In the weeks before the deadline of August 31, hundreds of people were evacuated from Afghanistan. The evacuation, as challenging as it was, was additionally affected by bombing that left hundreds of people dead or injured, and resulted in the premature termination of some evacuation efforts. Hundreds of people who wish to leave remained in Afghanistan and now fear for their lives. Among them are generations of human rights defenders including judges, lawyers, journalists, human rights activists, those who spent years working to make Afghanistan a country that affirms and protects the human rights of all. Now that the Taliban has taken over, they feel that a target has been placed on their back and that it is a matter of time before the Taliban will knock on their doors. All those wishing to leave the country should be allowed to do so. However, opportunities are very limited.
Shortly before the August deadline, the Taliban stated that foreigners wishing to leave would be able to do so but the Taliban was very clear that they wanted Afghan talents to remain home and “work in their own specialist areas.”
However, this promise should not be taken at face value. The Taliban do not mean all talents. Female talents are most likely to be confined to their homes. Indeed, shortly after the takeover, the Taliban proclaimed that all female workers were to stay home, for the time being, as justified by security situation. Subsequently, universities received communique that they should segregate female and male students and continue education separately. To name only a few examples.
The threat faced by human rights defenders is real. Among human rights defenders, female lawyers and judges are at particular risk. Not only because of their sex and daring to have high-flying careers. No. It is because many of them were involved in the trials of Taliban fighters. Now that prisoners are being released, including those who they put in jail, they have a constant target on their backs. Women in any position of power, whether judges, lawyers, politicians, who are spared, would be confined to their homes and dependant on a male escort to leave the house.
Women protesting against the over-night decline of women’s rights in the country are facing Taliban fighters using whips to silent them.
Journalists, especially those shedding light on the dire situation in the country, are at risk as well. Two journalists from the Kabul-based media outlet Etilaat-e Roz, Taqi Daryabi and Nemat Naqdi, were reportedly detained and attacked for covering a women’s protest.
Human rights defenders in all shape and forms are seen as the enemy of the Taliban because they fight for what the Taliban do not agree with – human rights.
In the U.K., Baroness Kennedy QC, a distinguished barrister and director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, took on the challenge to assist the human rights defenders in Afghanistan. As she stated “I am working with a large team of pro-bono lawyers in the United Kingdom and across the world to save the brave female Judges, lawyers, women’s rights activists, and human rights defenders. They are in immense danger and need help immediately.” She called upon the international community to provide them with help.
What can be done? Resettlement. Many human rights defenders will not be able to stay in Afghanistan as staying means certain death. As such, they need resettlement to a safe country. However, currently, very few countries are willing to come forward and take them in. As such we run the risk that a whole generation of Afghan human rights defenders may perish at the hands of the Taliban. If they do, a brighter future for Afghanistan will not be achieved in our lifetimes.