With Afghanistan’s human rights defenders facing a renewed surge in threats and attacks, the authorities must urgently deliver on their pledge to establish a functional body dedicated to the protection of human rights defenders at risk, said Amnesty International.
"More than three months since a presidential decree nominally created the Joint Commission for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, no practical steps have been taken to make it an effective protection mechanism, with a lack of information forthcoming on any plan or strategy to address the escalating threat faced by members of Afghan civil society," said the watchdog group.
An already dire situation for Afghanistan’s human rights community has significantly worsened over recent months, with "no fewer than 11 human rights defenders and media workers killed in targeted attacks between the start of peace negotiations on September 12, 2020, and January 31, 2021, according to figures from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)," the report said.
“The announcement of the joint commission was a vital step towards providing human rights defenders across the country with the support and security they so desperately need. But it’s a body that currently exists in name only. In more than three months, during which we have witnessed a frenzied escalation of killings, attacks and threats against activists, the Commission has made no tangible progress or taken any meaningful action,” said Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director.
“This delay has already cost lives and there is no sign of the violence abating. The Joint Commission must urgently expedite its work and prioritize the immediate security needs of human rights defenders, investigate all cases of threats, attacks and other forms of intimidation, and hold those responsible to account,” said the Amnesty statement.
"Amnesty International is also calling on the joint commission to ensure that, where necessary, human rights defenders are provided with adequate protection measures including relocation, relief and psychosocial support," the statement said.
According to UNAMA figures, 14 human rights defenders were killed in Afghanistan in 2020. This includes Mohammad Yousuf Rasheed, CEO of Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan, who was shot and killed on December 23, 2020, in morning rush-hour traffic in Kabul along with his driver, days after the joint commission was established.
The following day, women’s rights activist Freshta Kohistani and her brother were killed in Kapisa province by unknown gunmen traveling on a motorbike. Days before her death, Kohistani had posted on Facebook that she had asked the authorities for protection due to the threats she was receiving.
According to its mandate, the joint commission has been established "for the purpose of strengthening human rights advocacy and addressing the national and international concerns of human rights related issues in Afghanistan."
“To achieve its goals and become worthy of its name, the joint commission must be provided with the necessary human and financial resources, and be fully supported by both the Afghan government and the international community,” said Yamini Mishra.
According to UNAMA, 32 human rights defenders were killed in Afghanistan between January 1, 2018, and January 31, 2021.