Afghanistan: Urgent action needed to protect women rights defenders


Paris-Geneva, April 14, 2021 – Women human rights defenders in Nangarhar Province are at high risk of being killed following death threats issued by the Islamic State, alerted the Observatory (OMCT-FIDH). Afghan authorities must immediately take all necessary measures to ensure their safety and put an end to all forms of violence against women in the country.

In the first week of April 2021, the armed group Islamic State (IS) sent a statement to numerous organisations, women rights defenders, and female journalists operating in Nangarhar Province, to warn them that they would face a “hard death” should they pursue their human rights and media work.

Even though this is the first time an IS statement has been issued to threaten women rights defenders and female journalists in Nangarhar Province, targeted killings of these groups are systematic and pervasive throughout Afghanistan. This underlines that death threats against human rights defenders are not only aimed at instilling fear and paralysing their work but often translate into killings. In this regard, the Observatory recalls that the murders of women’s rights defenders Malalai Maiwand, Mursal Wahidi, Sadia Sadat and Shahnaz Roafi were all claimed by IS.

Moreover, the violations of the rights to life and physical integrity of women rights defenders are committed within a culture of tolerance of all forms of violence against women, which is further boosted by chronic under-reporting and persistent impunity. In this context, women who raise their voices to ensure the respect of human rights and work for the achievement of peace in Afghanistan are met with hostility and virtually prevented from engaging in public spaces and activism.

The Observatory expresses its utmost concern and strongly condemns the death threats and attacks against women rights defenders and female journalists in Afghanistan and urges the authorities to take immediate action to protect their physical integrity and psychological well-being, and to conduct prompt investigations into the above-mentioned death threats. The Observatory further urges the Afghan authorities to ensure that all women's rights are protected during ongoing discussions with the Taliban, including the upcoming Istanbul peace talks.

The Observatory calls on Afghanistan’s international partners to urge the government, in bilateral and multilateral fora, to take all the necessary measures to prevent further attacks against women rights defenders, journalists and civil society members and, in order to achieve sustainable peace in the country, ensure that women’s rights are not negotiable during the upcoming Istanbul peace talks.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.