Shaharzad Akbar’s Remarks to European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality


Shaharzad Akbar’s Remarks to European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality

6 September 2021 


Honorable members of the European Parliament, distinguished co-panelists,

I am honored to be speaking to you today, for the second time since JuneI want to speak to you about the human rights crisis in Afghanistan, and repeat our call for a strong, credible, well-resourced monitoring mechanism established by the UN. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I like many Afghan human rights defenders, activists, media workers and artists, am outside Afghanistan now, forced to leave our homeland, our loved ones, our institutions and our aspirations and dreams for Afghanistan behind. While some of us managed to leave before the fall of Kabul or in the horrific weeks that followed, the majority of our colleagues and friends remain behind and live in fear. They are facing threats and an uncertain future. They believe the world has forgotten about them, because they do not see enough concrete steps and actions to enable their safe departure from Afghanistan

The more than 35 million Afghans remain, more than half of them women and girls, facing hunger, lack of access to basic services and a bleak future for their fundamental human rights. They need your support.

As Taliban are consolidating their power, we all see them making promises to the Western media and governments. Meanwhile, we also, through our contacts on the ground, hear reports of illegal detentions, summary executions, door to door searches, restrictions imposed on women and civilian harm caused by Taliban’s military campaign on Panjshir. Taliban’s actions are not aligned with their promises. 

As the world shifts away its attention from Afghanistan, my biggest fear, as an activist, a woman, an Afghan, is that the lights will be turned off. As the world looks away, and a fundamentalist male-dominated government takes shape, disregarding the diversity of Afghanistan, women, minorities, activists and media workers are worried about intensified repression and erasure. Women and girls have immediately been plunged back into the repression, marginalization and inequality of the 1990s.

Afghans have been disappointed by their own government and by the rest of the world. However, this need not to be the end of the journey. We should not lose all hope. We see brave Afghan women standing up in peaceful protest for their rights and for an inclusive government in different parts of the country every day. While I am in mourning and shattered, I am inspired by their courage and resilience. They are leading the way. We only need to follow those voices on the ground, the leadership of those remarkable women activists, to still make a difference. 

I want to call on you to prove our worst fears wrong. Please continue to stand with the Afghan people. Do not look away. Do not forget. Do not become complacent about the human rights violations in Afghanistan. Do not extend support to a government that continues on a culture of impunity, disregards victims of war and represses the fundamental rights of women. I say this not only because it is in the interests of Afghans, it is in your interests as well.

Continue to work with your governments to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. The Afghan population need not to be punished for the violations of the Taliban. Continue providing assistance for those who are threatened and want to leave, a way to safe and dignified life in your own countries. While a small number of my colleagues from the Commission have been evacuated by the European Countries, a great number remain in Afghanistan, unable to continue their work and in fear of reprisals. We will count on your continued support to them and that they and the broader human rights community will not be forgotten following the withdrawal.  Continue to watch Taliban closely and hold them to account on human rights of all Afghans. 

One concrete step that you can take now is to work with the governments in advance of the upcoming Human Rights Council session in September. The Special Session in August came with such a weak resolution that it signaled to the Taliban that nobody was watching. But without any civic space under an occupying army, our activists and media are forced into exile and reporting on violations and atrocities is even more dangerous than the past 20 years. We need the world to be watching. Just in the past few days, there have been disturbing allegations of human rights violations in Panjshir. These allegations need to be investigated. This is another reason why we need a credible and well-resourced mechanism, a strong fact-finding mission. We need this to document atrocities but also to be a deterrent. This is not a big ask from the Afghans who have lost & sacrificed so much, who live in fear and uncertainty, who like all of you deserve to enjoy the full range of their human rights. We only have days before the session. We need a Member State to put forward a resolution in support of a Fact-finding mission; we need other Member States to sign on and support. We do not have much time. It is already late for Afghans. This cannot wait until next year, as some member states have suggested. Afghans deserve this one simple thing from you, now. I appreciate the hard work by many states who have been trying to evacuate their own nationals and some Afghans at risk, however, when this is given as a reason for not giving attention to our urgent request for a Fact FindingMission, I am perplexed. As a mother as well as leading a human rights organization, I am used to multi-tasking. Is it really beyond the collective foreign policy leaders of the Entire European Union to take some time to decide on joint policy on accountability in Afghanistan?

I have a final request, one that we Afghans have been repeating over the years and that relates to the remarks of Ambassador Andreas made earlier. With utmost respect to him, who shared his wisdom on the modern Taliban, Afghans know the Taliban better than him. My colleagues who are living in fear known them better than him. And having lived in Afghanistan before and after what he disparagingly called the “beautiful twenty years” - which he felt was nothing new – this was a time of unprecedented rapid change. It’s loss is nothing short of a tragedy for millions of women and girls. You all have the privilege of not being alarmed, Afghan women and girls don’t. 

The weeks and months ahead remain uncertain, but one thing is certain: Taliban will, to the extent they can, reverse human rights gains of Afghanistan. They have already imposed restrictions on women, media, political rights and cultural life. It will be a struggle to hold Taliban to account to Afghanistan’s international commitments to anti-torture conventions. I dread seeing the cutting of hands and stoning reinstituted as government policy. We are very likely to see increase in forced and child marriages. I don’t know when we will see women and men voting in Afghanistan again. Much of what we worked for will be challenged, attacked and potentially destroyed. In the meantime, Taliban will continue to say that they represent Islam, they represent Afghan culture, they represent all Afghans. Your ability to hold them to account may be limited but please, do not, for a minute, believe or proclaim that their repressive policies represent Afghanistan or the will of the Afghan people. That will be a step beyond neglect. It will make you complicit in their abuses. 

You can still stand with the Afghan people, with Afghan women and girls, with the Afghan media and human rights community. Today’s meeting is an example of this solidarity. Let us take it further. Let us do more. Afghans deserve more. 
Thank you.