Human rights defenders in Afghanistan have reported that they are now enduring a “climate of fear”, threats, and becoming increasingly desperate over conditions in the country, an independent UN expert said on Wednesday. Stating that “the threat is very real”, defenders, called for an urgent coordinated response from the international community.
“Defenders tell me of direct threats, including gendered threats against women, of beatings, arrests, enforced disappearances, and of defenders being killed. They describe living in a climate of constant fear”, she said.
Those most at risk are people documenting alleged war crimes, women, in particular criminal lawyers, cultural rights defenders, especially those working in banned sectors such as musical performance, and others from minority groups.
Some told Lawlor that they have erased their online data history to evade identification, and that the Taliban are using other ways to find them. One of them, for example, was identified by an injury to his leg.
According to her, the Taliban have raided offices of human rights and civil society organisations, searching for names, addresses and contacts.
“Many defenders are well known in their local communities, in particular in rural areas, and have left for the anonymity of the cities, but even there, they are forced to constantly change locations,” the UN expert said. “Most have also lost their source of income, further limiting their options to find safety.” Lawlor called for immediate international support, including an urgent plan for the evacuation of those at high risk, along with their families.
She also said these are the people who have been fighting for 20 years to advance human rights in the country.
“Many say they feel abandoned. States who have supported their work for the past two decades must do more to provide visas, travel documents and routes to asylum for the hundreds of defenders left behind and at risk.”