Editorial - Global Insight October/November 2021

James Lewis, IBA Director of ContentTuesday 5 October 2021

As well as the usual wide-ranging coverage of major issues looming large on the international agenda – including the climate crisis (see feature, How the climate crisis is changing the legal profession) and the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, with news analysis articles assessing how law firms are faring in Europe and Asia, and how the pandemic has heightened calls for an international court to tackle grand corruption – this edition of Global Insight gives particular attention to the crisis unfolding as a result of the sudden withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

The IBA has a long and distinguished track record in Afghanistan. The Association raised considerable funds and worked tirelessly to promote rule of law in the country and support an independent legal profession, with the IBA’s Human Rights Institute facilitating the establishment of an independent Afghan Bar in 2008. This ranks among the proudest achievements for the Association, so it’s with some strength of feeling that current IBA President Sternford Moyo, a former Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute, speaks on the current crisis unfolding in the country (see IBA and IBAHRI react to Taliban takeover of Afghanistan).

‘Beyond being horrified by the shocking scenes of the sheer desperation of many of Afghanistan’s citizens attempting to flee their homeland,’ he says, ‘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.’ Our ongoing coverage of Afghanistan continues to monitor the situation and can be viewed on the IBA’s website and some of it is included in this edition.

Our excellent cover feature (Protecting Afghanistan’s refugees) focuses on the mass exodus prompted by the fall of the country to Taliban forces that Moyo alludes to. Afghanistan fell to the Taliban just weeks after the 70th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the only global legally binding agreement for the international protection of refugees. But at the point of the 70th anniversary, the Convention and related mechanisms are faltering in the face of challenges that were not predicted in the 1950s, such as protracted conflicts and environmental migration due to climate breakdown, as well as shifts in international affairs.

As ever, it’s in times of crisis that glaring weaknesses in the existing systems are highlighted. Western governments promise to protect and evacuate Afghan allies, who may face reprisals from the Taliban, and have offered refugee resettlement places for other vulnerable Afghans. But this contrasts starkly with the dominant approach taken towards asylum seekers, even those from Afghanistan, before the withdrawal. In 2020, the number of forcibly displaced people reached a record high of 82.4 million, 26.4 million of whom are refugees entitled to the Convention’s protection, according to the UNHCR. Yet, the rights of refugees and asylum seekers are being chiselled away by states seeking to dodge obligations amid a rising tide of populist sentiment. This has to change.

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