—  International  —

The perilous situation of Afghanistan’s lawyers

- 31 janvier 2023
The Afghanistan Bar President and Voice President of International Bar Association. © D.R.

Afghan lawyers face a delicate situation in 2023. On 24 January the International Bar Association announced that this year will be dedicated to the issue.

From its place of exile in Brussels, the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (AIBA) relaunched its activities on the annual international Day of the Endangered Lawyer. To mark the occasion, a press conference took place at the Press Club in Brussels, with the participation of different countries, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), and the French National Bar Council.

CCBE President Panagiotis Perakis opened the event by calling on the world’s bar associations to « support lawyers from Afghanistan. » He also called for the continued existence of the AIBA and its activities and said it was « good news » that it is now active in exile.

To coincide with Day of the Endangered Lawyer, the CCBE said it was pleased to announce the official reopening of the AIBA in exile, which will allow it to focus on its future activities to support its members in exile and in Afghanistan.


The Afghanistan Independent Bar Association « AIBI » the exiled president Ruhullah Qarizada said the organisation is essential to the administration of justice, upholding the rule of law, and defending the rights of citizens. Additionally, by participating in the government’s legislative initiatives, such as the revision of Afghanistan’s penal code, the bar association has contributed significantly to the advancement of human rights and international law.

He reported on the situation of lawyers and the judicial system in Afghanistan since the Taliban took power and stressed that the AIBA is crucial for the independence of lawyers and the return to the rule of law.

Mr Qarazida continued by saying that many others had been pushed into hiding, and that more than 100 defence attorneys had been detained and arrested. Since November 2021, the Taliban has prohibited the operations of more than 6,000 Afghanistan Independent Bar Association AIBA members, including female attorneys. Incapable of engaging in lawful activities and facing an unclear future, more than 25% of AIBA’s female members are forced to stay at home.

A day after the edict was issued, according to Qarizada, a group of Taliban soldiers raided the AIBA office in Kabul, threatening employees and association members with violence and ordering them to leave. The organisation’s database, which contains the personal and professional details of more than 2,500 AIBA lawyers and staff members, was also taken by the Taliban.

« These documents contain identities (including names of family members), home addresses, phone numbers, cases they have worked on and presented, details on prosecutors and judges, and the attorneys’ affiliation with government and international organisations, » he said.

The Taliban, who have also « taken control of AIBA’s bank accounts and cash« , have a real chance of retaliating through the release of prisoners, according to this database.

Immediate assistance

Mr Qarizada urged his international colleagues to continue to support lawyers in Afghanistan and to:

  • 1) Provide immediate assistance to defence lawyers in danger, such as by providing a safe place and facilitating their transfer to a safe country.
  • 2) Recognise the plight of female defence attorneys or lawyers.
  • 3) Put international pressure on the Taliban to respect the basic rights of individuals.
  • 4) Collaborate and support the AIBA’s programmes from a distance, as it is a new institution that needs urgent and continuous support.

According to the AIBA, seven of its members have been killed since it was seized and 146 lawyers have been arrested or are under investigation. Many of their colleagues have been forced to flee the country or go into hiding with their families to escape the Taliban.

Emmanuel Plasschaert, president of the Brussels Bar Association, spoke on the specific assistance they have provided in the establishment of an association under Belgian law and the provision of space for AIBA. He declared that they would keep supporting the association, its members, and the independence of the judiciary.

Claudio Visco, the International Bar Association’s vice president, described the circumstances surrounding the reopening of AIBA in exile and the help given by the IBA, including ongoing support for the development of a new website and additional support as needed. He also emphasised the need to keep advancing the rule of law, safeguarding fundamental rights, and stopping violations of human rights.

« The global community can and must support them much more »

Also during the Day of the Endangered Lawyer, Margaret Satterthwaite, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, showed her support and posted the following message on Twitter: « I concur with you in expressing our serious worry about Afghanistan judges and attorneys, particularly women. The global community can and must support them much more. »

Additionally, she made a joint statement along with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, which urged immediate assistance and support.

The UN experts said: « Lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and other actors involved in the judicial system in Afghanistan face serious security risks, and those lawyers who still practice must navigate a profoundly challenging and non-independent system. »

Not a single female lawyer

The Taliban Ministry of Justice has said that Afghan lawyers will need to re-certify in accordance with a new set of standards it has created. This examination, which has little to do with the real practice of law, said Afghanistan Independent Bar Association AIBA: « basically tests the lawyers’ knowledge of religion. » In terms of the status of women, not a single female lawyer has received a licence from the Taliban, despite submitted applications, just like their male counterparts.

Lawyers no longer have the independence they enjoyed under the previous government and have simply been turned into agents of the current regime. The decree also stipulates that only Taliban-approved lawyers can appear in court and that lawyers must be « honest and loyal to the Islamic Emirate. »

In a press release, the AIBA cited the human rights abuses towards the legal profession under the Taliban. The association’s purpose is to give its members a platform and a voice, and to serve as a coordinating body for the cooperation of lawyers, including through offering services to the legal community. As part of its efforts to protect its members, it serves as a focal point for international assistance programmes for lawyers whose lives are in danger, especially those in Afghanistan. It aims to educate the world about the situation in Afghanistan, in particular the state of the legal system, the rule of law, and the protection of human rights.

Officially established in July 2008 by the legislative act of the Advocates’ Law, the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association « AIBA » headquartered in Kabul and has five regional offices located in the provincial capitals of Balkh, Herat, Kandahar, Kunduz and Nangarhar to help strengthen the legal aid sector in these areas.

In its press statement, the AIBA discussed how important collaboration is to its efforts and how it is working with its global partners, like the CCBE, to ensure the success of the new organisation in exile. As a result, we are therefore delighted to be there when the Bar Association announces plans for permanent headquarters. We the AIBA also look forward to continuing to collaborate with everyone who wants to see the rule of law restored in Afghanistan in the future.

Note: in previous years, the Day of the Endangered Lawyer has focused on the situation of lawyers in Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, Honduras, Iran, the Philippines, Spain (Basque Country), Turkey (twice), Pakistan and Colombia (twice).

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