GENEVA (Reuters) – Switzerland has raised concerns about human rights in Afghanistan, including about girls’ education, in a meeting with the Taliban, a government spokesman said on Friday, as the new rulers in Kabul wrapped up a week of talks in Geneva.
The trip is seen as a key step in Taliban efforts to boost outreach efforts as they seek to persuade foreign powers to officially recognise them and restore the aid money that has been cut off in protest of their takeover last August.
The delegation met with Swiss officials as well as the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups in the talks that touched on aid needs, security concerns and health care, according to participants who attended the closed-door talks.
In an emailed response to questions, foreign ministry spokesperson Paola Ceresetti said Switzerland had raised the issue of abductions and reprisals including the targeting of reporters, without specifically discussing the detention of two journalists reported by the U.N. Refugee Agency on Friday.
Berne had also raised the “systematic exclusion” of girls and women from education, politics, society and public life and said it expected girls to be back in school in March, she said.
Under their previous rule from 1996 to 2001, the hardline Islamist Taliban barred women and girls from education. They say they have since changed but they have been vague on their plans and high school-aged girls in many provinces have still not been allowed to return to school.
A handful of female activists gathered outside the delegation’s hotel earlier this week while a few dozen people protested outside the U.N. headquarters in Geneva on Friday, a police spokesperson confirmed.
Ceresetti denied that the talks amounted to official recognition of the Taliban and stressed that it was important to maintain dialogue. “We talk to everyone,” she said.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who met with Afghanistan’s acting health minister Qalandar Ebad earlier this week during the same trip, also called on countries and organisations “to continue with dialogue to support the people of Afghanistan”.
Geneva Call, the humanitarian group that hosted the talks, said that the Taliban delegation had signed a closing statement that pledged to promote humanitarian access, respect female health workers and help clear mines.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Nick Macfie)