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Suman Guha MozumderIndia Abroad Correspondent in New York
Top United Nations officials, including Secretary General Kofi Annan, joined on Thursday the almost universal chorus against a proposal by the Taleban regime in Afghanistan requiring all non-Muslims to wear distinctive identity badges when they go out of their homes.
A spokesman for the secretary general told reporters that Annan was "dismayed" by the proposal that "would constitute a grave violation of human rights and recalls some of the deplorable acts of discrimination in history".
The secretary general appealed to the Taleban leadership to reject the idea and "to focus their efforts on alleviating the suffering of their people, who yearn for peace and security".
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura also issued a statement expressing outrage over the proposed edict.
The statement released in Geneva and Paris noted that the decree "harks back to the darkest periods of human history".
"Prescribing how certain groups of people should dress or otherwise singling them out so that they can be easily identifiable is at best discriminatory," they said.
"Similar practices in the past -- from Nazi Germany in the 1930s to Rwanda in the early 1990s -- have led to the most horrible crimes."
Both Robinson and Matsuura said the edict's stated aim, namely the protection of minority groups, could best be achieved through the strict observance of internationally recognized human rights principles.
The edict, they said, "brings home in a most forceful way the urgent need to address bias and discrimination, which are at the root of major human rights violations."
The Human Rights Watch also condemned the decision and urged countries with diplomatic or informal relations with the Taleban to advise its leaders against issuing and enforcing such an edict.
"The decision is further evidence of the ascendancy of hardliners within the Taleban," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, director of HRW's Asia division. "And it will leave the Hindu minority vulnerable to harassment and intimidation. In effect, Afghan Hindus are being forced to wear a badge of second-class citizenship."
HRW said requiring Afghan Hindus to wear distinguishing marks is likely instead to have a stigmatizing effect and does not have an apparent protective function.
Afghans who expect to have dealings with officials already carry identification cards issued by the interior ministry that indicate their religion. Moreover, the identity of local Hindus is well known in the communities where they live, it said in a statement.
The Taleban's move to publicly identify Hindus is also likely to hasten their exodus from Afghanistan, it said, adding that the Hindu population has already been halved through emigration in recent years.
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