Collapse of Afghanistan's legal system is 'human rights catastrophe': UN experts

The collapse of the rule of law and judicial independence in Afghanistan is a human rights catastrophe, UN experts warned Friday.

"Lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and other actors involved with the legal system in Afghanistan face grave risks to their safety, and those still practicing must navigate a deeply challenging, non-independent legal system," the experts said in a statement.

Ahead of International Day of the Endangered Lawyer, the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights in Afghanistan and the independence of judges and lawyers issued a joint statement expressing concern.

"International actors should provide protection and safe passage to lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and other actors involved with the legal system, especially women, who are at risk of reprisal and attacks by the Taliban and others," they said. "We are gravely concerned by the extreme exclusion of women from the legal system. In an act of brazen discrimination, the Taliban have attempted to effectively ban all women—including women judges, prosecutors, and lawyers—from participating in the legal system."

Read more: Deputy UN chief has talks in Afghanistan on women's rights

The experts are Margaret Satterthwaite, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and Richard Bennett, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan.    

250 women judges removed

They said among lawyers removed were more than 250 women judges and hundreds of female lawyers and prosecutors.

"Many women judges have fled the country or gone into hiding," they said.

"Prosecutors have been systematically side-lined, and some face grave risks because of work they previously undertook investigating and prosecuting members of the Taliban and other individuals."

More than one dozen prosecutors, the majority men, reportedly have been killed by unknown individuals in Kabul and other provinces. Many remain in hiding.

"By suspending the 2004 Constitution, ousting all judges from the bench, stripping the Office of the Attorney General of its key role, and undertaking other similar steps, the Taliban has precipitated the collapse of the rule of law and judicial independence in Afghanistan," said experts. "Instead of an independent legal system, the country has an all-male regime implementing the Taliban's version of Sharia law. It is a human rights catastrophe."

The experts said alleged perpetrators are often detained, sentenced and punished on the same day by police and security agencies.

Legal professionals have faced "unimaginable obstacles" since Taliban de facto authorities assumed control of Afghanistan and have nonetheless persisted in their efforts to meet Afghan people's legal needs, according to the experts.

"We call on the de facto authorities to immediately reverse these abusive practices that exclude women from the legal system … and take the necessary steps to ensure the right to a fair trial for all Afghans."

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