Afghanistan’s human rights defenders who have faced years of attacks and other human rights abuses must be recognized and effectively protected Amnesty International said today, as the global human rights organization unveiled a mural honouring the memory of many brave human rights defenders who have been killed in the country.
Journalists, students, lawyers, activists, trade unionists and other human rights defenders have faced intimidation, harassment, threats, attacks and have even been killed for doing their legitimate work defending the rights of others. The Afghan authorities must do more to address their security concerns.
“Afghanistan’s human rights defenders have shown great courage despite the very difficult context in which they live in. Faced with grave threats to their lives and well-being, they continue to speak up against injustice and stand up for the rights of others. It is about time that the Afghan authorities and the international community stands up for their rights as well,” said Samira Hamidi, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International.
“The authorities must publicly condemn the threats human rights defenders face, and adopt legislation that recognizes and protects their work, including their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. These are the first steps for the creation of a safe and enabling environment where they can operate freely and without fear.”
As part of the international BRAVE campaign, Amnesty International – working with the Afghan art collective Artlords – today unveiled a mural in the heart of Kabul dedicated to the memory of Shah Marai, the famed Agence France Presse (AFP) photographer who lost his life on 30 April along with nine other journalists while they were covering a bombing that took place moments earlier. It was the single deadliest attack on journalists in Afghanistan.
For more than two decades, Shah Marai had powerfully captured the conflict in Afghanistan. At a time when the world’s attention has fallen away from Afghanistan, he and other Afghan journalists continued to tell the stories of people who had fallen victim to violence at a time when civilian casualties – the number of people killed or injured in attacks – remains at a record high.
Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world. Earlier this month, two TOLO News journalists lost their lives while reporting live from the site of a bombing of a Shi’a neighbourhood in Kabul. Over the past decade, at least 34 journalists – international and Afghan – have been killed in relation to their work. Several others were seriously injured. In 2018 alone, 12 journalists were killed, marking the deadliest year for the media in Afghanistan.
“The BRAVE mural is the first in a series of campaign actions that Amnesty International will be taking to highlight the work of human rights defenders in Afghanistan- particularly that of women human rights defenders. It will also be highlighting the work of activists, teachers, lawyers, students, trade unionists and other human rights defenders. We will continue to push the Afghan authorities to ensure human rights defenders can work in a safe and enabling environment without fear of reprisals,” said Samira Hamidi.
In 2016, speaking at a conference organized by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, President Ashraf Ghani vowed to protect the rights of human rights defenders. “Protection of human rights defenders is the sole responsibility of my government and its legislative and judicial branches,” he said.
Similarly, in 2015, the European Union Plus (EU countries plus Canada, Norway and Switzerland) laid out a strategy to support human rights defenders in Afghanistan, with a protection mechanism at its heart.
The mural depicts Shah Marai, holding his camera, with a group of Afghan human rights defenders standing behind a banner.
The mural is headlined Shuja, the Dari word for “brave”. The text on the banner reads: “We will not forget you. You have stood up for justice, for equality and for us.”