withdraws support.”
During their five years in power, 1996-2001, the Taliban operated one of the world’s most oppressive and theocratic regimes, and there is little in their public posture and behavior during the group’s years of insurgency to suggest much has changed, at least ideologically.
In Afghanistan’s cities, the new middle-class society that emerged under the American security umbrella over the last 20 years dread a return to that era of rule.
some analysts say, there is some imperative to find political solutions to achieving their desired return to power.
And, most important, there are too many potential centers of armed resistance that will not go down quietly. And that in turn would lead to an intensification of the civil war that is already consuming much of the country.
With the Biden’s administration’s announcement on Wednesday of a complete withdrawal of American forces by Sept. 11, there are still several questions that will need to be answered between now and then.
What does an American withdrawal mean for women and minorities in Afghanistan?
believe they have already militarily won the war with Afghan forces, and they may be right.
Afghan soldiers and police have abandoned dozens of checkpoints, while others have been taken by force, while the attrition rate among security forces is considered unsustainable by Western and Afghan security officials.
Still, as long as Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani. can continue to maintain his elite special force of 20,000-30,000 men and pay them, thanks to the Americans, he may be able to maintain his hold on power, for a time. The Americans fund the Afghan military to the tune of $4 billion a year; if those funds are cut by a Congress unwilling to pay for somebody else’s war, Mr. Ghani is in trouble.
Also likely to be emboldened by the American withdrawal, and constituting a further threat to the Ghani government, are the forces controlled by the country’s numerous and potent regional leaders. These power brokers may now be tempted to cut deals with the side that clearly has the upper hand, the Taliban, or buckle down and try to secure their small portions of the country and again take up the mantle of warlords.
believe Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups pose an immediate threat to the United States from Afghanistan — although the congressionally mandated Afghan Study Group said earlier this year that withdrawal “could lead to a reconstitution of the terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland within 18 months to three years.”
Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan was militarily defeated their eastern stronghold in late 2019. But smaller and more amorphous elements continue to operate with low intensity in the region, including in Kabul, waiting to take advantage of whatever might happen in the coming months.
U.S. military and intelligence officials have suggested a limited timeline — a handful years at best.
The Swiss have long had a reputation for being discreet when it comes to business. (Think banks). And their watch industry is no different.
But growing pressure for environmental and ethical accountability — from activists, investors and consumers — has convinced a few brands that it is time to reveal where they obtain some of their raw materials.
They are fighting the industry’s deep-rooted tradition of discretion, a practice born of watchmakers’ fear that identifying suppliers will reveal details of their expertise and give rivals an advantage.
Many, however, are secretive for a very different reason: They are reluctant to admit their “Swiss Made” watches contain numerous components manufactured in China. These aren’t legal concerns: Swiss law dictates that at least 60 percent of the manufacturing costs of a product must be incurred in the country for it to qualify for the label.
the pandemic and digital growth, a new generation of chief executives, public pressure — to rethink long-established notions about the way they do business, including the value of collaborating with other watchmakers.
where brands get their gold and how they produce their timepieces, more available. Some watchmakers are even going out of their way to share it.
During the virtual Watches and Wonders fair in Geneva that began April 7, for example, Panerai introduced the Submersible eLAB-ID, a 44-millimeter wristwatch built almost entirely from reused raw materials, including recycled Super-LumiNova on its hands, recycled silicon in its movement escapement and a recycled titanium alloy known as EcoTitanium on its case, sandwich dial and bridges.
In a news release, the brand named the nine companies that worked on the timepiece, which will remain a one-of-a-kind concept watch until 2022, when Panerai plans to release a limited edition of 30 pieces, each tentatively priced at around 60,000 euros ($70,530). “We would love to be copied and improved upon,” Jean-Marc Pontroué, Panerai’s chief executive, said during a video interview last month.
a reputation for transparency and activism in a sector not known for either quality.
Kering has gone this way, at least in part, because it has an eye on what its buyers — and potential future buyers — want.
“All over the world,” Marie-Claire Daveu, Kering’s chief sustainability officer, said on a video call last month, “you have millennials and Gen Z [customers] asking more questions and wanting more answers with more details.”
Claudio D’Amore, a watch designer based in Lausanne, is one of the few Swiss watch executives to welcome such scrutiny. In 2016, he created a crowdfunded brand called the Goldgena Project, later renamed Code41, whose radical approach to transparency was a response to the industry’s long-simmering debate over the Swiss Made label.
table that lists all the components and processes that went into its latest crowdfunded timepiece, the NB24 Chronograph, along with their prices and origins. For instance, the watch’s Swiss-made movement cost the company $1,056 (including taxes), while the titanium case, dial and packaging — manufactured in China — cost $167, $56 and $22. In total, the watch cost $1,474 to produce.
Below the table, the brand explained that it arrived at a retail price of $3,500 by adding what it called a “minimal markup” for profitability.
sustainability report — what’s new is how easy it will be to access online, a spokeswoman said.
Chopard is another high-profile watchmaker striving to make its business more transparent. In late February, the Geneva-based brand updated its website with more information about its raw materials, including gold from the Barequeros, a community of artisanal miners in the Chocó region on Colombia’s Pacific coast. It also posted its Code of Conduct for Partners for the first time.
And yet Juliane Kippenberg, a Berlin-based expert on mineral supply chains at Human Rights Watch, says these measures still fall short of what other sectors, such as the garment industry, are doing to implement transparency, particularly on the complex topic of gold sourcing.
“Big companies like Adidas and H&M release Excel spreadsheets where they list the names of the garment factories where their products are being made,” Ms. Kippenberg said. “But in this sector, there’s far more reluctance to do that.” (Of course, those companies aren’t immune to controversy, either; H&M for example, is embroiled in one over its cotton sourcing.)
That hesitancy may be because many watchmakers are still wary of transparency’s threatening implications for their intellectual property.
“Part of our know-how is the know and the how — why would you share it?” said Wilhelm Schmid, chief executive of A. Lange & Söhne, a prestige watchmaker based in the German city of Glashütte.
Swiss voters rejected the Responsible Business Initiative, a proposal by a civil society coalition that would have required Swiss companies to conduct due diligence on human rights and environmental risks throughout their supply chains, and publicize their reports. But a counterproposal from the Swiss Parliament that would require companies to ensure the traceability of their supply chains, and make their reports publicly available for 10 years, is expected to become law in 2022.
That means even the notoriously tight-lipped Rolex, the world’s biggest brand by sales — a Morgan Stanley report on Swiss watches published last month found that the company now has an estimated market share of 26.8 percent — will need to make its business more transparent.
“They can’t claim they’re a private company because no one’s asking for their trade secrets,” said Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the New York City-based Luxury Institute. “They will have to answer. There’s no place to hide.”
The Myanmar military’s bloody crackdown on the nationwide resistance to its rule showed no sign of easing on Sunday, with a human rights group reporting that the death toll across the country had passed 700.
The security forces killed 82 people in a single city on Friday, according to the group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which has been documenting the bloodshed since the military’s Feb. 1 coup. Soldiers used machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades to attack an organized group of protesters who had set up barricades to defend part of that city, Bago.
The military appears to be targeting centers of resistance around the country, using overwhelming power against largely untrained, poorly armed protesters. In Tamu, a town near the border with India, members of a local defense group similar to the one in Bago claimed to have killed some members of the security forces on Saturday after coming under attack.
The security forces’ assault in Bago, about 40 miles northeast of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, was one of their most lethal yet. A reputable news outlet, Myanmar Now, also put the death toll in Bago at 82.
must cease immediately” and urged the military to let medical teams treat the wounded.
Members of the local defense organization in Tamu, which calls itself the Tamu Security Group, said that as in Bago, the security forces had attacked its defenses on Saturday with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
Members of the security forces were killed in the ensuing clashes, according to two members of the defense group.
Their claims could not be independently confirmed. But killing multiple members of the security forces would be a significant development in the violence since the coup, which has been overwhelmingly one-sided.
A small, little-known rebel group called the Kuki National Army, one of many ethnic armed groups that have been fighting Myanmar’s military for years in regional conflicts, said it had helped the Tamu protesters battle the security forces on Saturday, but the extent of its involvement was unclear. Some leaders of the protest movement have called on rebel armies to join forces.
Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, called the trial “another example of the junta’s all-out effort to force people off the streets and crush the civil disobedience movement.”
Daw Aye Aye Thwin, whose son, Ko Bo Bo Thu, 27, is one of the two defendants in custody, said he was at home at the time of the killing and had nothing to do with it. She said she had not been able to see him since his arrest and learned of the sentence on Friday, a day after it was handed down.
“Now I feel like my world is gone,” she said. “I just want to appeal to the authorities not to kill my son.”
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Venezuela is waging its most concerted military campaign in years, targeting what it says is a criminal group operating within its border near Colombia but also sending an estimated 5,000 of its own civilians fleeing into the neighboring country.
The assault — which began with several days of airstrikes that security experts described as Venezuela’s largest use of firepower in decades — represents a significant departure from the largely hands-off approach it has long employed toward the illicit organizations that flourish along its border.
For years, officials in President Nicolás Maduro’s government have tolerated and sometimes even cooperated with these armed groups, many of them with roots in Colombia, as they moved drugs and other contraband between nations.
Now it has lashed out at one of them, though the reasons remain murky. Mr. Maduro has claimed in recent days that the attack reflects his government’s policy of “zero tolerance toward irregular Colombian armed groups.”
nine people whom the Venezuelan government considers to be guerrillas and two of its own personnel, the defense minister, Vladimir Padrino, said.
Several Colombian rebel groups have operated in Venezuelan territory in recent years, including dissident members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia who have refused to lay down their weapons following a 2016 peace deal.
The Venezuelan assault, centered around La Victoria, a town of about 10,000, has been aimed at a faction of FARC dissidents known as the Tenth Front, according to local residents, leading security experts to suggest they may have broken unwritten rules laid out by the Maduro government or its allies.
Fundaredes attributed to the FARC group.
the country’s attorney general, Tarek Saab, said. But the government has also sought to limit news coverage of the military campaign, according to Fundaredes.
On Wednesday in La Victoria, Venezuelan authorities detained two journalists with the Venezuelan channel NTN24 and two human rights activists with Fundaredes who had been trying to document the crisis. They were kept for a day before being released, according to family members and friends.
Tamara Taraciuk Broner, Americas deputy director at Human Rights Watch, called abuses documented by her organization as “a case study in the atrocities that the regime has been carrying out, and continues to carry out, with impunity.”
She continued: “This should be a wake up call for the International Criminal Court, which has the duty and the power to criminally investigate those who are ultimately responsible for the most heinous international crimes.”
Isayen Herrera in Caracas contributed reporting.
WASHINGTON — Women’s access to contraceptives and reproductive care is a global human right that will be monitored by the United States, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken declared on Tuesday, reversing a Trump administration policy that had overlooked discrimination or denials of women seeking sexual health services worldwide.
The announcement was one of several departures Mr. Blinken made from the previous administration’s approach as the State Department issued its annual report on human rights violations, even while he similarly condemned abuses and state-sanctioned oppression from China to Syria to Venezuela that have continued for years.
The report was completed during the Trump administration and, Mr. Blinken said, did not include examples of women who were refused health care and family planning information in nearly 200 countries and territories in 2020. He has directed officials to compile that data and identify violators this year “because women’s rights — including sexual and reproductive rights — are human rights,” Mr. Blinken told reporters at the department.
Mr. Blinken also announced that he had dismantled an advisory committee, set up by Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state at the time, that had prioritized religious liberties and property rights among universal freedoms. Critics of the panel had accused Mr. Pompeo of using it to promote his evangelical Christian beliefs and conservative politics.
had approved the assassination, although the United States has not announced sanctions or other penalties against him.
Prince Mohammed was a key ally to President Donald J. Trump, who had refused to condemn the rising Saudi leader for the death of Mr. Khashoggi, who lived in Virginia. The human rights reports issued by the State Department have also stopped short of directly accusing the crown prince, although Tuesday’s review did note the arrest and abduction by Saudi security forces of the activist Amani al-Zain in May, after she referred to Prince Mohammed as “father of the saw” during a video chat months earlier. Mr. Khashoggi was dismembered by a bone saw when he went to pick up documents in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Although career diplomats took pains to describe the report as a matter-of-fact rundown of human rights around the world, many of its conclusions divided American activists along political lines.
“It’s unfortunate that the many pro-life, pro-religious freedom positions that President Trump had advanced internationally are being rolled back by the Biden administration,” said Travis Weber, a vice president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian organization.
Mr. Pompeo declared Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs — including forced sterilization and internment camps — a genocide, a position Mr. Blinken has retained.
Mr. Blinken called the Chinese abuses in Xinjiang evidence that “the trend lines on human rights continue to move in the wrong direction,” and he cited violence or oppression in Myanmar, Russia, Uganda and the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia as other examples.
All are “indications that the Biden administration is taking seriously its commitment to hold both allies and adversaries to a high standard on human rights,” said Sarah Holewinski, the director of the Human Rights Watch office in Washington.
She called the State Department’s return to monitoring reproductive health access for women and girls “a particularly big deal” after it had been cast aside.
“When women die from preventable pregnancy-related causes, there are likely to exist policies and laws that undervalued their life,” Ms. Holewinski said.
Medical workers and reproductive rights activists had long criticized the Trump administration for refusing to fund health clinics that provide abortions or otherwise support women who needed care. That has led to fewer health providers in some of the world’s neediest places, even for women seeking other kinds of medical attention, just as the coronavirus spread around the globe.
As a matter of international law, Mr. Weber said, “there is no right to abortion.”
Mr. Blinken did not specifically mention abortion in his remarks about protecting women’s access to family planning care. But he also noted the strain that the pandemic had placed on women, racial and ethnic minorities, and others based on their disabilities or sexual orientation.
Erosions of human rights, he said, “are being worsened by Covid-19, which autocratic governments have used as a pretext to target their critics.”