The Taliban's seizure of power in Afghanistan has accelerated the country's human rights crisis and humanitarian catastrophe, a new report warned Thursday.
The Islamist group rolled back women's rights advances and media freedom after taking control of the conflict-torn impoverished nation, Human Rights Watch alleged in its annual review of rights practices around the world.
"Afghans are caught between Taliban oppression and the specter of starvation," lamented Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director for the U.S.-based watchdog.
"Governments involved in Afghanistan over the past two decades should provide humanitarian aid and fund basic services, including health and education, while using their leverage to press for an end to Taliban rights violations," she said in a statement.
Despite assurances that they would respect human rights of all Afghans, the interim Taliban government announced a steady stream of polices and regulations that curtailed women's rights.
Afghan women are largely prohibited from working in jobs outside of teaching and health care while many secondary schools for girls remain closed across the country. The Taliban religious police have told women they cannot travel in public without being accompanied by a male guardian and have ordered taxi drivers to offer a ride only to women who wear a hijab or headscarf.
Taliban authorities are also cracking down on dissent and wide-ranging restrictions on media as well as violence against journalists have led to the closure of nearly 70% of Afghan television and other news outlets.
Women's rights and media freedom were hailed as the foremost achievements of the international presence in Afghanistan over the past two decades.
The Taliban seized power from the Western-backed government last August on the heels of a U.S.-led foreign troop withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years.
Relief agencies say the subsequent freezing of billions of dollars in Afghan foreign assets, international sanctions on the Taliban and suspension of most non-humanitarian aid to the poverty-stricken country have accelerated an economic collapse, deteriorating an already dire humanitarian crisis, an outcome of decades of wars and natural disasters.
The United Nations has warned millions of Afghans are at risk of famine and nearly four million children are severely malnourished.
"The Taliban victory propelled Afghanistan from humanitarian crisis to catastrophe, with millions of Afghans facing severe food insecurity due to lost income, cash shortages and rising food costs," said Human Rights watch.
The Taliban have announced a blanket amnesty for Afghans who served the deposed government, but the global rights monitor said Taliban forces had "summarily executed many former members of the Afghan government's security forces."
"The expedited (foreign troop) withdrawal did not include plans for evacuating many Afghans who had worked for the US and NATO forces or for programs sponsored by donor countries," the Human Rights Watch said in the report. It added that the chaotic evacuation of thousands of Afghans left behind many who remained at risk of Taliban retaliation.
FILE - Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan Sept. 6, 2021.
Chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid rejected the findings of the Human Rights Watch report as baseless.
"All the rights of the people of Afghanistan have been protected since the Islamic Emirate (the Taliban) came to power," Mujahid tweeted in response to the report. "Such reports are based on misinformation spread by some hostile circles as propaganda," he said without elaborating further.
Taliban leaders say they will soon allow all female students to rejoin schools as well as universities across Afghanistan in line with 'Islamic law and teachings."
However, Afghan women and rights activists have routinely demonstrated against the restrictions, prompting Taliban forces at times to use violence to disperse the rallies.