One year after the Taliban took power, human rights defenders more threatened than ever

August 12, 2022. One year after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, conditions for human rights defenders, especially women, have deteriorated further, the undersigned members of Protect Defenders.eu (FORUM -ASIA, Front Line Defenders, International Federation for Human Rights – FIDH and World Organization Against Torture – OMCT). A year ago, when the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, they promised to respect human rights – including the rights of women and girls and freedom of the media. However, over the past year they have committed serious human rights violations and abuses and have sought to suppress civil society, media freedom and all forms of dissent with impunity.

Since August 15, 2021, we have witnessed a steady erosion of human rights gains in Afghanistan and attacks, reprisals and a failure of any effective protection for human rights defenders in the country. Women and girls, religious and ethnic minorities, those who speak out against violations and for the protection of the rights of the most vulnerable, have been deliberately targeted. This is a pattern of violence to which the international community has failed to respond sufficiently. Human rights defenders who continue to work for their communities have effectively been abandoned and left without adequate support, access to resources, protection and pathways to safety.

Human rights defenders have been victims of almost daily attacks and violent reprisals including arrests, torture, threats and killings since the Taliban took over. The escalation of violence in the provinces has forced a large number of defenders to leave their homes and relocate and/or resettle. Human rights defenders, especially women human rights defenders, have faced multiple risks and threats from the Taliban, including: kidnapping; arbitrary arrest and imprisonment; torture; physical and psychological harm; house searches; death and physical threats; bullying and harassment; and violence against family members. Women human rights defenders have also faced systematic oppression and segregation from public life. They were deprived of their rights to work, freedom of movement, access to education and participation in public affairs. For those seeking to leave Afghanistan due to grave risks, safe and dignified pathways out of the country remain extremely challenging and challenging.

There were also serious restriction of freedom of expression and assembly. These freedoms are no longer legally and institutionally protected, and any form of dissent faces arbitrary arrests and detentions and enforced disappearances. Forced disappearances of women and arbitrary arrests of journalists and civil society activists are tactics adopted by the Taliban to silence voices. Women who have organized and participated in peaceful protests have faced violent repression, including arrests and torture, underpinning the illegal escalation of efforts to suppress peaceful protest and freedom of movement. expression in Afghanistan. Moreover, the Taliban have continuously suppressed media freedom. In the first three months of the Taliban’s takeover, 43% of Afghan media ceased to exist. Journalists are detained and beaten, particularly when covering protests. Media workers, especially women, have been intimidated, threatened and harassed, forcing many into hiding or leaving the country. Door-to-door searches for journalists were conducted, particularly those who work or are perceived to work for Western media.

Religious and ethnic minorities have been particularly targeted. The Taliban staged military assaults on civilians and targeted minority groups in Kunduz, Daikundy, Ghazni, Nangarhar, Faryab, Badakhshan, Panjshir and Baghlan provinces. They have also carried out attacks against Hazaras, Hindus and Sikhs with credible allegations of war crimes, genocide and ethnic cleansing against these communities. Human rights defenders from these communities, particularly women, are at particular risk. Those who seek to document and expose violations have faced severe retaliation.

Since the seizure of power by the Taliban, the country’s independent institutions, such as the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has been dissolved and its personnel in the country threatened. The dissolution of the AIHRC underscores the Taliban’s disregard for human rights principles, which has further reduced the access of Afghan citizens and human rights defenders to a human rights mechanism. independent and efficient man in the country. In the face of serious human rights abuses, the AIHRC has played an important role as a watchdog by monitoring and investigating human rights abuses, and holding perpetrators accountable through the through regional and international human rights mechanisms.

The human rights crisis in Afghanistan includes the suffering of people displaced by violence. The Taliban takeover has exacerbated one of the longest refugee situations in the world. To date, over six million Afghans have been driven from their homes and/or countries by conflict, violence and poverty. Among them, 3.5 million are displaced inside Afghanistan, and 2.6 million Afghan refugees live in other countries. These figures have been exacerbated by the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 and the critical humanitarian crisis facing Afghanistan today. The impact of the situation has been devastating for human rights defenders and their families as they flee their homes to save their own lives. Safe avenues for defenders to leave and escape the violence are very limited. Those in neighboring countries suffer from lack of access to facilities, the threat of arrest and forced repatriation, and uncertainty about their future.

Despite this grave human rights crisis, the international community has failed to live up to its responsibility towards the Afghan human rights defenders it has funded and encouraged for two decades. It is time for the international community to take concrete steps to provide concrete support to human rights defenders and to hold the Taliban to account.

Accordingly, we call on the international community to:

Honor their commitments and provide people who have dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights, gender equality, the rule of law and democratic freedoms with immediate practical support at all levels, including through diplomatic and political channels, with specific and reinforced protection measures for women human rights defenders and women journalists.

- Take concrete steps to ensure an immediate end to all human rights violations and abuses against all individuals in Afghanistan, including human rights defenders, minorities – especially ethnic and religious groups – LGBTIQ+, journalists, women and girls.

- Urge the Taliban to ensure that girls and women have the opportunity and access to quality education, in accordance with international human rights law and equal to that offered to men and boys, and to open up schools for girls of all ages and to respect the rights of women to participate in public affairs.

- Take all necessary measures to ensure the safe exit from Afghanistan. These include ensuring border crossing points remain open, visas or passes are expedited, rapid evacuation support is provided, and resettlement and resettlement assistance is provided.

- Take a strong stance before the United Nations (UN) Security Council to ensure that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is closely monitored and that the country’s de facto authorities are held to the standards rights set out in international human rights law, including by strengthening the human rights monitoring and reporting mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

- Commit to ensuring that the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan is extended until the intended objectives are achieved and that he has sufficient resources to fulfill his terms of reference, and to assess the adequacy of those resources after reviewing his report.

- Take steps towards the establishment of an independent investigative mechanism by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate, collect and preserve evidence of all violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, and to ensure accountability for these violations and abuses.

- Call for an official visit by the UN Secretary-General to Afghanistan to help redirect world attention to the situation, increase pressure on the Taliban to respect human rights and propose solutions global efforts to end the grave humanitarian crisis.

- Call on the Taliban to immediately restore the independent AIHRC and the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs and provide it with the necessary resources and support to fully discharge its functions and preserve its independence.

- Call on the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to move forward expeditiously in a broad and inclusive effort to investigate and prosecute crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court that have been committed by all perpetrators, and call on all UN Member States to establish and effectively exercise universal jurisdiction to hold accountable all perpetrators of crimes committed in Afghanistan.

- Prevent and counter the intervention of the Taliban in the distribution of humanitarian aid by the UN and other humanitarian or charitable organizations. All humanitarian aid must be distributed equitably to those affected, regardless of their ethnic, religious or other origins.

- Call on the Taliban to allow the UN Special Rapporteur to visit all requested areas, including where war crimes have been reported.

Martin E. Berry