UN Report Reveals Killing of Human Rights Defenders in Afghanistan

Photo: UNAMA
Photo: 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.

The period following the start of Afghanistan Peace Negotiations in September 2020 has witnessed a sharp and chilling number of killings of human rights defenders and media professionals in Afghanistan.

A new report issued on February 15 by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) 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.

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. This trend, combined with the absence of claims of responsibility, has generated a climate of fear among the population.

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.

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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 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.

A series of recommendations to both state and non-state actors are contained in the report.

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Rakesh Raman