Afghanistan: New Commission a major step toward protection of human rights defenders

The creation of a new government body tasked with protecting human rights defenders is a major victory for human rights in Afghanistan, said Amnesty International, following a decree by President Ghani establishing the Joint Commission for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

The Commission, which has been established ‘for the purpose of strengthening human rights advocacy and addressing the national and international concerns of human rights related issues in Afghanistan’, will initially determine its priorities and develop a joint plan with NGOs for the protection of human rights defenders.

To ensure that this isn’t just an empty promise, the Commission must be provided with full backing by the government and deliver on its objectives, including a mechanism that provides effective protection to those at risk
Samira Hamidi, Amnesty International’s Afghanistan Campaigner

The announcement comes after more than a year of campaigning by Amnesty International and other civil society organizations for the creation of a protection mechanism for human rights defenders at risk. Afghanistan’s human rights defenders are among the bravest in the world, routinely facing threats, intimidation, harassment, violence, and even death for standing up for the rights of others.

“The establishment of the Commission is a hugely welcome and much needed step forward for human rights in Afghanistan. With violence escalating across the country, attacks on human rights defenders on the rise, and huge uncertainty around the outcome of the peace talks, this commitment could not come at a more important time,” said Samira Hamidi, Amnesty International’s Afghanistan Campaigner.

“But the hard work starts now. Afghanistan’s human rights defenders have suffered for far too long. To ensure that this isn’t just an empty promise, the Commission must be provided with full backing by the government and deliver on its objectives, including a mechanism that provides effective protection to those at risk. The international community also have a vital role to play in supporting Afghanistan’s human rights community at this critical moment for the country.”

In January 2020, in close collaboration with 32 human rights organizations, Amnesty International presented the “Afghanistan Human Rights Defenders Protection Strategy”. Intended as a roadmap for the government to adopt an independent, effective and implementable protection mechanism for human rights defenders at risk in the country, the strategy won a public commitment from the Afghan government to establish an effective protection mechanism.

Amnesty International is calling for the prompt establishment of the mechanism to ensure that it thoroughly, impartially and transparently investigates threats and attacks against human rights defenders, and, where necessary, provides adequate protection measures that should include relocation, relief and psychosocial support.

Background

The Decree establishing the Joint Commission for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is available here. An accompanying statement from Second Vice President Sarwar Danish, who will chair the Commission, is available here.

In January 2020, following a campaign by Amnesty International and other civil society organizations, the Afghan government committed to the establishment of a protection mechanism. See here for more information. For more information about HRDs in Afghanistan, see here.

In August 2019, Amnesty International published a briefing, Defenceless defenders: Afghanistan’s human rights community under attackdetailing the threats, harassment, intimidation, violence and even death human rights defenders have faced for their work.