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Hold Taliban to promises on women – IBA
Pic: Mostafa Meraji on UnSplash

19 Aug 2021 / human rights Print

Hold Taliban to promises on women – IBA

The International Bar Association (IBA), along with its human-rights arm IBAHRI, have called on the international community to “hold the Taliban to its promises”.

A statement from the international lawyers’ body expressed “grave concern” about the situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban seized control last weekend.

The IBA referred to the Taliban’s first official news conference, where its spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the group wanted peace, and would respect women’s rights “within our religious framework”.

A separate statement from the Law Society of England and Wales called on the British government to support judges, other legal professionals, and human-rights defenders working in Afghanistan.

UN special envoy

The IBA and IBAHRI called for “swifter and better” coordinated action by states in opening up more routes to safe havens, and expediting visas for the transfer and resettlement of Afghans – including members of the judiciary, legal professionals, human rights defenders, non-governmental organisation workers, journalists and media workers.

“Also, we call for the establishment of a United Nations special envoy on Afghanistan, for the monitoring of civilians killed, and human-rights breaches,” said Sternford Moyo (IBA President).

‘Vague’ language'

Dr Mark Ellis (IBA Executive Director) described the Taliban’s language on women’s rights as “vague”, and said that it was likely that different provinces would have their own interpretations of this and other guarantees.

The IBA and IBAHRI are particularly concerned about those working for the justice system, saying that they may now face risk of persecution.

“These judges who have tried and sentenced members of the Taliban are reported to be at particular risk, because to the Taliban it is generally unacceptable for women to sit in judgment over men,” the bodies said.

‘Cause for alarm’

The Law Society of England and Wales also said that it was particularly concerned about around 270 women judges and 170 women lawyers.

President I Stephanie Boyce said: “The situation of legal professionals and those working in the Afghan justice system more generally is increasingly a cause for alarm. 

“Legal professionals in Afghanistan have made invaluable contributions by promoting the rule of law and safeguarding fundamental freedoms. They deserve our utmost respect and support.

“The UK government’s new Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme is welcomed, but we are concerned that the target to offer sanctuary in the UK to Afghans in the first year of the scheme will be insufficient to protect all those in imminent danger. We call on the government to ensure the scheme moves at a faster pace.”

Plea for help

Meanwhile, a frightened Afghan judge has contacted the Bar Council of England and Wales pleading for more help, amid fears judges will be killed by prisoners freed by the Taliban.

In the email, the judge says: “The situation in Afghanistan is gravely dangerous for judges. We live hidden, there is not any safe route to escape, and move to another country. The cities are filled with the soldiers of the Taliban, who are searching houses for government officials. Along with the fear of losing life to the Taliban, I am currently horrified of being killed by the convicted criminals who, with the help of the Taliban, broke jails and [set] free. Media is limited, social media is filled with false, frightening, and contradicting content. Fearing of losing the internet is pervasive and legit.

“I am writing this to extend my gratitude, and encourage you to put more effort into the protection of judges and advocating for considering judges as the most vulnerable officials in Afghanistan at the current time. I hope you share efforts with the government of the UK, other countries' governments, international organizations bar associations, judge's associations, and others in helping judges evacuate from Afghanistan and refuge to a safe country.

“As I may lose internet in the coming hours or days, if anything you can do to offer a helping hand with the vulnerable judges, in advocacy, document preparation, or legal aid, please let me be informed.”

In an emergency parliamentary debate on Afghanistan in the House of Commons yesterday (17 August), Conservative MP Sir Bob Neill, chair of the Commons justice committee, told a packed chamber that he had been contacted by judges’ families.

“Judges, lawyers and prosecutors – part of the attempt to build a civilised society – were already being targeted for assassination even before the Taliban swept into power. They and their families now have to be in hiding. We have to help them,” he said.

The Bar Standards Board said it was aware of barristers seeking to give pro bono assistance to Afghan nationals in need of urgent immigration advice, the Law Society Gazette of England and Wales reports.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland