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World urged not to forget Afghanistan one year into Taliban rule

Ruth Green, IBA Multimedia JournalistThursday 25 August 2022

A year on from the Taliban’s seizure of power, the plight of the Afghan population has worsened dramatically. Human rights, particularly of women and girls, have steadily been eroded. The UN estimates that 95 per cent of the population don’t have enough food to survive.

Following the takeover, the world’s Afghan refugee population swelled as thousands escaped overland to Pakistan and hundreds were evacuated to countries like Greece. Many refugees, mostly women and children, have relocated to third countries, but others are still waiting to resettle.

Fawzia Amini, a senior appeal court judge and head of the Elimination of Violence Against Women Court in Kabul Province, was one of more than a dozen female Afghan judges evacuated to the UK in 2021 after spending several months in hiding.

Amini came to the UK with her husband – himself a former prosecutor in Afghanistan – and their four daughters. They are among the 9,500 individuals still being housed by the UK Home Office in hotels temporarily while they wait for permanent accommodation.

She says the day the Taliban toppled Kabul was ‘the darkest time’ in her life. ‘They destroyed everything – our jobs, our bank accounts – all our lives changed,’ she says. ‘All people now are very poor: they don't have good education, they don't have jobs and they don't have safety.’

As the Taliban regime continues to oppress women in her homeland, Amini has become a strong advocate for Afghan women’s rights, earning her the prestigious Lantos Human Rights Prize in 2021. Looking back at the past year’s events, she’s more concerned than ever about the direction the country is taking. ‘All women of Afghanistan are vulnerable now because they’ve lost their basic or fundamental rights,’ she says. ‘I am very worried about women, about my colleagues, especially women judges, because they remain in Afghanistan and they need everything – they need a job, they need a salary, they need an education.’

The very real security risks facing female members of the Afghan judiciary were already apparent in January 2021 when two female Supreme Court judges were shot dead in Kabul. Once the Taliban seized the capital, it was clear the situation facing female judges would only continue to deteriorate, says the Honourable Mrs Justice Maura McGowan, a judge of the High Court of England and Wales.

All women of Afghanistan are vulnerable now because they’ve lost their basic or fundamental rights

Fawzia Amini
Senior appeal court judge, Afghanistan

‘One of the things that happened very early on was that a lot of prisoners were released,’ she says. ‘Amongst those prisoners were people that had been imprisoned by some of the women judges. It wasn't just the fact that they wanted to get back at the person who put them in prison. They wanted to get back at a woman who'd had the effrontery to put them in prison.’

McGowan was one of the UK judges who helped Amini and other Afghan female judges find refuge in the UK as part of joint efforts coordinated by the UK Association of Women Judges, the IBA and the International Association of Women Judges. She’s found it difficult to watch the rollback of women’s rights and says ongoing support to Afghan refugees is still sorely needed. ‘In the early days, it was about fundraising to get flights off the ground in Kabul and take people out to places of safety,’ she says. ‘It's not that immediate, urgent pressure now, but it is the continuing awareness to make sure that people realise there's a whole group of people displaced that need all the help and support that we can give them.’

Karl Waheed, founder of Karl Waheed Advocats in Paris and Chair of the IBA Immigration and Nationality Law Committee, agrees the plight of Afghans must not be forgotten. ‘As long as the Afghans on the forced migration routes and those who needed to be evacuated from Afghanistan were under the lights of the media, there was pressure on the US and its allies to find a solution,’ he says. As media interest has faded, Waheed believes it’s imperative that the international community continues to focus on helping Afghans ‘still at risk’.

Lord Peter Goldsmith QC, former UK Attorney General, advocated for the UK government to prioritise evacuating Afghan female judges. He says global powers have a responsibility to help. ‘We promised to help bring Afghanistan out of the Middle Ages, to give rights to women and let girls have education and then this all stopped,’ he says. ‘The problem is that there are so many other issues in the world, including Ukraine and Russia, but this continues to be a problem which…the world has to deal with.’

The security situation continues to worsen in Afghanistan. A blast at a mosque in Kabul on 17 August was the latest in a series of bombings that have killed and injured more than 250 Afghan civilians in recent weeks.

At the end of July, the US announced it had killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike in Afghanistan. The Taliban said the strike violated the 2020 US-Taliban peace deal, but US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban had breached the agreement and ‘repeated assurances to the world that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists to threaten the security of other countries.’

Dr Antonio Giustozzi, an expert on Islamic insurgency, served with the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan from 2003-4. As global outrage continues over the Taliban’s mistreatment of women and girls, he believes the country’s human rights and security situations will not improve until the Taliban’s internal factions can reach a consensus on how the regime should rule. ‘In reality, all these discussions are pointless because the Taliban don’t know themselves exactly what system they're going to implement,’ he says. ‘The main issue now is the struggle within the Taliban. Until that is resolved, one way or another, it won't be clear where Afghanistan is going.’

Image credit: Lal Wa Sarjangal, Ghor Province in Central Afghanistan. Jonathon Wilson/AdobeStock.com

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