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Afghan women have borne the brunt of the civil war. On top of that, the Taliban have denied them fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of movement, association, and expression, and equal access to work and education, in all aspects of their lives. Now, as conflict intensifies with the U.S.-led war against terrorism, Afghan women face the likelihood of further suffering and deprivation of their human rights, fundamental freedoms, and personal dignity at the hands of warring factions.

Additionally, women are likely to endure some of the most serious humanitarian consequences of the military action. As the international community, and particularly the U.N., ponders the future of a post-conflict Afghanistan, accountability for past abuses and respect for women's rights - in law and in practice - must be a central feature of any reconstruction and development plan. To date, there has been no accountability for the human rights abuses committed during the civil war, nor for the additional violations of women's rights inflicted under the Taliban. Refugees, the majority of whom are women and children, continue to flee from Afghanistan, facing a bleak future and little assistance in Pakistan or other neighboring countries.

At a minimum, the international community must clearly affirm its commitment to ensuring women's human rights. Among other things, it must fully integrate women - not merely as recipients, but also as decision makers - and gender-specific issues into all post-conflict reconstruction and development plans. Second, it should be sure to bar perpetrators of violations of women's human rights from participating in any post-conflict government, and ensure that they are held fully to account for the abuses they have committed.

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