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.
Over a month has passed since the last international troops left Afghanistan. The frantic scenes of civilians begging to be evacuated have dissipated, but there remains a sense of urgency for the female judges forced into hiding and fearing for their lives.
‘Now living for us is a time of torture,’ one female judge tells Global Insight over a crackly line from Kabul. ‘Here we are spending days and nights in fear. We are living like prisoners and so are our children. They cannot go out and they are living in fear.’
Nura fled her home in the east of the country last month with her husband and two young children after the Taliban freed thousands of prisoners and began door-to-door searches for judges that had sentenced their members. Like other female judges, her bank account has been frozen and she’s been forced into hiding with relatives in Kabul while she waits anxiously for news on an evacuation flight.
The last US military aircraft departed from Kabul airport on 30 August, marking an agonising end to a dramatic two weeks that saw Taliban fighters effortlessly topple the Afghan government and President Ashraf Ghani forced to flee the country. As the Taliban returns to power 20 years after the regime was ousted by US forces, the rule of law and the safety of the legal profession is once again seriously under threat.
The speed of the Taliban takeover left armed forces, governments and the international community scrambling to evacuate civilians before the 31 August deadline imposed by Taliban leaders. Rescue efforts were severely hampered by security concerns. As thousands waited to be evacuated at Kabul airport on 26 August, a blast killed more than 170 people, including 13 US military personnel and other foreign nationals. Islamic State has since claimed responsibility for the attack.
‘It’s shocking that we find ourselves in this situation,’ Lord Peter Goldsmith QC, who served as the UK’s Attorney General from 2001–2007, told Global Insight. ‘It’s crazy that we weren’t better prepared for this. We will have to look at where the responsibility lies, but the problem is that this is not about political posturing. This is about people’s lives. For people who’ve done tremendous things that we and the IBA very rightly stand for – the rule of law, justice and a fair society – it’s shocking that some of them are being left in this situation.’
The founder and chair of KARAMAH – Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights was appointed to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in June 2011. Here she shares her views on women’s rights in the Middle East, the developments and implications of the Arab Spring and Western perceptions of the Muslim world since 9/11.
In March this year, over the course of some of the most turbulent days in recent Egyptian history, US-based charitable and education organisation KARAMAH – Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights – conducted three workshops in Cairo. While many other organisations would have shied away from tackling contentious issues on Egyptian soil during this period, KARAMAH took the opportunity to bring together hundreds of scholars and intellectual leaders to discuss Islam, the rule of law and women’s rights in the country’s capital.
Here is my latest article published in the Guardian:
Like Sir Jock Stirrup, I have deep concerns about the drama documentary featuring Prince Harry being captured in Afghanistan that is due to be aired on Channel 4 on Thursday. For people like me, who have close relatives in the armed forces serving in Afghanistan, the documentary makes a mockery of their role out there. Whether you agree or disagree with their continued presence, a fictionalised documentary about a hypothetical situation – a mockumentary if you will – does little to boost the image of British soldiers back home or pay tribute to their sacrifices. Indeed, it does quite the opposite.
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