ISLAMABAD - The Afghan Taliban have turned down renewed calls by the United Nations for the Islamist rulers to reverse restrictions on the human rights of women in Afghanistan, saying they are in line with local religious and cultural values.
The hard-line group's foreign ministry issued a statement Friday rejecting U.N. concerns as "unfounded." It urged the global community "not to pass verdicts based on malicious and antagonist reporting of some media outlets or propaganda" by Afghan opposition forces.
In consecutive statements this week, the U.N. Security Council and the world body's special observer on the human rights situation in Afghanistan expressed "deep concern" and sharply criticized the latest Taliban order for women to cover up fully in pubic, including their faces.
The Taliban's Ministry for Vice and Virtue, tasked with interpreting and enforcing the Taliban's version of Islam, also bound female presenters on Afghan TV channels to cover their faces when on air.
The male-only interim Taliban government has also suspended girls' secondary education, prevented most female employees from returning to government jobs, barred women from traveling alone and strongly advised them to stay at home.
Friday's Taliban statement noted that the "government considers the observance of Islamic hijab to be in line with the religious and cultural practices of society and aspirations of majority of Afghan women." It went on to stress that "nothing has been imposed on the Afghan people that runs counter to the religious and cultural beliefs of the Islamic society."
The Taliban urged the international community to "show respect" for Afghan values, insisting it believed in resolving problems through dialogue.
Following meetings with Taliban leaders Thursday, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said the group's polices were "making women invisible" across the country.
"The de facto authorities have failed to acknowledge the magnitude and gravity of the abuses being committed, many of them in their name and their responsibility to address them and protect the entire population," Bennett told reporters in the capital, Kabul, at the end of his 11-day trip to the country.
The U.N. expert cautioned that the Taliban "stands at a crossroads" and the Afghan society under their rule will either become more stable and "a place where Afghans enjoy freedom and human rights, or it will become increasingly restrictive."
On Tuesday, the 15-member U.N. Security Council renewed its call on the Taliban to adhere to their commitments to reopen schools for all female students without further delay and "swiftly reverse" restrictions on Afghan women's fundamental freedom and access to public life.
The international community has not recognized the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, saying the issue would come under consideration only after the Islamist group adheres to its pledges to protect the human rights of all Afghans, especially those of women.
The Taliban seized power from the Western-backed former government in August when the last U.S.-led international forces withdrew from the country after almost 20 years of war with the Islamist group.