18 Aug 2021

‘I have burned my documents’ - women Afghan judges in hiding as bar groups highlight plight 

Bar associations unite to call for expedited evacuation of and asylum for 250 female judges in Afghanistan

Toronto, Canada. August 15, 2021 Afghanistan protesters at Dundas Square in Toronto

A demonstration against the Taliban in Toronto on 15 August Mostofa Mohiuddin, Shutterstock

Fears are growing for Afghanistan’s 250 women judges with bar groups calling for their safe passage out of the country to be prioritised amid reports of house-to-house searches by the Taliban. 

The Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association today called for the evacuation of women judges to be expedited, amid chaotic scenes in Kabul after the Taliban’s seizure of power on Sunday.

In a statement issued earlier today they highlighted the threat to “women judges who previously heard trials against members of the Taliban, and lawyers who worked for the fallen government”. 

Also today, Law Society of England and Wales president Stephanie Boyce said she was concerned the UK government's hastily assembled resettlement scheme, which aims for to accommodate 5,000 vulnerable Afghans in its first year, "will be insufficient to protect all those in imminent danger" and called for it to be accelerated.

The moves come as one judge in hiding in Afghanistan told Canada’s CBC News she had burned her documents because house searches were underway, while another said: “For Taliban members just being a judge is enough reason to be killed. Especially women judges are more in danger.” 

According to data published by Afghan Ministry of Justice in 2019, women represented 21% of the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association, which had advocated for women's advancement in the justice sector with support from the International Bar Association and other bar groups. The danger posed to women judges was underlined in in January when two women members of Afghanistan’s Supreme Court were assassinated

“Women judges are seen as an especial threat by the Taliban or their allies who do not accept a woman can stand in judgement of a man,” said The International Society of Women Judges. 

Tony Pagone QC, president of the Rome-based International Association of Judges, said: “Women judges in Afghanistan have already expressed genuine fear in an uncertain and evolving situation. They are one of many groups that have tried to implement the values which many of us take for granted and which the West has actively encouraged. They cannot be left without support.” 

In the US, meanwhile, senate Democrats are calling on President Joe Biden to help evacuate women leaders from Afghanistan. Senate foreign relations committee chairman Bob Menendez and member Jeanne Shaheen organised a letter signed by 44 other senators from both parties calling on the administration to ‘create a humanitarian parole category specifically for women leaders,’ as well as hundreds of journalists and human rights activists, among others.  

Biden defended his decision to withdraw from the country in an address on Monday, telling the nation he stands “squarely behind his decision”, but admitted the situation unfolded “more quickly than we had anticipated”. The Pentagon has said it will accelerate evacuation efforts over the coming days, while Canada has said it also plans to send in more evacuation planes as long as the Kabul airport remains secure.  

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