Dear Human Rights Defender,
Amnesty International’s April 2015 Report, Their Lives on the Line: Women Human Rights Defenders Under Attack in Afghanistan, found that women human rights defenders who face mounting violence – including threats, sexual assault and assassinations- are being abandoned by their government despite the significant gains they have fought to achieve.
Women human rights defenders are women and men who, individually or collectively, work peacefully to promote and protect nationally and internationally recognized human rights for women. They are defined by their actions rather than by their profession, job title or organization. They can be elected officials, state representatives such as police or government administrators, community leaders, civil society activists, journalists, lawyers, students, teachers, businesspeople, health care workers or housewives.
Insecurity is an inherent part of life for women human rights defenders in Afghanistan. They are frequently targets of intimidation and attack and face challenges both because of who they are and what they do: because they promote and protect women’s rights, and because they defy cultural, religious and social norms about the role of women in society. Rights defenders have suffered car bombings, grenade attacks on homes, killing of family members and targeted assassinations. Many continue their work despite suffering multiple attacks, in the full knowledge that no action will be taken against the perpetrators.
Amnesty International found that while the Taliban and other armed opposition groups are responsible for the majority of abuses against women human rights defenders, they are not the only perpetrators. Government officials and powerful commanders and warlords who are supported by local authorities have also been implicated in committing human rights abuses against women human rights defenders. The pattern of abuse against women human rights defenders is matched by the systematic failure of the authorities to bring perpetrators to justice, or to provide an environment that protects them.
The institutionalized indifference on the part of the authorities to the threats, harassment and attacks that women human rights defenders face is a result of weak state structures, in particular the law enforcement, judiciary and security sectors. This is reinforced by an enduring culture of impunity, systemic gender discrimination and biases, a judicial system based on the ability to wield power rather than on a concept of justice, and a multiplicity of legal systems. Existing support and protection services for women human rights defenders are exceptionally lacking. They are under-resourced and overstretched with limited capacity, as well as lacking in sufficient security. Help bring attention to Amnesty’s report, the incredible and brave Afghan WHRDS, and the discrimination and violence that many of them face!
Elsie De Laere, Afghanistan Country Specialist Kaitlyn Denzler, Women’s Rights Campaigner
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