US religious freedom commission tells Taliban to respect minority rights

State Department urged to prioritise visas for Afghan religious monitories at risk of persecution

Members of Sikh minority line up to cast their votes during a parliamentary election at a polling station in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom on Wednesday said the Taliban must respect the rights of religious minorities following its takeover of Afghanistan.

Nadine Maenza, chairwoman of the congressionally mandated commission, called on the State Department to prioritise visas for “members of religious groups at extreme risk of persecution by the Taliban”.

She urged it to "prioritise resettling survivors of the most egregious forms of religious persecution through the US refugee admissions programme”.

“The Taliban’s harsh enforcement of its religious interpretation on all Afghans violates the freedom of religion or belief of women, members of the LGBTI community and Afghans who follow no religion,” USCIRF commissioner Frederick Davie told an online panel on the rights of Afghan religious minorities.

He said the Taliban had "segregated men and women in educational institutions, warned working women to remain at home until further notice, banned girls from secondary education and barred their participation in sports”.

The commissioners also advised that the State Department maintain the Taliban’s designation as an entity of particular concern “for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom” when it releases its religious freedom report for 2021.

The State Department has maintained that designation on the Taliban since it first started labelling entities of particular concern in the annual religious freedom report in 2018.

Palwasha Kakar, interim director of religion and inclusive societies at the US Institute of Peace, said Afghanistan’s diverse religious demographics included Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Baha’is, Ahmadiya Muslims, Shiites as well as minority communities within Sunni Islam.

She said Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities faced particular danger, noting that previous Afghan warlords had confiscated their land and that their places of worship were currently under attack.

She said the “Taliban have threatened and have done different threatening postures around the gurdwaras” and pointed to a series of kidnappings and assassinations targeting Sikh and Hindu areas.

“Some have said they will bring some sort of security there,” said Ms Kakar. “Others have come and desecrated the sites and then the Taliban come and subsequently say ‘that wasn’t us, those were criminal activities’.”

She called on the Taliban to pass specific laws ensuring the protection of religious minorities, end the prosecution of Sikhs and Hindus as well as attacks on religious sites, protect cultural heritage sites and allow the freedom of worship.

Ms Kakar and Krish Vignarajah, the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said that the international community should not recognise the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan until they ensure the protection of religious minorities and allow equal access to education for girls.

The United States Institute of Peace is an independent American federal institution established in 1984 to prevent and mitigate violent conflicts worldwide.

Updated: October 6th 2021, 9:33 PM