Respect for fundamental rights and freedoms by the de facto authorities in Afghanistan is critical to ensuring stability in the country, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Tuesday in Geneva.
Briefing the UN Human Rights Council, Nada Al-Nashif detailed how the profound humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is threatening basic rights, with women, girls, and civil society among those most affected.
Dignity or deprivation
“How the de facto authorities – indeed, and the international community – address the drastic economic and humanitarian crises in the country will determine Afghans’ enjoyment of human rights, now and into the future,” she said.
“They will mark the difference between potential lives of dignity and well-being – or accelerating deprivation, injustice and tragic loss of life.”
Despite a general amnesty by the Taliban, announced in August, her office has received “credible allegations” of more than 100 killings of former Afghan national security forces and others associated with the former Government.
At least 72 killings were attributed to the Taliban, and in several cases the bodies were publicly displayed.
Justice on lockdown
Furthermore, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has been unable to operate since August, while the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association faces a loss of independence as the de facto authorities now administer its activities under the de facto Ministry of Justice.
“The safety of Afghan judges, prosecutors, and lawyers – particularly women legal professionals – is a matter for particular alarm,” Ms. Al-Nashif added. “Many are currently in hiding for fear of retribution, including from convicted prisoners who were freed by the de facto authorities, notably men convicted of gender-based violence.”
Ms. Al-Nashif stressed that upholding human rights is critical for Afghanistan to move forward.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated markedly since the Taliban toppled Kabul on 15 August, with lawyers and judges increasingly under threat. The legal profession came under a renewed attack 100 days later as Taliban forces stormed the offices of the country’s only bar association and detained and threatened its members and staff.
The attack on the offices of the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (AIBA) took place during an extraordinary meeting of AIBA’s Leadership Council on 23 November. Najla Raheel, AIBA’s Vice-President, was attending the meeting virtually when the line went dead. She learned later that armed Taliban had entered the building, closed the offices, tore down nameplates and demanded her colleagues hand over all of AIBA’s goods and documents. ‘We built the Association with the blood of our hearts,’ she told Global Insight. ‘Now my colleagues, who include women, are in a very bad situation. The Taliban may harm them and their families at any moment.’
Raheel and AIBA President, Ruhullah Qarizada, are two of the AIBA Executive team that have managed to flee Afghanistan with their families. The Taliban announced that the AIBA will be merged with the Ministry of Justice and has appointed one of its own leaders as president, effectively stripping the association of any independence.
Taliban leaders have swiftly shut down local protests and press conferences condemning AIBA’s takeover. Qarizada is particularly concerned that the Taliban has access to AIBA’s bank account and its database, which contains details of more than 2,500 registered lawyers. ‘In this database everything is written about these lawyers – their family members, their addresses, everything,’ he says. ‘The Taliban should not access that database because it will put lawyers’ lives in more danger.’
On 30 November the IBA sent a letter to UN Secretary General António Guterres highlighting its concerns over the Taliban’s seizure of AIBA’s database, bank account and its continued moves to compromise the independence of the country’s legal profession.
The AIBA was established in 2008 after the IBA raised considerable funds and worked jointly with local Afghan lawyers to create Afghanistan’s first bar association. ‘What they accomplished and their mission showcased the new Afghanistan at the time and particularly focused on the rule of law, an independent judiciary and women’s rights,’ says Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the IBA. ‘When the Taliban took over, it was clear to me that the Afghan Independent Bar Association was not only in jeopardy, but it would probably cease to exist.’
The Taliban doesn’t respect the rule of law, lawyers or people
Ruhullah Qarizada President, Afghanistan Independent Bar Association
This prompted the IBA to embark on fundraising and evacuation efforts in conjunction with international partners to help AIBA’s leadership leave Kabul. $20,000 has been donated so far by several bar associations, but Ellis continues to push for IBA members to provide more financial support.
These efforts complement an intense campaign to evacuate Afghan female judges, lawyers and other vulnerable individuals at risk, including journalists and human rights defenders. Between 30 September and 24 October, the IBA team has worked with international and domestic partners to evacuate close to 500 people, including 103 women and their families, to Greece.
Many families remain in Greece awaiting destinations for onward travel. A number will receive safe passage to Iceland, Ireland, Australia, USA, New Zealand, the UK and Germany, but 70 families have still not been allocated a permanent residence. They have been housed in temporary accommodation thanks to a funding drive by the IBA’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and generous donations from external partners such as Airbnb. IBAHRI continues to assist them in their resettlement process.
With a constantly evolving and fast-paced news agenda, human rights issues do not always make the front page. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) is committed to highlighting human rights abuses across the world and holding those accountable to justice. At the 48th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC48), the IBAHRI joined other non-governmental organisations in statements condemning international human rights violations, with a particular focus on lawyers under attack, facing arbitrary detention or suppression of their professional activities.
Afghanistan: Since the Taliban takeover of the country in August 2021, gross and systematic human rights violations continue to occur in Afghanistan, including attacks against female lawyers and judges. In partnership with a number of other NGOs, the IBAHRI released a joint open appeal to UN Member States to urge the adoption of a resolution creating a Fact-Finding Mission, or other independent investigative mechanism, for Afghanistan. The IBAHRI welcomes the new agreement of the Human Rights Council (HRC) to appoint a special rapporteur on Afghanistan to probe human rights violations by parties to the conflict, including the Taliban, as an important first step towards achieving oversight, accountability, justice and reparation for the ongoing crisis.
Belarus: The legal profession in Belarus is under threat, with attacks against lawyers on the rise. Most recently, Maxim Znak, lawyer for a former candidate for the Belarusian Presidency, was sentenced to a ten-year prison term following a closed-door trial. During the UN Interactive Dialogue the IBAHRI delivered an oral statement on behalf of several NGOs on the human rights situation in Belarus. The IBAHRI condemned the deterioration of the situation on the ground and stressed that the HRC must take action to prevent a further decline. The IBAHRI would welcome full support for the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus through adequate funding, as well as an examination of the situation by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The ICJ today urged the UN Human Rights Council to call on Ukrainian authorities to uphold judicial independence and protect lawyers under attack for their work during the interactive dialogue with the Deputy High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Ukraine.
The statement reads as follows:
The International Commission of Jurists deplores the political interference with judicial independence in Ukraine.
Despite the annulment by the Supreme Court of the Presidential Decree removing the President of the Constitutional Court from his post, Justice Olexandr Tupytskyi has not been reinstated.
The ICJ considers that the presidential decrees that removed Constitutional Court Justices Oleksandr Tupytskyi and Oleksandr Kasminin, outside of the existing procedure, violate the obligation to uphold the independence of the judiciary.
The ICJ is concerned at cases of unwarranted interference with the work and independence of lawyers, in particular searches and arrests of lawyers. From April to June 2021 more than 110 such cases were reported. In 2020, the ICJ identified a pattern of threats, harassment and other attacks on lawyers in Ukraine, including those who defend human rights.
The mobilisation of support for Afghans has begun in Luxembourg, with the Bar Association gathering asylum specialists and refugee associations calling on the government.
On Thursday 19 August, a meeting was held in the presence of Luxembourg ombudsperson Claudia Monti, outgoing president of the Luxembourg Bar Association François Kremer and ten lawyers specialising in international protection, following the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan a few days earlier. “The initiative comes from an exchange I had with Claudia Monti at the beginning of the week, where we thought of bringing together several members of the bar to initiate a discussion on the dramatic situation in which Afghanistan has been sinking for the last few days,” explains Franck Greff, lawyer and president of the immigration and international protection commission of the Luxembourg Bar.
The aim, says Greff, is to “pool our forces in order to have the most uniform discourse possible with regard to both the Directorate of Immigration and the administrative courts. In this context, the commission I chair is working on the subject so that a document will soon be issued by the bar, intended for all our colleagues.” A basic text is already being drafted on the current situation in Afghanistan. It will compile a maximum of relevant information to be shared in order to facilitate the work of lawyers who defend the cases of Afghan applicants for international protection.
“What does the ministry intend to do for these people?”
Greff, who specialises in international protection and immigration, has himself been contacted by a dozen of his clients since the beginning of the week in view of the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan, and in Kabul in particular. “Some of them have, for example, had their applications for international protection refused by the Directorate of Immigration and have lodged an appeal with the administrative courts. They are wondering what initiatives we will be able to take.”
The ambition is thus, among other things, to re-evaluate all the files in the light of the current situation in Afghanistan. “This is the great challenge that’s before us now,” continues Greff. “The lawyers hope that the actions they will be able to carry out will enable favourable solutions for all Afghans who are currently on national territory, both those who are in proceedings before the Directorate of Immigration and those who are in litigation before the administrative courts, without forgetting the people who have been rejected. We are going to work for everyone.”
In the fall of 2021, the UN Human Rights Committee will review Azerbaijan’s compliance with its international human rights obligations, and more in particular the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Lawyers for Lawyers has taken the opportunity to file a submission on the list of issues prior to reporting to inform the Committee about the situation of lawyers in Azerbaijan.
The submission highlights four main issues: harassment and criminal prosecution of lawyers, disbarment and other disciplinary measures on improper grounds, access to a lawyer, and violations of freedom of expression of lawyers.
Lawyers for Lawyers has long been concerned about attempts to harass and disrupt the work of lawyers who work on cases that engage human rights or represent persons perceived to be critics of the Azerbaijani authorities and have been targeted solely because they are carrying out their professional activities.
We have reported on the cases of multiple lawyers who have faced administrative harassment on improper grounds. The use of disciplinary measures by the Azerbaijani Bar Association (ABA) to retaliate against lawyers for their human rights or professional activities has been a problem for years.
Furthermore, we are concerned about the low number of lawyers in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has among the lowest number of lawyers for every 100,000 in habitants compared to other European countries. This is due to a change in legislation in 2017, which excluded lawyers from representing individuals in criminal cases who were not a member of the ABA. Since 2018, the number of lawyers who are members of the ABA has increased, but still the number of lawyers in Azerbaijan is not sufficient to ensure everyone’s right of access to an independent lawyer of their own choice.
Gen. Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), has ordered a thorough investigation on the assassination of a female lawyer and her husband who were shot by a sniper outside their house in Davao City.
Eleazar said the use of sniper in the killing of Hilda Mahinay-Sapie and her husband Muhaimen Mohammad Sapie on July 14 was an indication that it was well-planned.
It was the female lawyer who was first shot after she was asked to check on her vehicle. Her husband was also shot dead when he went out to check on her wife who was then slumped in front of their house.
“It was well-planned that it why we are focusing on all the possible motive of the attack and the people who planned this incident,” said Eleazar.
Authorities said the couple just finished their radio program when the crime happened.
Eleazar expressed confidence that this case would be resolved in no time.
“In the meantime, let us wait for the result of the investigation. I am confident that this will be resolved,” said Eleazar.
The Davao City police has said they are looking at all possible angles for the crime, including the cases on land disputes which were handled by the victims.
Authorities already obtained a CCTV footage which could be of help in the investigation.
The National Bureau of Investigation and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines inked a deal last week to extend assistance to, and protect, members of the Judiciary who experience threats and harassment.
The NBI, in a statement, said its OIC-Director Eric Distor and IBP president Domingo Egon Cayosa signed a Memorandum of Agreement to strengthen coordination and communication between the agency and the IBP’s chapter organizations.
The IBP is the national organization for Philippine lawyers.
The bureau said both parties agreed to maintain direct lines between their leaderships for faster coordination and to help prevent attacks on lawyers. The agreement also covers data sharing between the NBI and IBP.
This comes nearly three months since the IBP and the Philippine National Police signed a separate MOA to address attacks on members of the legal profession. Under the agreement, the PNP will help lawyers enhance their skills and knowledge in protecting themselves through proper use of firearms.
In its accord with the NBI, the bureau “will provide timely assistance to lawyers, prosecutors and magistrates in distress and extend appropriate security and protection in cases of threats or hazards in the performance of their duties and functions as may be allowed by law and regulations.”
The NBI will also expedite and prioritize probes into incidents or cases of violence against members of the legal profession.
Human Rights House Foundation has raised the situation for legal professionals in Azerbijan and Belarus during the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council. The statement was released on the sidelines of the Interactive Dialogue under Item 3, and in response to the Special Rapporteur on the independence of Judges & Lawyer’s report.
We agree with the Special Rapporteur that justice systems have been affected in a number of countries, including through threats or attacks against human rights lawyers.
Prior to the onset of the pandemic, the Azerbaijani lawyer Fuad Aghayev, argued that Azerbaijan “employs several methods to pressure human rights lawyers… It has established political bias in the admission process to the Bar, and suspended or disbarred human rights lawyers”. These continue to be employed in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan has exploited the pandemic to increase pressure on human rights lawyers. It has used the pandemic to justify insufficient implementation of European Court of Human Rights judgements. In addition, human rights lawyers continue to be harassed and disbarred. In 2020, Azerbaijani Bar Association reprimanded human rights lawyer Javad Javadov for raising a legitimate concern about alleged ill-treatment of his client linked to Covid-19 measures.
In 2021 Shahla Humbatova, one of the handful offew independent human rights lawyers left in the country was disbarred and then reinstated after major international pressure.
A dozen of lawyers remain unlawfully disbarred in Azerbaijan, including human rights lawyers Alaif Hasanov and Khalid Baghirov. Moreover, just like prominent lawyers Intigam Aliyev and Annaghi Hajibeyli, several of the younger human rights lawyers are arbitrarily precluded from joining the Bar Association.
Belarus, in the midst of its own human rights crisis, has carried out numerous disbarments in recent months.
Liudmila Kazak is a prominent Belarusian lawyer with over 20 years defending human rights cases, including many cases involving human rights defenders. She was sentenced and fined for allegedly participating in peaceful protests in September 2020 and was subsequently disbarred in February this year. She is one of many such cases.
The ICJ joined today seven other organisation in a statement before the UN Human Rights Council expressing concern at the systematic human rights violation and the persistent impunity in the Philippines and calling for more accountability.
The joint statement delivered by FORUM ASIA reads as follows:
Nearly six months since its adoption, Human Rights Council resolution 45/33 offering technical assistance to the Philippines has proven to be utterly insufficient to address the systematic human rights violations and persistent impunity documented in the High Commissioner’s report. The Philippine Government’s policies and actions since the Resolution’s adoption have been completely at odds with the commitments outlined in it.
Extrajudicial killings in the so-called ‘war on drugs’ have continued. To date, the Government has made no tangible progress towards accountability against those most responsible for such killings. In December 2020, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC found that there is “reasonable basis to believe that the crimes against humanity” of murder, torture, the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm, and other inhumane acts were committed between at least 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019.
Human rights defenders pursuing legitimate work, especially those who advocate for international accountability, including lawyers, continue to be attacked and accused of belonging to terrorist groups. Rights defenders continue to be arrested and jailed. The draconian Anti-terrorism Act, passed last year, exacerbates risks to defenders. The killing of nine human rights defenders and activists on 7 March, two days after President Duterte ordered the police and military to “finish off” and “kill” those purported to be “communist rebels”, illustrates clearly the persistent killings and attacks faced by activists and defenders. It is very clear that no amount of technical assistance or capacity building will end the killings as the President and top government officials continue to incite murder and violence as official policy.