The failure by global powers to prevent the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is unforgivable, agrees Anne Ramberg, Co-Chair of the IBA’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and former Secretary-General of the Swedish Bar Association. ‘The disgraceful and irresponsible departure of the US and its allies, including my own country, is a capitulation of moral duty,’ she says. ‘Grave concern is warranted. Women, girls, children, journalists, legal practitioners, judges and human rights activists are at risk. It is a devastating situation for everyone who shares a belief in democracy, the rule of law and protection of human rights.’
The plight of the judiciary was highlighted in a recent statement issued by the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ), which warned that some 250 female Afghan judges were at a very real risk of being ‘targeted for assassination’ following the murder of two female Supreme Court judges in the country in January.
Goldsmith, a former IBA Council Member and IBAHRI Co-Chair and now a member of the House of Lords, is one of several leading voices that successfully campaigned for the UK government to include the judges under the UK’s Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) scheme, which was established in April to assist current and former Afghan civilians employed by the UK government.
Many of the judges received training in the UK. Goldsmith says they deserve protection and safe evacuation because of the dangers they face simply for doing their jobs. ‘It's important to understand the special vulnerability and special risk that these women face,’ he says. ‘They're targeted, not just because they are women acting openly as judges, but the idea that they would be actually sitting in judgment over men is an outrage to the Taliban. What's more, these women were dealing with some of the most difficult cases – terrorism cases, drug cases, serious criminal cases – so they would have sentenced these Taliban members to imprisonment and so the likelihood of reprisals and revenge is extremely high.’
Goldsmith says it’s also a stark reminder that every single case matters: ‘Sometimes one can forget that when faced with a large geopolitical situation, but if we've succeeded in getting just one person to safety, it will have been worthwhile. Let's hope we've done a lot better than that.’
It’s unclear how many judges have been evacuated to the UK or other countries, but the threats against them in Afghanistan are undeniable. Rohullah Qarizada, the President of the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (AIBA), told Global Insight that women did not even have ‘basic legal and human rights’ under the previous Taliban regime and there was no expectation this would change under the new leadership: ‘Things are unclear, but it seems that women will not be allowed to practise the law.’
This would be devastating for the legal profession in Afghanistan, says Phillip Tahmindjis, former Director of the IBA’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), who was instrumental in helping set up the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (AIBA) as the country’s first bar association in 2008.
Today, AIBA has more than 2,500 registered lawyers. Tahmindjis says the time taken to consult directly with local lawyers over a four-year period was crucial for the advancement of the legal profession in the country. ‘It meant we were one of the first organisations that went into Afghanistan to ask the Afghans what they thought they wanted, rather than telling them what we thought they needed,’ he says.