By Caleb Ridings
This semester, I had the opportunity to help draft a Universal Periodic Review of Afghanistan for Alliance Defending Freedom’s (ADF) Geneva branch.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a process by which the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) documents and evaluates how each member country has performed in safeguarding human rights over a four-and-a-half-year period. A key feature of this process is that non-governmental organizations like ADF are allowed and encouraged to participate in the process by submitting their own reviews to the HRC. This offers the HRC a more holistic view, since each NGO provides its own focus. The report I worked on focused on the protection of religious liberty, especially of religious minorities, in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in 2021.
The importance of this report can be seen in some of the effects of the last UPR cycle’s publication. To name just a couple of examples, Sierra Leone repealed its capital punishment less than three months after the publication of their UPR, while Mongolia similarly adopted new protections for advocates of human rights. While it is hard to know how effective this upcoming UPR will be, since it will be delivered to the Afghan government in exile rather than the Taliban, the UPR’s track record demonstrates that participation in the process is far from trivial.
Suffice to say, the human rights experience in Afghanistan has been nothing if not unique. Few countries experience radical shifts in governance that can be timed down to the exact day, but in the case of Afghanistan, everything changed August 15, 2021, the day the Taliban overthrew the previous Afghanistan government.
Religious tolerance has never been a strong suit for Afghanistan; in fact, it is a continued source of chastisement from ADF. Yet, the consistent report of individuals who have successfully fled Afghanistan all report that life became radically worse after the Taliban took over. There is not a religious minority group that escapes persecution in modern Afghanistan. The Taliban systemically persecute Shi’a Muslim minorities and fail to protect them from attacks by the Islamic State of Khorasan (an even more radical Islamic terror group). In fact, much of my report was the dreadful task of chronicling the attacks that occurred at Shi’a mosques, Sikh temples, and even Sufi services (despite Sufism being a tolerated practice among most of the Sunni community). As for Christians, the Taliban’s official statement that “there are no Christians living in Afghanistan” says it all.
Researching for and writing this report was an incredibly unique experience. Due to the restrictive and authoritarian nature of the Taliban “government”, finding updates and specific stories about life in Afghanistan was surprisingly difficult. There were multiple instances where I needed to translate news articles because they only appeared in Farsi. As a testament to the different priorities of the world versus those of the Church, Christian missionary websites often had more detailed reports and stories than generic news or human rights organizations.
My heart aches for the brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering under the Taliban in Afghanistan, and I hope my team’s work can be used meaningfully to advance religious liberty to those areas of the world that need it most. If nothing else comes of this project, I’ve personally been made aware of how much Afghan Christians deserve our prayers.
This post was written by a Center for Global Justice Law Clerk. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.