15 December 2021

Please don’t forget…

By Miranda Marshall, Director, Hayes + Storr.

27th January 2022 is Holocaust Memorial Day. It exists to remember all victims of all holocausts, not just those in Nazi Germany. Holocausts are of the past but also of the present. The Uyghur detainment and torture in Chinese concentration camps is ethnic cleansing but has only recently been noted internationally.

To keep on my topic of the law, let me highlight the persecution and killing of lawyers, judges, and their families, but especially of female lawyers and judges in Afghanistan following the departure of UK and US forces.

The Law Society has said it is ‘gravely concerned’ about the situation in Afghanistan and the perilous future of those who worked in the justice system under the old regime. There has been the greatest fear for the 270 women judges and 170 women lawyers and prosecutors based in the country, many of whom were not able to be evacuated before the allied troops left.

When the Taliban seized Afghanistan, one woman refugee lawyer told how she heard the militants were going door to door, hunting for people who worked for the state. So, she burned every document in her home and went into hiding. Then she fled the country. Like many more women working in the law, she was chased out of Afghanistan by the men she had jailed, now freed from prison by the insurgents. She was on the run for many weeks with her husband and children, moving until she was evacuated to Greece with 25 other women.

Afghan women made great strides in the two decades after the Taliban ruled the country from 1996-2001, joining previously all-male bastions such as the judiciary, the media and politics.

Since returning to power in August, the Taliban pledged to protect women’s rights in accordance with Islamic law and announced a general “amnesty” for all former state workers. There is fear of a backslide to when women were not allowed to work outside the home, and girls could not go to school.

A plea has been made to the international community to not recognise the Taliban. What they say is different to what they do. The Taliban’s political office in Doha, denied the accounts of women judges and lawyers who had fled on the basis that “they are trying to resettle in Western countries, using this pretext”.

Over the last 20 years, Afghan women may not have had the freedom to do everything we do here in the west, but they have been able to have careers, go out alone and be involved in government and justice. Imagine being born into a country where you were promised a full life that included learning and achievement, only for that to be taken away overnight, and where you are only allowed out with your husband, son, father or brother. Imagine a country where your dog is at risk of being hanged as a warning, if you step out of line and where your main role is to procreate.

People who defended and upheld human rights and the rule of law in Afghanistan were honoured by the Law Society on International Human Rights Day. The Law Society president offered her deepest respect to the lawyers, judges, prosecutors and others who dedicated their lives to upholding the rule of law in Afghanistan over the last two decades. Most are now in hiding with their families, and in fear for their lives. The work done to support human rights and the rule of law in Afghanistan and the particular risk faced because of that work. She stated that “Britain has a proud history of protecting and upholding human rights. We share these values with nations across the world and they bind us.”

Former President of the Supreme Court Baroness Brenda Hale said: “Women judges in Afghanistan have played a significant part in developing the rule of law and respect for human rights over the past 20 years… With the return of Taliban rule, we are profoundly concerned for the safety of women judges and their families, and indeed all judges, in Afghanistan. A strong and independent judiciary is the cornerstone of democracy.”

More simply, an Afghan woman on the news poignantly said that we must keep talking about it, and not forget them after a month or so.