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  • Natasha Latiff

16 DAYS of Activism: Protection of Human Rights Defenders


As part of 16 Days of Activism, we wrote a Petition to H.E. President Ashraf Ghani on the protection of human rights defenders. Here is the text below: 1. As part of 16 Days of Activism and on behalf of the Afghanistan Women’s Network and Women for Justice Organisation Afghanistan, we write to appeal your Office to enact a law to specifically recognise the protection of human rights defenders (HRD) in Afghanistan.


2. Our appeal comes to you after the shocking news of the arbitrary detention of Musa Mahmudi and Ehsanullah Hamidi by the National Directorate of Security on 21 November 2019, after they reported the sexual abuse and rape of hundreds of boys in Logar. Mr Musa Mahmudi and Mr. Ehsanullah Hamidi was detained in the midst of an investigation by the Ministry of Education in Logar which they have allegedly authorized, without jurisdiction or authority to do so; putting at risk the safety of potentially hundreds of witnesses and victims, and, potentially obstructing justice. Mr. Musa Mahmudi and Mr. Ehsanullah Hamidi were specifically targeted for uncovering crimes and the abysmal response by the government underscores the importance of our appeal for heightened protection of HRDs in Afghanistan.


3. In December 2016, H.E. President Ghani said: “Protection of human rights defenders is the sole responsibility of my government and its legislative and judicial branches.” But in 2019, we lost several human rights defenders, including:


  • Mr. Saeed Karim Musawi, who was assassinated by two unknown gunmen while on his way home in Kunduz city.

  • Mr. Khalil Parsa, a human rights activist from Herat who was shot at seven times while going home.

  • Mr. Abdul Samad Amiri, a human rights defender and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission’s (AIHRC) acting director who was kidnapped and killed.

  • Mr. Shabir Ahmad Kamawal, a human rights defender and the International Legal Foundation Afghanistan (ILF-A) country director was assassinated by unknown gunmen in Kart e Naw Kabul on the 26th May 2019.


4. Many more who have silently endorsed this appeal, are at risk of threats, intimidation and reprisals. The nature of our work is such that often we are fighting against persons with great power and influence and this exposes us to great risk. Nonetheless, we do what we do for the voiceless and marginalized people who depend on us to represent their interest and needs against powerful people and systems.


5. UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst said that HRDs are the 'lifeblood that our democracies need in order to flourish and survive over time', and yet, HRDs are facing ‘unprecedented attack’.


6. In his report, Forst also stressed the importance of protecting women HRDs, HRDs working in the justice sector and those who are working to combat impunity and promote accountability for gross human rights violations. These categories of defenders, the likes of Mr. Musa Mahmudi and Mr. Ehsanullah Hamidi, are among those most at risk.


7. We are appealing to Your Office to pass a new law which will recognise HRDs as a specific category of protected persons and trigger protection measures to kick in quickly and effectively, to ensure HRDs can operate safely and seek refuge when needed.

8. The recognition of HRDs and their protection is not a new call. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders was adopted by the UN General Assembly by consensus in 1998. As we celebrate 16 Days of Activism and enter the 3rd decade of the Declaration’s existence, we are at an important time for history to recognise our commitment to rule of law, human rights and equality. The only way for Afghanistan’s democracy to thrive is to ensure that the HRD community thrives.

9. We end our Petition by a quote from Forst. He states, Today, recognizing the tragic and seemingly hopeless situations facing so many defenders is no longer the issue. Indeed, time and again, their plight has been reported, condemned and communicated by many. This dire situation does not allow us the luxury of sitting back and waiting. Let there be no doubt. It is our moral responsibility to embody the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Sincerely, AWN and Women for Justice Organization (WJO)


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