Afghan authorities have made a public commitment to establish a protection mechanism for human rights defenders, in a move welcomed by Amnesty International and Afghanistan’s human rights community.
Speaking at an event hosted by Amnesty International in Kabul, Afghanistan’s Second Vice President Sarwar Danish said that the government takes concerns about the safety of human rights defenders in in the country seriously and will implement measures to ensure their protection.
“Until now, there has been a lot of focus on awareness of human rights, but for the protection of human rights defenders there has not been enough attention,” said Second Vice President Sarwar Danish.
"Afghanistan’s human rights defenders are among the bravest in the world, working amid a conflict that claims thousands of lives every year." - Samira Hamidi, South Asia Campaigner
At the event, 32 human rights organizations from across Afghanistan presented a joint strategy for the establishment of a protection mechanism for human rights defenders in an increasingly dangerous situation where they face attacks from both state and non-state actors.
The joint strategy outlines how the Afghan government and the international community can establish a protection mechanism that effectively investigates attacks on human rights defenders, responds immediately to incidents of threats and attacks, offers relief support to human rights defenders at risk, builds the capacity of the human rights community and creates an enabling environment where human rights defenders can do their work freely and without fear of reprisal.
“I am very happy that this strategy is presented by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations. It’s a very crucial initiative,” said Second Vice President Sarwar Danish.
“On behalf of the Government of Afghanistan, I commit that I will do whatever possible to implement this strategy.”
Attacks on human rights defenders
In August 2019, Amnesty International published a briefing, Defenceless defenders: Afghanistan’s human rights community under attack, detailing the threats, harassment, intimidation, violence and even death human rights defenders have faced for their work. In multiple cases, when human rights defenders turned to the authorities for support and protection, they were accused of fabricating their claims and even told to buy a weapon to defend themselves.
In September 2019, Abdul Samad Amiri, a provincial official of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, was abducted and killed by the Taliban.
In November 2019, human rights defenders Musa Mahmudi and Ehsanullah Hamidi, who had exposed the existence of a pedophile ring and revealed more than 100 instances of the sexual abuse suffered by boys in Logar province were arbitrarily detained by the National Directorate for Security, Afghanistan’s top intelligence agency.
“Afghanistan’s human rights defenders are among the bravest in the world, working amid a conflict that claims thousands of lives every year. Faced with attacks from both the state and armed groups, they must receive the protection they need so that they continue their crucial work of promoting humanity’s core values,” said Samira Hamidi, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International.
“The government’s commitment to the protection strategy marks an important first step. Now, they must implement a protection mechanism that is desperately needed. The international community has a key role to play here in supporting that effort.”
The joint strategy is the product of extensive consultations involving more than 100 human rights defenders in different parts of the country, including Kabul, Herat, Kunduz, Baghlan, Logar and Mazar-e-Sharif.
“Human rights defenders have a very risky life in Afghanistan, facing different kinds of violations and abuses. They are under tremendous pressure. They don’t feel safe as there’s no specific mechanism to protect them,” said Zakir Stanikzai, Executive Director of the Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society.
“Due to different kinds of threats against human rights defenders, they struggle and face serious challenges. These threats may force them to remain silent about the violence they face, leave their jobs or even the country, suffer imprisonment or be killed for their work. A human rights defenders protection mechanism is very necessary in Afghanistan to support and protect human rights defenders,” said Freshta Karimi, Executive Director of Da Qanon Ghushtonky, an Afghan civil society organization.
In 2018, Amnesty International launched global campaign, BRAVE, to combat threats to human rights defenders across the world, who face harassment, intimidation, repressive legislation, unjust prosecution, detention and even death for their human rights activities.
Human rights defenders (HRDs) play a key role in defending the principles of freedom, justice and dignity which underpin the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their work contributes directly to the realization of human rights, the strengthening of the rule of law, and fostering sustainable development.
In 1998, the international community recognized the important role carried out by these civil society actors when the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, referred to as the Declaration on HRDs. The Declaration emphasizes that recognition and protection of human rights defenders are key to ensure they can work in a safe environment.