the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in it’s new report released on Monday said that the killing of human rights defenders and media professionals has generated a climate of fear among the population in Afghanistan.
UNAMA in its report analyses data and trends connected to the killings from 1 January 2018 to 31 January 2021. It traces the changing patterns of attacks on these key sectors of civil society and provides recommendations.
According to the report, no fewer than 11 human rights defenders and media workers were killed in targeted attacks in Afghanistan from the 12 September 2020 start of peace negotiations through to 31 January 2021.
“Human rights and media space has contracted as a result, with many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and leaving their homes and communities with hopes it will improve their safety. Many, including high profile personalities, have fled the country. The killings have had the broader impact across society of also diminishing expectations around efforts towards peace,” the press release reads.
“The Afghan people need and deserve a flourishing civic space – a society where people can think, write and voice their views openly, without fear,” said Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan. “The voices of human rights defenders and the media are critical for any open and decent society. At a time when dialogue and an end to the conflict through talks and political settlement should be the focus, the voices from human rights and the media need to be heard more than ever before, instead they are being silenced,” said the envoy, who is also head of UNAMA.
The report records a total of 65 human rights defenders and media professionals 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 the four-month period from 1 October 2020 – 31 January 2021 alone.
The report notes that as they work to provide timely information to the population of Afghanistan on a range of issues (including violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law), human rights defenders, journalists and media workers are far too often exposed to threats, intimidation, harassment, surveillance or arbitrary detention.
The report underlines that all actors have an important role to play in preventing such killings and intimidation, promoting accountability and preventing impunity.
“Investigations into killings must be independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent. The prosecution of suspected perpetrators should strictly follow due process and fair trial standards,” the report said.
“The use of charged rhetoric against the role of civil society and the media, threats or actions taken against whistleblowers, and the circulation of “target lists” all contribute to perpetuating the conditions in which civic space can only shrink further and exacerbate the unsettling effect on the population, especially human rights defenders and media professionals,” the report added.