This past year has been one of the deadliest for Afghans. Every month there have been at least two attacks targeting civilians only, with an average casualty rate of more than 10 people killed in each attack. From 1 January to 30 June 2018, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented that there were 5,122 civilian casualties (1,692 deaths and 3,430 injured) – a three per cent overall decrease from last year – reflecting the same levels of harm to civilians as those documented in during the same periods in 2017 and 2016..
The vulnerability of Afghans has drastically increased as they have no protection from violent conflict in the streets, their homes, schools, hospitals, mosques and religious gatherings. The collapse of several provinces, like Farah, Ghazni and Helmand, forced people to flee their towns, leaving behind all their belongings and joining the more than two million internally displaced people – who have extremely limited access to resources, facilities and services.
Despite these grave dangers, the international community has callously turned away Afghans seeking safety in other countries. At the 2016 Brussels Conference on Afghanistan, the European Union (EU) and the Afghan government signed the Joint Way Forward on migration issues agreement. Through this agreement, policymakers in Europe have continued pile pressure their relevant entities to hastily and forcibly return of Afghans – in brazen violation of international law, on the dangerous fiction that Afghanistan is a safe place to return. The German Interior Minister even had the poor taste celebrate the return of 69 Afghans earlier this year by gleefully remarking that the occasion fell on his 69th birthday.
Just a few days later, a 23-year-old man, one of the 69 returnees, took his life by hanging himself. He committed suicide for being abandoned to a perilous and uncertain fate. The reality is that the Joint Way Forward agreement does not address the safety and protection of those who are deliberately forced into harm’s way. There is a clear absence of accountability and reporting from Afghan government as well as the EU.
In Afghanistan, meanwhile, access to information, freedom of expression and freedom of association and assembly all came under assault. This past year was the deadliest year for journalists in Afghanistan, with 13 killed while doing their duty. Besides the attacks by armed groups, journalists and media workers are also harassed, intimidated and even detained for merely doing their jobs and reporting the truth with the public. The Afghan government has repeatedly failed to fulfil its responsibility to protect protestors.
As the political arena has changed globally, the priorities of the international community have also changed. Attentions have sadly shifted away from Afghanistan, even as the violence grows. Civil society has lost out the most as a result. Once vocal and vibrant, and long a source of key advice to the government and the international community, they are now faced with rapidly shrinking space – with limited resources. They are unable to travel to most provinces due to the constantly deteriorating security situation
In line with the Afghan government’s national and international commitments, it is time for the authorities to consider these shortcomings seriously. It is time for Afghan government to map out human rights priorities for 2019 and carefully scrutinize why it thus fair failed to deliver on them. There is an urgent need to raise awareness, for example, and to embolden an independent judiciary.
The Afghan government, with the support of international community – particularly the EU plus countries – must immediately consider a protection mechanism to provide prompt protection and support to human rights defenders at risk. The mechanism must use a collaborative approach among relevant government entities to ensure justice, truth and reparations.
The government must shore up civil society. Civil society actors must be regularly consulted on national, provincial and local level discussions and decisions. A stronger civil society means a stronger Afghanistan.