top of page
Image by Augustine Wong

The Paradigm of Human Rights in Conflict-Torn Middle Eastern Countries: Yemen and Afghanistan

By Daniela Belinschi

Edited by Andrzej Drzewieniecki & Andrada Bozianu

The level of development of a state is closely intertwined with the degree of respect and implementation of human rights principles. Presently, around 24 per cent of the world’s nations are classified by the UN as least developed. Within these states, economic and political crises, along with vulnerability to climate change, have resulted in humanitarian catastrophes, as observed in Afghanistan and Yemen.

©Garry Knight

Human Rights as a Peremptory Feature of Today

The fulfilment of human rights is imperative for creating a just and equitable society, with the main objective of preserving dignity - an inherent characteristic of all humans, from which fundamental rights are derived.

Despite international efforts and improvements since 1945, such as the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the issue of human rights violations persists.

While a part of the world created systems where human rights are incorporated in the Constitutions or self-executing treaties, as is the case of the Netherlands, and thus their safeguard is an assumed responsibility of the government, countries such as Yemen and Afghanistan are the polar opposite.

Most recently, reversals of fortune exacerbated the already grave situation in these countries, heavily affected by climate changes and, therefore, constant poverty.

Yemen and Afghanistan serve as important examples of states affected by the control of extremist, armed movements, highlighting major concerns related to human rights.

Fifty Years of Afghan Crises: Escalating Challenges

Over the past five decades, Afghanistan has undergone trials that have exerted significant influence on its social fabric and governance, with a particular impact on the realm of human rights.

The country has been subjected to a series of protracted conflicts and the ascendance of the extremist Taliban regime, which have perpetuated a cycle of political instability and transition.

The year 1996 saw the Taliban seize control of Kabul, which marked a distressing period characterised by numerous human rights violations. A similar resurgence of such violations occurred in 2021 and continues to persist to this day.

Between 1996 and 2001, access to public education, as well as homeschooling, was strictly prohibited for girls. The availability of healthcare was also limited, the examination by male doctors being effectuated only through clothes hindered thorough examination.

At the same time, women were mostly barred from executing any type of public activities, which made it practically impossible to access healthcare services.

The right to free movement, that is, without a mahram (male guardian), and to an opinion, either expressed in public or at home, with rapport to male authority, were annihilated too.

Later on, Taliban support for terrorism and, as a result, the establishment of the Bush Doctrine, terminated the Taliban government for twenty years. During this time, significant efforts and international legal commitments, such as the ratification of the ICCPR were made to restore and protect women's rights, ensuring that they regained their rightful place in society.

However, political instability, characterised by internal divisions, power struggles and corruption weakened the government’s ability to effectively govern and address the needs of citizens.

These hurdles contributed to the Taliban’s resurgence to power in August 2021, enabled by the American withdrawal a month earlier.

Crucially, the characteristics of the 1996-2001 regime have resurfaced with even greater intensity. A series of written and unwritten rules were established, restricting the right to education, access to public spaces, freedom of movement, working for international organizations and exercising a leading position of any type, thus disregarding the international commitments made between 2001 and 2021.

Afghanistan serves as a fertile ground for numerous infractions concerning human rights. The denial of basic rights, such as access to education and healthcare, hampers human capital development and economic productivity, perpetuating a cycle of underdevelopment, poverty, and inequality.

Additionally, the displacement of populations resulting from these human rights abuses exacerbates refugee crises, extending their impact beyond national borders.

The diplomatic approach taken by the Taliban adds complexity to intervention efforts aimed at safeguarding these rights. The government faces challenges in improving living conditions, while simultaneously adopting an extremist doctrine that severely undermines the rights of women.

Consequently, Afghanistan and, as will be discussed later in the article, Yemen, exemplify countries impacted by political instability, resulting in widespread human rights abuses. Crucially, neglecting these problems would exclude these states from the global development trajectory.

Yemen: Unveiling an Apocalyptic Landscape

Yemen is currently grappling with one of the most severe humanitarian crises worldwide. The crisis originated in 2015 as a result of clashes between Yemeni government forces and the Houthis.

This conflict has worsened the pre-existing economic crisis and led to alarming levels of malnutrition and poverty affecting over 20 million people.

The ongoing violence and insecurity in Yemen have resulted in the displacement of millions of Yemenis, who have been severely impacted by the devastating consequences of the war on the country's economy, politics, and social fabric.

Freedom of expression and the media face limitations, being mostly controlled by de facto authorities and their mass propaganda. Journalists face threats and harassment, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance and targeted killing.

Female journalists face even greater oppression, as the requirement of a mahram imposed on women's travel since early 2022 has added to their challenges.

Additionally, an alarming situation has been registered concerning the rights of children. The Houthis face accusations of exploiting child soldiers and forcibly recruiting minors, thereby denying the children their right to a safe and nurturing childhood.

All the while, the destruction of infrastructure has resulted in the limitation of essential services, such as healthcare and education.

Furthermore, UAE-run prisons in southern Yemen conduct brutal interrogations that include physical and psychological torture, therefore violating a set of fundamental rights.

The sectarian conflict and the inability of the Houthi government to properly administer the territory have both had a detrimental impact on the lives and well-being of the Yemeni population.

Cases of disappearances, denial of access to humanitarian aid, attacks on health and humanitarian workers, the use of starvation as a method of warfare, and restrictions on public and personal rights and freedoms are just a few examples of the inconsistency of the Yemeni government.

The enduring crisis in Yemen is increasingly challenging to manage, exacerbated by the secessionist movements and the resulting war, which have led to conditions that are incompatible with a sustainable way of life.

Much like Afghanistan, Yemen is grappling with a dual crisis that intertwines severe human rights violations with profound economic challenges, further exacerbating an already dire situation.

Human Rights and Development Nexus

The violation of fundamental human rights has a significant influence on the development of a country and vice versa. This interdependence makes it even harder to stimulate improvements and set a reformative trajectory for the state.

In Yemen and Afghanistan, where governments are inconsistent, radical, and violent, the situation is further worsened.

Alongside the social instability and the deterioration of life conditions, these violations also undermine the foundations of justice, equality, and dignity, therefore compromising the effectiveness of the state.

From a global perspective, that may indicate a potential for regional instability on one hand, and global disparity on the other hand.

The parallel drawn between these two nations reveals a clear correlation between the internal political landscape and the economic instability resulting from political divisions.

This correlation has the potential to escalate into armed conflict, which serves as a primary catalyst for human rights violations.

Sources: OHCHR, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Radio Free Europe, UNFPA, Brookings, The Organization for World Peace

Written by Daniela Belinschi

November 2023

104 views0 comments


bottom of page