Amnesty International: Afghanistan’s Human Rights Defenders Under Intensified Attack

Amnesty International (AI) released a telling report on Wednesday, which states that Afghanistan’s human rights community is under intensifying attacks from both the authorities and armed groups as human rights defenders and activists face intimidation, harassment, threats and violence.

Against the backdrop of escalating violence in Afghanistan, where the last year saw the highest levels of civilian deaths on record and last month was the most violent in more than two years, human rights defenders and activists have been largely ignored by the Afghan government and the international community, the report quoted.

In the report called, “Defenceless Defenders: Attacks on Afghanistan’s Human Rights Community”, Amnesty International reveals how the Afghan government has repeatedly failed to investigate attacks on human rights activists, sometimes accused them of ‘fabricating’ their claims, and even told them to take up arms to defend themselves.

Omar Waraich, Deputy South Asia Director at Amnesty International expressed his concern and said that, “This is one of the most dangerous moments to be a human rights activist in Afghanistan. Not only do they operate in one of the most hazardous environments, but they face threats from both the government and armed groups. The Afghan government has a duty to respect, protect and support activists, to investigate threats and attacks against them, and to hold suspected perpetrators accountable.”

Violence, Threats and Killings

In the press briefing, Amnesty International gave details of the number of human rights defenders and activists who have been intimidated, harassed, threatened, shot at and even killed in attacks that the Afghan authorities have failed to investigate and prosecute.

For instance, in October 2015, two staff members of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) were killed and two others wounded when a roadside bomb went off in the eastern province of Nangarhar, the report says.“As of today, the government unfortunately has not arrested anyone,” an AIHRC official told Amnesty International.

Threatened by Government

In December 2016, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani vowed to protect the rights of human rights defenders and activists. AI complained that far from upholding this commitment, the government has itself been responsible for intimidation, harassment and threats against human rights defenders and activists.

The report mentioned, in June 2016, the Afghan authorities deployed excessive force in Kabul’s Zanbaq Square to crush a protest against civilian casualties in the conflict.

At an earlier protest, one of the organizers told Amnesty International he was contacted by the President’s Office and warned to clear away the protestors’ tents because they could come “under attack” from armed groups – something he interpreted as a threat.

“There is No Trust”

Following failures to protect human rights defenders and activists and to investigate and prosecute threats and attacks against them, several human rights activists told Amnesty International that there is no trust in the government.

Two activists interviewed by Amnesty International said that when they reported attacks on them, they were not offered protection and instead told to buy weapons and protect themselves.
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Finally Mr Waraich reaffirmed and said that, “Afghanistan’s human rights defenders and activists have shown great courage despite the very difficult context in which they operate. Faced with grave threats to their lives and well-being, they continue to speak up against injustice and stand up for the rights of others. It is about time that the Afghan authorities and the international community stand up for their rights as well.”

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