Afghanistan: IBA and IBAHRI call for the international community to hold the Taliban to account for pledges made to citizens

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Image credit: Trent Inness / Shutterstock.com (right)

During the group’s first official news conference since seizing control of most of Afghanistan on Sunday 15 August 2021, the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has stated the group wants peace, and will respect women’s rights ‘within our religious framework’. With grave concern, the International Bar Association (IBA) and International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) calls on the international community to hold the Taliban to its promises.

Amid reports of the Taliban carrying out amputations, executions and the hunting down of citizens who worked in some capacity for a less restrictive Afghanistan - where the Rule of Law and universal human rights were promoted - the IBA and IBAHRI call for swifter and better coordinated action by States in opening up more routes to safe havens and expediting visas for the transfer and resettlement of Afghans, including members of the judiciary, legal professionals, human rights defenders, non-governmental organisation workers, journalists and media workers.  

IBA President, Sternford Moyo, commented: ‘Beyond being horrified by the shocking scenes of the sheer desperation of many of Afghanistan’s citizens attempting to flee their homeland by hanging on to a taxiing American C-17 transport aircraft, we call on the international community to improve coordination in providing safe passage and havens to those who worked hard to build a more inclusive society in Afghanistan with respect for the Rule of Law and an individual’s human rights. Also, we call for the establishment of a United Nations special envoy on Afghanistan for the monitoring of civilians killed and human rights breaches’.   

IBA Executive Director, Dr Mark Ellis, commented: ‘The Taliban has uttered assurances to the world including that “women’s rights will be respected”. However, the language is vague and it is likely that different provinces will institute their own interpretations of this and other guarantees. The gains achieved to date in Afghanistan towards genuine expansion to a more inclusive society require continued adherence to international human rights principles, including those found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These guarantees must not be allowed to simply disappear.’

The IBA and IBAHRI are particularly concerned about individuals working for the justice system who may now face risk of persecution. Following the killing of two female judges earlier this year, the IBA and IBAHRI express serious concern for the fate of the 250 women Judges in the country. These Judges who have tried and sentenced members of the Taliban are reported to be at particular risk, because to the Taliban it is generally unacceptable for women to sit in judgment over men. Prosecutors and their families have also been reported as targets of Taliban reprisals.

A United Nations report in July revealed that ‘more women and children were killed and wounded in Afghanistan in the first half of 2021 than in the first six months of any year since records began in 2009’. This, and with the attack on female judges, three female media workers, and schoolgirls, raises serious concerns for the ongoing treatment of women and girls in the country. Urgent protection must also be provided by the international community to media workers, including journalists, particularly female journalists – some of whom are in hiding.

IBAHRI Director, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, commented: ‘Today, there are vibrant networks of radio, television and online media which track the 34 provinces. In a country that previously barred women from education there are now more than a thousand women journalists. Local media is the second most trusted public institution – behind religious leaders. Protecting the autonomy of women and a thriving media landscape is vital. Already many media outlets have closed. The remaining media spaces must be protected for the betterment of Afghanistan’s society’.

The IBA and IBAHRI call for the protection of the human rights of all Afghanistan’s citizens and that treaties protecting women and children are upheld, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996–2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG stated: ‘The international community bears a legal responsibility to ensure the safe passage of refugees fleeing Afghanistan and that none are forcibly returned as failed asylum seekers, in adherence to the principle of non-refoulement. In 2008, Afghans from across the country worked, together with the IBAHRI, to set up the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association. The high principles of the United Nations, universal human rights, and justice guided the efforts of the Afghans. We remind the Taliban of its obligations to observe and respect universal human rights as well as Afghanistan's international human rights obligations and duty to the Rule of Law’.

IBAHRI Co-chair and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, commented: ‘We are gravely concerned about colleagues who are at risk of reprisal for carrying out their duties as lawyers and we call for all measures to be taken to ensure that they, as well as human rights defenders and media professionals, inter alia, are allowed to carry out their legitimate professional activities without fear of intimidation, harassment or interference, in accordance with international human rights standards and the Rule of Law. Also, it is essential that the international community does not lose sight of women and girls who are often at the greatest risk of exploitation in situations of crisis. Already there are reports of forced marriages of young girls. The Taliban’s pledge to include women in government must come to pass’.

On 15 August 2021, Taliban forces entered Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city, and seized control of the government following the start of the withdrawal of US troops on 1 May 2021 from a 20-year war with the Taliban. Months of violence between Taliban and Afghan government forces ensued, with reports of the Taliban targeting and killing civilians.  A mass exodus of Afghans resulted.

The IBA and IBAHRI support the calls to action by national, regional and international non-governmental organisations and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and concurs with the remarks the UN Secretary-General António Guterres made to the Security Council: ‘We cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan.’


Notes to the Editor

  1. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
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