Afghanistan: IBAHRI condemns killings and calls for better protection of girls and women

Tuesday 18 May 2021

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the killing of dozens of schoolgirls in West Kabul, Afghanistan, by targeted explosive blasts and calls on the Afghan government to provide better protection for girls and women. The three explosions outside the Sayed Ul-Shuhada school resulted in more than 80 civilian deaths.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996–2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG commented: ‘The IBAHRI unequivocally condemns the brutal attack on children leaving school for the day. With the majority of the 89 civilians killed or injured being girls or women from the Shia Hazara community, the IBAHRI urges the Afghan government to recognise such attacks as part of a dangerous amalgam of religious extremism coupled with ever-increasing constrictions of the rights of girls and women, and to work to afford better protection for girls and women. This intersection of misogyny and religious hatred is an especially lethal combination that must be halted.’

Mr Kirby added: ‘In addition to the attacks on civilians being morally reprehensible, the intentional targeting of civilians is a grave violation of international humanitarian law for which the perpetrators of these abhorrent and such cowardly acts should be prosecuted to the full extent of local law and in accordance with international law.’

On 8 May 2021, the detonation of a car bomb outside Kabul’s Sayed Ul-Shuhada school, in Dasht-e-Barchi, was followed by explosions from two improvised explosive devices. More than 80 civilians were killed, largely schoolgirls, and more than 140 were wounded in the attacks. No group or individual has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood, located in the western region of the capital, is home to many members of Afghanistan's Hazara ethnic minority. A largely Shiite group, they have been the frequent target of Sunni militants, namely Islamic State (IS) loyalists. IS has previously claimed responsibility for similar targeted attacks against Shia Muslims in the region, including the bombing of an education centre in October 2020 that killed more than 30 children and young adults.

Labelled ‘a crime against humanity’ by the Presidential Palace, the 8 May targeted attacks happened against a backdrop of mounting violence against civilians, especially girls and women. Between October 2020 and May 2021, there have been more than 188 casualties across Afghanistan. The attacks on the schoolgirls follow the assassination of two female Supreme Court judges in Afghanistan, as well as the shooting of three female media workers in recent months and occurred just days ahead of the one-year anniversary of the massacre of 24 mothers, infants and a midwife in the maternity ward of the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital on 12 May 2020.

These attacks depict a systematic assault on the rights of women and girls, particularly to education in a state where commentators are concerned will intensify with the withdrawal of all United States troops by 11 September 2021.

IBAHRI Co-chair and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, commented: ‘The violent attack against the schoolgirls is indicative of a wider culture of repression and oppression of women and girls that has been part of the Afghan social order for several decades. The Afghan government must intervene to change the culture that leads to these relentless and merciless attacks on girls and women. International instruments must be better promoted to Afghan society as a whole, including Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states “[e]veryone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.”’

Ms Ramberg added: ‘Women’s rights activists in Afghanistan have been indispensable to the defence and protection of women and their fundamental rights in the past two decades, but their efforts can only go so far when met with bombings, violence and death. The IBAHRI extends its condemnation of the Sayeed-Ul-Shuhada school attacks to all violent attacks against civilians in Afghanistan.’


Notes to the Editor

  1. 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.
  2. Find the IBAHRI (@IBAHRI) on social media here:
  3. 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.

    The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.

  4. Find the IBA (@IBAnews) on social media here:

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