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Afghanistan — Killing of human rights defenders, including Independent Human Rights Commission staffs

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, an FIDH-OMCT partnership supported by, has been informed about the killing of  Fatima Khalil, Donor Liaison Officer at Afghanistan’s national human rights institution, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), and her driver Jawid Folad, also a staff member of AIHRC.

According to the information received, on 27 June, Fatima Khalil and  Jawid Folad were victims of a bomb attack in Butkhak square in Kabul’s District 12. The two human rights defenders were on their way to the AIHRC office when an improvised explosive device (IED) placed under their car exploded. As of the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, the attack had not been claimed by anyone and the perpetrators had not been identified.

This is not the first time that AIHRC staff have been subjected to targeted killings. In September 2019, Abdul Samad Ameri, the interim Head of the Ghor provincial office of AIHRC, was abducted on the Kabul-Ghor highway in Maidan Wardak Province and shot dead two days later.

Afghan authorities must immediately carry out a thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation into these killings, identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and sanction them as provided by the law.

A few days later, on August 1, 2020, Mr. Asmatullah Salaam, who worked on promoting the right to education in the province of Ghazni, was kidnapped by Taliban members while he was driving to Khwzeyo, Andar District, Ghazni Province, to visit his family for Eid celebrations. The kidnappers stopped his car and abducted him. His body was found one day later, on August 2, in Wahghez, with signs of severe torture.

The Observatory urges the Afghan authorities to implement the strategy for the protection of human rights defenders, to which they publicly committed on January 20, 2020, and to put an end to the culture of impunity that prevails in the country. In response to this recent path of deaths, UN experts engaged on a dialogue with Afghan authorities to call on Afghanistan to prevent further killings of human rights defenders.

Afghanistan is ranked 122nd in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index. The war imposed by the Taliban and Islamic State and constant abuses by warlords and corrupt political officials constitute a permanent threat to journalists, the media and press freedom in Afghanistan. Women journalists are a favourite target, and are especially vulnerable in those regions where fundamentalist propaganda is heeded. The concern is growing that basic freedoms, including press freedom, could be sacrificed in the course of the international efforts to restore peace in Afghanistan.