A New Zealand Supreme Court Justice and president of the International Association of Women Judges has called on the Government to help secure safe passage for female members of the Afghan judiciary and their families.
Taliban forces swept across the central Asian country — in many instances without opposition from the Afghanistan government’s military — before capturing the capital Kabul this week.
The speed of the Taliban’s advance saw President Ashraf Ghani flee into exile and has left many countries scrambling to evacuate diplomatic staff, citizens and Afghan nationals who worked alongside the military during the nearly two-decade war.
A New Zealand Defence Force C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and about 40 personnel have been ordered to Afghanistan to assist with evacuations, while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday said up to 200 Afghan locals could be included in NZ’s extraction effort.
An estimated 53 New Zealanders and 37 Afghan nationals, who had worked alongside the NZDF, remain in the embattled country. Commercial flights have ceased from Kabul but thousands of US troops have been deployed to secure the city’s airport for the massive airlift.
Justice Susan Glazebrook, who is also the president of the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), said the NZ Government should also play its part to evacuate and provide refuge for female Afghan judges and their families.
There are 250 female judges in Afghanistan.
Ardern has said the focus is to evacuate Kiwis from Afghanistan, or people such as translators whose lives are at risk because they had supported the NZDF.
The IAWJ — a non-profit, nongovernmental organisation — is calling on governments around the world to include female Afghan judges and their families in the special measures extended to interpreters, journalists and other personnel who assisted foreign military forces during the war, Justice Glazebrook said.
Reports have emerged of Taliban fighters going door-to-door searching for female journalists.
While all members of the judiciary are at risk under Taliban rule – which has operated under an extremist Sharia law ideology – women judges are a particular target, Justice Glazebrook said yesterday evening.
“We know from the last time that the Taliban came to power in the 1990s that judges were targeted. We have no reason to be optimistic today. Women judges are particularly at risk of revenge attacks because the Taliban and their allies consider it unacceptable for women to sit in judgment over men.”
Justice Glazebrook, in her role for the IAWJ, said she has been in contact with female judges in Afghanistan over recent days.
Earlier this year two female Afghan judges were assassinated on their way to court, she said, but the events of this week place them under immediate and ongoing threat.
“We understand that the Taliban has already released prisoners, even from the high security prisons, and that judges are receiving calls with threats along the lines of ‘where will you hide now?’
“Women judges have helped establish the rule of law in their country, an essential pillar of a democratic state. Allowing them to be at the mercy of the Taliban and insurgent groups, given what they have sacrificed, would be tragic indeed.”
Female Afghan judges have forged connections with the New Zealand judiciary and in 2013, Aotearoa hosted six judges from Afghanistan, who visited courts and organisations such as Women’s Refuge, following an IAWJ regional conference.
In May this year, 37 Afghan women judges remotely attended the IAWJ conference hosted in Auckland, with two speaking at the conference on the daily risks in their country.
“The international community, including New Zealand, encouraged the women of Afghanistan to take up their studies and to take on positions of responsibility in the community,” Justice Glazebrook said.
“I call upon the Government to offer some of these courageous women judges and their families safe passage and refuge here in Aotearoa New Zealand as part of the humanitarian response to this situation.”
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