January 11, 2022
Dear HRC President, Members of the HRC Consultative Group and HRC Members,
We the undersigned to this letter, represent a wide spectrum of Afghan society, including women’s rights defenders, human rights activists, civil society activists, peace advocates, journalists, politicians, lawyers, judges, academics, military personnel, teachers, students, artists, writers, etc. We represent a part of Afghan society that has worked for over 20 years to bring stability, peace, and democracy to the country.
Many of us have made great sacrifices in our personal and professional lives to realize a better future for Afghanistan, including facing threats of violence and death and the loss of friends and loved ones to terrorism and war.
Recent developments in Afghanistan have impacted our personal and professional lives in unfathomable ways. Many of us have been forced to flee the country due to fear of reprisals from the Taliban, including fear of death. Some of us continue to work in the country, despite intense pressure and instability. Since August 15th, protests organized by women human rights defenders (WHRDs) across the country continue to be oppressed. Four female activists have been killed by the Taliban and many journalists, activists and attorneys have been beaten and abducted by the Taliban with their fate unknown. The space for human rights work is rapidly shrinking in the country, free media is non-existent, and the Taliban are ruling by imposing fear.
Despite this bleak situation Afghan rights defenders, in particular WHRDs, and civil society members inside the country and across the world are continuing their efforts and are working with politicians, and the international community, including the human rights community and UN bodies and mechanisms to make sure the lives and rights of Afghans are protected. For this reason, we were pleased about the decision of the Human Rights Council to appoint a Special Rapporteur for Afghanistan.
We see this as a timely and necessary step and we want to ensure that the most qualified candidate is selected by the council as the human rights situation in Afghanistan is worsening and access to information about the deteriorating human rights situation, especially about the situation of marginalized ethnic and religious groups and other populations most vulnerable and at risk of suffering human rights abuses, will becoming increasing limited. Afghan civil society members, the vibrant Afghan women’s movement, journalists, writers, cultural figures, filmmakers, community leaders, politicians, lawyers, judges, police officers, peace advocates, academics, teachers and health care workers, and the Afghan people have worked hard towards building an open society in the country where the rights of women, marginalized ethnic and religious groups and other vulnerable populations are respected. With a vibrant and active civil society, Afghanistan had made noticeable gains in the areas of freedom of expression and media during the past 20 years. Women had achieved many of their rights in law and practice, and democratic, albeit fragile, institutions had been set up and operationalized. A younger more progressive generation of Afghans were leading the charge toward a more democratic and inclusive country. Despite the many challenges and ongoing conflict and terrorist attacks, there was still a great deal of hope that a better future could be realized for all Afghans. Now these critical and substantial gains are being targeted for reversal.
To ensure that these gains are maintained, inclusive and dignified peace is in place, and the Taliban are held accountable for their actions and not their words, the special rapporteur will need to work closely and collaboratively with Afghan human rights defenders, especially women human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society groups around the country who represent the spectrum of ethnic and religious groups, including those groups who have traditionally not been as engaged with the international community. The Special rapporteur will need to:
- Work closely with Afghan civil society and independent rights groups, including the women’s movements and utilize their firsthand and direct access to in-country human rights organizations and networks for monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in the country.
- Be knowledgeable about the deeply fluid and fragile human rights situation in the country under the rule of the Taliban’s oppressive regime where access to information will continue to be severely limited.
- With the help of Afghan civil society, build and maintain open lines of communication with marginalized ethnic and religious groups, journalists, activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, peace advocates and other sidelined groups that continue to be subjected to the Taliban’s abuses and
- Have a deep understanding of the Taliban’s political agenda that seeks to eliminate any voice of criticism and opposition through violence and hold the Taliban accountable for their actions not words.
- Have a solid understanding of the political intricacies and political factions and players in
Afghanistan, including national and regional alliances.
A group of Afghan civil society representatives and their international partners have held extensiveconsultations with key Afghan human rights defenders and civil society organizations as well as other leading political, cultural, and academic leaders inside and outside the country to determine their criteria and expectations for this mandate holder during these critical times in Afghanistan.
In order to ensure the success of the Special Rapporteur in monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation and elevating the realities on the ground at the international level, the Afghan civil society members and others we consulted, expect to have a close working relationship with the Special Rapporteur. Informed by our consultations we believe the following four candidates have the required background and experience for this mandate, and should be seriously considered for this position:
- Karima Bennoune: Ms. Bennoune previously served as the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights from 2015 until 2021 and has conducted various fact-finding missions in different conflict zones including Afghanistan. Ms. Bennoune has been involved with key members of Afghan civil society and WHRDs since the start of the US led peace process in Afghanistan. She has supported evacuation efforts and has participated in events and discussions focused on Afghanistan alongside Afghan WHRDs and activists. Ms. Bennoune’s existing network of Afghan civil society members will facilitate her access to human rights networks inside the country.
- Richard Bennett: Mr. Bennett has served as the Program Director for Asia-Pacific at Amnesty International and the Special Advisor to the UN Assistant Secretary-General on Human Rights. As a longterm advisor for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission a national entity with offices across the country, Mr. Bennett has had the opportunity to build networks and connections within the human rights community in the country.
- Kamala Chandrakirana: Ms. Chandrakirana has been a member of the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women in Law and Practice since 2011. She has experience working in Afghanistan and as a Muslim feminist from the region has been directly involved with women’s organizations and movements inside Afghanistan. Her deep understanding of international human rights instruments, norms, and principles and how they are compatible with Islam is valuable to this role because the Taliban’s oppression of women is backed by their interpretations of Islam. Additionally, Ms.Chandrakirana is one of the co-founders of Musawah which is a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family and family laws.
- Saman Zia-Zarifi: Mr. Zia-Zarifi is the Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists. Prior to his current role, Mr. Zia-Zarifi served as Amnesty International’s Director for Asia and the Pacific. Mr. Zia Zarifi has years of experience working in the region and Afghanistan. He is well respected among the Afghan civil society networks and the broader Afghan community. His work with the ICJ focusing on accountability for human rights violations; improving women’s access to justice; combating discrimination based on gender and identity; and the right to health and compatibility of public health policies is very relevant to responsibilities of the Special Rapporteur mandate.
We are providing these recommendations in the hopes that they are helpful to you as you embark on the process of identifying the most suitable candidate for this important mandate. Also, we hope that you will seriously consider our recommendations. This is of critical importance to the morale of all Afghan citizens who feel abandoned by much of the international community. To feel heard and valued by the United Nations will go a long way in restoring trust in international human rights bodies and mechanisms and giving Afghans a sense of hope in otherwise bleak times.
Please let us know if we can be helpful with additional information or insight about the human rights situation in Afghanistan or any of the candidates for Special Rapporteur. If you prefer to speak, a representative from our group will be happy to hold a call with you or your colleagues to discuss our recommendations, concerns, and requests further.
109 members of Afghan civil society
20 Afghan organizations
25 regional and international human rights organizations