By saying that “the threat is very real”, Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, called for a swiftly coordinated response from the international community.
Defendants tell me about direct threats, including gender-based threats against women, about beatings, arrests, forced disappearances and about defenders being killed. They describe living in a climate of constant fear, ”she said.
The most vulnerable are people documenting alleged war crimes, women, especially criminal lawyers, cultural rights activists, especially those working in banned sectors such as musical performances, and others from minority groups.
Some told Ms Lawlor that they had deleted their online data history to avoid identification and that the Taliban were using other ways to find them. One of them, for example, was identified by an injury to his leg.
According to her, the Taliban have searched the offices of human rights and civil society organizations and searched for names, addresses and contacts.
“Many defenders are well-known in their communities, especially in rural areas, and have abandoned urban anonymity, but even there they are forced to constantly change location,” the UN expert said. “Most people have also lost their source of income, which further limits their ability to find security.”
Mrs. Lawlor called for immediate international support, including an urgent plan for the evacuation of those at high risk, along with their families.
She also said that these are the people who have been fighting for 20 years to promote human rights in the country.
“Many say they feel abandoned. States that have supported their work for the past two decades must do more to provide visas, travel documents and asylum routes to the hundreds of defenders who are left behind and in danger. ”
To prepare his report, the rapporteur received online testimonies from around 100 human rights defenders.
A woman living in western Afghanistan told her that 5 or 10 people are arrested every day, with families afraid of being recognized.
“Family members do not even claim the dead bodies on the street. They are scared. “Human rights defenders were not given priority in the evacuation effort”, said Mrs. Lawlor.
Another activist claimed that “the Taliban can not be expected to keep their word” and that “the future looks bleak.”
A woman who worked in 34 provinces for women’s rights assured that she will protect the gains made in the last 20 years, but she can not leave her home and go to the office. People like her, she said, “are being smeared like foreign agents.”
Another defense attorney said 38,000 prisoners have been released, some of them with problems with those who work for justice and the rule of law, and they are now “a direct threat to human rights defenders.”
Finally, a mother of Mrs. Lawlor complained about the torture of her 12-year-old child by the Taliban and asked for help.
“She thought we could defend their children’s rights right now, but what was not clear to her was that I no longer have the authority and ability to defend her and her son, as I myself have been put on the sidelines. activism in Afghanistan, ”said the rapporteur.
Special rapporteurs and independent experts have been appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to investigate and report back on a specific human rights issue or country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.