“Even If You Go to the Skies, We’ll Find You”: LGBTQ+ Rights in Afghanistan

“Even If You Go to the Skies, We’ll Find You”: LGBTQ+ Rights in Afghanistan

Lauren Fox

A report published earlier this year from Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International has highlighted the worsening situation for LGBTQ+ people in Afghanistan. The report drew from the experiences of 60 LGBTQ+ interviewees, some of whom have been forced to seek asylum in other countries after the Taliban regained power in August 2021. 

Prior to the Taliban takeover, the report described the efforts of the nongovernmental organisations to promote LGBTQ+ rights as “very limited”, with all of the interviewees saying that they had feared violence or discrimination based on their sexuality or gender identity. LGBTQ+ people faced the threat of harassment from their families, neighbours, the police force, or previous romantic partners. Human rights abuses under the previous Government included sexual and physical violence, discrimination, forced marriage and blackmail.

The situation for LGBTQ+ individuals has “dramatically worsened” following the Taliban takeover. Two interviewees reported being raped by members of the Taliban, and many have faced threats from family members, partners and acquaintances who have since joined the Taliban. LGBTQ+ Afghans are afraid to leave their homes, meaning that they are unable to work and are isolated from others within the community. Women and gender nonconforming individuals are particularly affected when trying to seek asylum in other countries, as they are unable to apply for passports or visas without the approval of a male relative. Several interviewees reported being beaten for wearing clothes which did not conform to gender norms, or were deemed too ‘modern’ or ‘Western’. Even when LGBTQ+ Afghans are able to seek asylum in other countries, they continue to face difficulties since many neighbouring countries criminalise same-sex relationships. 

Under international law, Afghanistan has accepted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which upholds key rights and freedoms for all people – “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and are protected from discrimination, torture and ill-treatment. Moreover, other relevant human rights treaties include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The rights of LGBTQ+ Afghans must also be respected by the countries to which they have fled, including the prohibition on refoulment (returning refugees to a country where they may be persecuted) in the 1951 Refugee Convention. 

The report made a number of recommendations, imploring both the Taliban and neighbouring countries to respect the rights of LGBTQ+ Afghans. Recommendations to the Taliban include to end all forms of discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity (and directing all Taliban members to do the same) and to adopt and enforce laws which prohibit all forms of violence and discrimination (including the provision of meaningful justice and compensation for people who have suffered due to their sexual orientation or gender identity). Neighbouring countries are recommended to keep their borders open to Afghans seeking asylum from persecution, and to respect the rights of LGBTQ+ Afghans seeking asylum who can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution.

The full report can be accessed at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2022/01/26/even-if-you-go-skies-well-find-you/lgbt-people-afghanistan-after-taliban-takeover