Press release August 15, 2022
Afghanistan: Human Rights Defenders Continue to Face Immense Danger
Governments and international organizations can and should do more to assist embattled human rights defenders struggling under Taliban rule.
On the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, issued the following statement:
“One year ago today, after 20 years of striving to build a more just and equitable country, Afghans found themselves once again at the mercy of the Taliban. The Taliban have reneged on their promises to provide more inclusive and less repressive leadership, which it made during peace negotiations. The human rights advocates and democracy-builders who worked during the Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani administrations—and now face the Taliban’s particular ire—have been left to hide in homes or remote locations, frequently moving to avoid arrest or worse. They are largely unable to continue their work in Afghanistan or safely leave the country. Yet their commitment to democracy has not wavered. The time for Washington, its democratic allies, and international organizations to provide major assistance was yesterday, but today will have to do.
“We call on US agencies to do more to help Afghan human rights defenders, whether they remain in Afghanistan, have fled to neighboring countries, or have made it to this country. As we assist and welcome Afghan allies here in the United States, we should also bring more Afghan human rights defenders here, on an accelerated timeline, and offer them a permanent place in our society.
“We call on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to continue to document and speak out against human rights abuses in the country. In addition to recording the Taliban’s heinous acts of discrimination and violence against human rights defenders, journalists, women and girls, former government officials, LGBT+ people, and ethnic and religious minorities, UNAMA should be loud and clear in its opposition to the Taliban’s actions. Likewise, all democratic governments have an obligation to raise their voice in opposition to these abuses.
“We call on countries around the world to welcome Afghans within their borders, with the same enthusiasm and empathy they have shown deserving Ukrainians since the Russian regime’s invasion of their country in February.
“In this dark moment, the world must hold fast to the vision of a freer Afghanistan. We should redouble our efforts and use the resources at our disposal to help make that vision a reality.”
In April 2021, US president Joe Biden announced that US military personnel would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 11. That July, President Biden accelerated the withdrawal, with the US military presence ending a month later. The Taliban concluded a months-long offensive on August 15 by seizing Kabul, prompting President Ghani to flee and ending a 20-year effort to democratize the country. The Taliban named members of their upper echelons to a new cabinet that September.
Several countries airlifted their citizens and Afghans as the republic collapsed, with the United States evacuating over 124,000 people by the end of August 2021. Many more Afghans fled their homes and the country by other means. Some 700,000 people were newly internally displaced by the end of 2021. And in May 2022, the United Nations reported that nearly 2.1 million registered Afghan refugees were living in five neighboring countries. Afghans continue to seek escape, with 9,000 people leaving via a US operation between the end of the withdrawal and May 2022. As of July 2022, tens of thousands of Afghan allies were still waiting for their Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applications to be processed. Many human rights defenders (HRDs) and women activists who are now targeted by the Taliban do not qualify for SIVs because they were never on the US payroll. Instead, they must find their own way out of the country and seek refugee resettlement, which can take years.
The Taliban rule a less free, more violent country. A month after Kabul fell, the regime reconstituted a Ministry of Vice and Virtue, which had enforced its interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law) under the previous regime. HRDs have been subject to searches, threats, detention, and retaliatory killings. Journalists, meanwhile, face increased restrictions and retribution for coverage the Taliban deem unfavorable or contrary to their views. Women’s rights have been gutted, while LGBT+ people find themselves in great personal danger. Sexual abuse of children is tolerated. Ethnic and religious minorities have faced systematic discrimination and brutal violence in recent months.
Afghanistan suffered the second-steepest score decline in Freedom in the World 2022, losing 17 points. It was surpassed only by Myanmar’s 19-point decline following a coup.
Afghanistan is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2022.
Freedom House is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to create a world where all are free. We inform the world about threats to freedom, mobilize global action, and support democracy’s defenders.
At RightsCon, Freedom House is Working to Protect a Free and Open Internet
June 1, 2023
In Europe and Eurasia, the Democracy-Autocracy Gap is Widening
May 25, 2023