When the Taliban took Kabul in August 2021, Afghan champions of the rule of law and human rights were caught in the crosshairs. Practically overnight, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and other professionals working within the legal system to advance justice – especially women –became targets of the new regime due to their perceived association with the former government or simply due to their gender.
Now, 17 months later, many of them remain in highly precarious and unsafe situations, and those lawyers who still practice face an incredibly challenging environment. With this week marking the International Day of the Endangered Lawyer, the international community has an opportunity to reflect on its urgent moral obligation to do far more going forward to support these individuals.
Targeting the Afghan Legal System
Women have undoubtedly borne the brunt of efforts to target and marginalize those in the legal profession. The Taliban have attempted to effectively ban all women from participating in the legal system. These de facto authorities removed more than 260 women judges – more than 10 percent of the bench – and women lawyers have been deprived of permission to practice law via a discriminatory relicensing process open only to men. Under grave threat, many women judges fled the country or remain in hiding. Not only are women lawyers in danger and their livelihoods upended, but the valuable services they provided – including addressing gender-based violence – have been largely wiped out.
Officials who investigated, prosecuted, and sentenced members of the Taliban face extremely serious risks to their safety and well-being as a result of their previous work. Reports indicate that convicted members of the Taliban, as well as other criminal offenders who were released by the Taliban, have sought to carry out reprisals against prosecutors and judges. Many prosecutors remain in hiding, and although it is difficult to verify precise numbers, we have received extensive and gruesome documentation of more than a dozen killings by unidentified individuals.