The Day of the Endangered Lawyer

13 Feb 23

A consortium of international human rights organizations, bar associations, and advocacy groups has released its annual report coinciding with the International Day of the Endangered Lawyer, January 24. This year's focus is on Afghanistan. From the introduction of this year's report:

Since 2010, the International Day of the Endangered Lawyer has been observed on 24 January in cities, countries, and continents around the globe.

This date was chosen as the annual International Day of the Endangered Lawyer because on 24 January 1977, four lawyers and a co-worker were murdered at their address at Calle Atocha 55 in Madrid, an event that came to be known as the Massacre of Atocha.

Each year, the International Day is organised by the Coalition for the Endangered Lawyer, a network of national and international organisations and bar associations.
The purpose of this International Day is to draw the attention of government officials, international institutions, civil society, the media and the general public to the plight of lawyers in a particular focus country, to raise awareness about the threats the lawyers in that country face in the exercise of their profession.

In previous years, the Day has been dedicated to countries including Colombia (2022 and 2014), Azerbaijan (2021), Pakistan (2020), Turkey (2019 and 2012), Egypt (2018), China (2017), Honduras (2016), the Philippines (2015), Basque Country/Spain (2013), and Iran (2010).

This year, the International Day of the Endangered Lawyer focuses on Afghanistan. As set forth below, the situation confronting Afghan lawyers today is extremely dire.
The report details the travails of actual members of the Afghan bar. Lawyers there have been forced to flee the country or hide for their lives following the Taliban takeover and the elimination of the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (AIBA). Women lawyers and judges were particularly targeted for persecution, death threats and intimidation. The collapse of the legal system in Afghanistan has been described as a human rights catastrophe.
On 22 November 2021, the Taliban’s Ministry of Justice issued a decree depriving the AIBA of its independence, including its authority to grant licences to lawyers. One day after the decree was issued, Taliban forces stormed the AIBA’s headquarters in Kabul, threatening its employees and members with violence and ordering them to leave the premises. The Taliban gained access to the AIBA’s databases including data on over 2,500 lawyers and non-lawyer employees. These records contained lawyers’ ID information, the names of family members, home addresses, and phone numbers, as well as information on cases handled and lawyers’ affiliations with government and international organizations, in addition to information on prosecutors and judges. The Taliban also seized control of the AIBA’s bank accounts and funds. Since then, the AIBA was forced to cease its operations in the country and was placed under the control of the de facto Taliban Ministry of Justice.

Using the information garnered from the databases that it seized, the Taliban targeted lawyers who had previously worked on “sensitive” cases (e.g., cases involving the defence of human rights, including women’s rights, and other similar matters).

According to AIBA, 7 lawyers have been killed since the dissolution of AIBA and 146 lawyers have been arrested or investigated. Many of their colleagues felt compelled to flee the country or to begin living in hiding, together with their families, to attempt to evade the de facto authorities.
Now, only Taliban-approved lawyers are permitted to practice before the courts, and only those who adhere to Sharia law are granted licenses. Women are not eligible to practice law. Those who were active in human rights or who had ties to international organizations are denied licenses as well.

The report urges pressure campaigns directed towards the de facto authorities in Afghanistan, universal recognition of the claims of asylum for Afghan lawyers, and programs for the support and recognition of the plight of Afghan lawyers by bar associations and law societies around the world.