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Plea for lawyers to aid displaced Afghan female judges
Mr Justice David Barniville Pic: RollingNews.ie

18 Nov 2021 / human rights Print

Plea for lawyers to give aid to displaced Afghan judges

A renewed plea for funds to help support displaced Afghan judiciary has been issued to the legal profession in Ireland.

The Irish justice community has worked for the safe passage and protection for Afghan female judges and their families whose arrival in Ireland is imminent.

Ireland has granted refugee status to ten Afghan female judges and their families, two of whom have arrived. Eight more families, many with small children, have been extracted to safety and will arrive in Ireland shortly.

Launching the initiative recently, President of the Association of Judges of Ireland (AJI), Mr Justice David Barniville said: “I am asking all judges and members of the legal community in Ireland to respond to this call for support for our Afghan judicial colleagues.”

The situation of female legal professionals in particular, judges and lawyers, is precarious under the Taliban regime.

Broad coalition

In solidarity with Afghan judicial and lawyer colleagues, a broad coalition is sending out the plea for funds. It consists of:

  • Irish Government,
  • Law Society of Ireland,
  • Bar of Ireland,
  • Association of Judges of Ireland,
  • Irish Rule of Law International, and,
  • International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ).

The group is inviting all members of the legal community to assist, as part of a collaborative, justice sector-wide effort, to support the safe transition to and settlement in Ireland of the displaced Afghan judiciary.

In addition to offers of housing or collegial assistance, the most pressing need is for funding – to support Afghan colleagues in establishing themselves in Ireland, and contributing to the cost of food, accommodation, health and social care.

Any contribution, no matter how small can be made directly at the above link. 

This initiative is being overseen by a small group composed of representatives of the judiciary, led by the IAWJ and the AJI, the Law Society of Ireland, the Bar of Ireland, and the wider justice sector in Ireland, supported by the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and the Department of Justice.

An Afghan judge has given her account of fleeing her country, but must  remain anonymous in order to protect her identity and the safety of her family who remain in Afghanistan.

“My past is the past of all Afghan women judges,” she said, describing the many years of study, in a country where education for women was scarce and hard-won.

Prejudice

Her education was followed by pursuit of a career as a judge in which the fight to gain public trust and the battle against gender prejudice were attended by routine death threats from members of the Taliban.

These threats increased in the months leading up to the fall of the country, with the killing of two female judges outside their homes in Kabul held up as proof that the threats were not idly made.

As the Taliban began taking one province after another, the judge continued her judicial duties.

On the morning of what would become her last day in court, she hugged her three small children goodbye, leaving them in the care of her mother, fearing she might never see them again. 

A few hours later, her husband called and then her mother called, both begging her to leave court because of the approach of the Taliban.

She refused and continued with her duties until the court security came to her and told her they had word the Taliban were planning to enter the courthouse.

Running in terror

When she left the building, she saw people running in terror.

She, her husband and three pre-school age children fled to Kabul which they thought would resist the Taliban takeover.

The Taliban began searching building by building for “infidels” for whom they decreed the death sentence.

Female judges were considered infidels because they sat in judgment of men.

As an additional threat, the Taliban freed all the jailed prisoners, many of whom were seeking revenge on the judges who sentenced them.

The family were forced to go on the run.

“I had to live in hiding. Not only me but all my colleagues were in my situation.

“When a colleague's cell phone was off, I was worried that she might have fallen into the hands of the Taliban and maybe the Taliban killed her. I was just breathing, but in fact I had become a corpse, seeing the whole world in darkness.” 

Fraught

After a fraught journey they arrived in Kabul at midnight to find that there were no hotel rooms. Eventually they were given shelter by a shopkeeper in the basement of his shop. The next day they found a hotel room, but four days later Kabul fell.

Due to the efforts of the IAWJ, with whom this judge and her female colleagues were in continuing contact, she and her family were extracted to a safe haven country from which they entered Ireland under the IRPP as refugees. 

The judge is anxious to retrain and begin giving back to this country.

Meanwhile, the family is making the most of the services offered to them toward assimilation: the children are meeting Irish children in a local childcare programme and the judge and her husband are engaged in lessons to improve their spoken English.

Emergency accommodation

This judge and her family are currently housed in emergency accommodations, awaiting a home where they can begin their new life.

“I will love Ireland as much as I love my country, because when I was not safe, this country sheltered me to live in security,” she said.

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