Afghanistan: Justice system collapse is ‘human rights disaster’


“Lawyers, judges, prosecutors and other actors involved in the justice system in Afghanistan face serious risks to their safety, and those still practicing must navigate a very challenging, non-independent justice system,” Special Rapporteurs Margaret Satterthwaite, on the independence of judges and lawyers, and Richard Bennett, on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, in a joint statement.

‘Brutal discrimination’

Lawyers in Afghanistan – especially women – are risking their lives to protect the rule of law, they said ahead of the International Day of the Endangered Lawyer on January 24.

“We are deeply concerned about the extreme exclusion of women from the justice system,” the UN experts stressed, calling for “urgent support” from the international community.

They said that in “an act of brutal discrimination”, the Taliban attempted to effectively ban all women from participating in the justice system.

More than 250 female judges and hundreds of female lawyers and prosecutors have already been impeached.

Alleged perpetrators are often detained, convicted and punished by the police on the same day – UN expert

“Many female judges have fled the country or gone into hiding,” said the Special Rapporteurs.

At ‘high risk’

Prosecutors have been “systematically sidelined,” the statement continued, noting that their past work investigating and prosecuting Taliban members under democratically elected governments has put them at “great risk.”

“More than a dozen prosecutors, most of them men, have reportedly been killed by unknown persons in Kabul and other provinces. Many remain in hiding”.

By suspending the 2004 constitution, removing all judges from office and stripping the office of the Attorney General of its key role, the Taliban “accelerated the collapse of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in Afghanistan”, said UN experts.

“Instead of an independent legal system, the country has an all-male regime that implements the Taliban’s version of sharia”.

De facto judicial functions have mainly been filled by Taliban members with basic religious training and advised by Islamic legal experts authorized to decide on religious matters, called muftis.

In addition, laws and regulations regarding court proceedings have been suspended and women are only allowed to appear if they are parties to a dispute.

“Suspected perpetrators are often detained, convicted and punished on the same day by the police and other security forces, denied any semblance of due process or judicial review,” the rapporteurs continued.

Call to action

They called for more international support for lawyers, legal aid providers and non-governmental organizations working for justice and human rights – and for special attention to be paid to the situation of women lawyers and those who advocate for gender rights.

“International actors must provide protection and safe passage to lawyers, judges, prosecutors and other actors involved in the justice system, especially women, who are at risk of reprisals and attacks by the Taliban and others,” the statement said.

Despite “unimaginable obstacles” since the de facto authorities took control, legal professionals persisted in their efforts to meet the legal needs of Afghans.

They deserve much more supportt,” the experts argued.

They called on the Taliban to “immediately end” their abusive practices by excluding women from the justice system, to protect the lives of all justice workers and to ensure the right to a fair trial for all Afghans .

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to investigate and report on a specific human rights issue or country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.

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