The number of targeted killings of human rights defenders which has swept the country in recent months is truly alarming.
UNAMA's most February 2021 Report states that 65 human rights defenders and media professionals were killed in the period from 1 January 2018 – 31 January 2021, 32 from the human rights sector and 33 from the media. Of these, 11 (five human rights defenders and six media) were killed in 4 months between 1 October 2020 – 31 January 2021.
Attacks against representatives of the human rights and media sectors in Afghanistan are not a new development, but, as the report documents, there has been a distinct change in the type of killings. The most recent wave, that of intentional, premeditated and deliberate targeting of individuals with perpetrators remaining anonymous contrasts to previous years. Then, such deaths were mainly caused by the proximity of individuals to attacks by organised armed groups, mainly the Islamic State in the Levant-Khorasan-Province (ISIL-KP), involving the use of improvised explosive devices.
Human rights lawyers are a specific subset of human rights defenders whose work requires the confrontation of powerful defenders in court and therefore must be treated as a special category of HRDs needing tailored protection.
As lawyers who are at the forefront of accountability work, we emphasise that those like us working in the justice sector to combat impunity and promote accountability for gross human rights violations are at heightened risk of targeted attacks by multiple state and non-state actors such as the Taliban, local government and powerful offenders.
We call upon the government and international community to operationalise a national protection system to strengthen the protection of human rights defenders.