Dear Prime Minister Suga,
We write to you to urge your government to take urgent steps to address the human rights crisis in Afghanistan and help protect Afghan civilians at particular risk.
International protection for Afghans
The US departure on August 31 left behind many Afghans who fear persecution from the Taliban. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces were able to evacuate only 14 Afghans from Kabul.
Japan’s humanitarian visa scheme currently under consideration is reportedly aimed only at Afghans who worked with the Japanese embassy and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), along with their family members, as well as those Afghans who worked for Japanese entities such as Japanese nongovernmental organizations, which is estimated to be around 500 people in total. Plans to facilitate family reunion or pledges for resettlement have not been announced to date.
Any humanitarian visa scheme should include Afghans who have worked directly or indirectly with the Japanese government, including Afghans who studied in Japan through JICA programs, or who would otherwise be perceived as being associated with Japan, including Afghan staff of local partner groups of Japanese organizations, particularly those exposed to public recognition in performance of their role. Their family members should also be eligible for the humanitarian visa scheme.
Further, we recognize that the plan to accept an estimated 500 Afghans, aimed to help the Afghans who worked for the Japanese government and entities under the new humanitarian visa scheme, might be considered a great leap in the eyes of the Japanese government. However, we urge Japan to further these efforts by providing travel documents for Afghans at heightened risk of persecution from the Taliban because of their past work or status, along with their immediate family members, whether inside or outside Afghanistan, regardless of their past ties to Japan. There are many Afghans already out of the country, or who are in the process of relocating, who need assistance, and may require documents and assistance in third countries. People feared to be at particular risk include those who have worked to promote human rights, democracy, women’s rights, and education; academics, teachers, writers, journalists, and other media workers; women with prominent roles in government or public life; and people who have worked for foreign countries; among other at-risk categories. Members of ethnic minorities and Shia Muslims, especially Hazaras, and LGBT people, are also at greater risk.
Beyond expanding the humanitarian visa scheme currently under consideration, designed mainly for the protection of Afghans who worked for Japan, we urge your government to introduce an urgent relocation and resettlement program to help other Afghans at high risk, in numbers commensurate with the crisis. This would be in addition to, and much larger than, Japan’s regular annual resettlement program for a few dozens.
We would urge Japan to approve an extra humanitarian intake such as Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States have done. Canada has pledged to admit an additional 20,000 Afghan refugees. The United Kingdom has pledged to resettle 5,000 Afghans in the first year, and another 15,000 at a later point. Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has said that Afghans “especially deserving of protection” will have access to a three-year residency permit without having to apply for asylum.
Further, we ask you to consider fast-tracking the refugee determination process to recognize Afghan asylum seekers as refugees and grant them international protection. We also urge you to prioritize family reunion applications for relatives of Afghan Japanese and Afghans in Japan who may be at risk in Afghanistan.
We welcome Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa’s announcement on August 20 that deportations of Afghan nationals would be put on hold. Given that temporary visas are subject to applications for renewal, we urge you to create a pathway to permanent residency for all Afghans in Japan.
For the international protection of Afghans, Japan should:
- Provide humanitarian visas to all Afghans who have worked directly or indirectly with the Japanese government including JICA, or who would otherwise be perceived as being associated with Japan, with their family members.
- Provide humanitarian visas to Afghans in Afghanistan and neighboring countries to allow safe travel and consider lifting visa requirements for Afghans, including for those without past connection to Japan;
- Pledge resettlement places for Afghans from countries of first arrival and transit in numbers commensurate with the crisis;
- Fast-track the refugee determination process in order to ensure Afghan asylum seekers as are recognized as refugees;
- Facilitate family reunification for Afghans already in Japan with their relatives;
- Work with the entire G7 to urgently convene a larger meeting of concerned states to reach a global agreement on refugee resettlement policies and humanitarian needs.
Humanitarian assistance and civil society support
We urge Japan to increase humanitarian assistance to neighboring countries to which Afghans are fleeing and support those countries admitting them. The Japanese government should also pledge new support for nongovernmental groups inside and outside of Afghanistan that assist with refugee resettlement, and otherwise promote humanitarian and human rights needs, including for women, children, internally displaced people, and others, as well as education, health care, and other vital needs. The participation of Afghan civil society groups in discussions of assistance and resettlement is vital.
For humanitarian assistance and civil society support, Japan should:
- Increase humanitarian assistance to neighboring countries to which Afghans are fleeing and support those countries admitting them;
- Pledge new support for nongovernmental groups inside and outside of Afghanistan that assist with refugee resettlement.
The United Nations: strengthening reporting and fact-finding
At the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, scheduled to start on September 13, we urge Japan to actively support the creation of a fact-finding mission or similar international investigative mechanism as a matter of priority, with a mandate to monitor and report on, and collect evidence of, human rights violations and abuses committed across the country by all parties in Afghanistan. The High Commissioner for Human Rights also “urge[d] this Council to take bold and vigorous action, commensurate with the gravity of this crisis, by establishing a dedicated mechanism to closely monitor the evolving human rights situation in Afghanistan.”
We ask Japan join with other countries to call on the Taliban comply with UN Security Council resolution 2593 adopted on August 30. That resolution calls on the Taliban to enable safe passage for those who wish to leave Afghanistan, allow humanitarian organizations full access across the country, and to uphold their international human rights obligations, including for women and girls.
The UN Security Council is set to renew the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in September. UNAMA’s mandate should ensure that it continues to monitor and investigate human rights abuses, particularly for women and girls, and for other groups at heightened risk of rights violations. The council should instruct UNAMA to continue publicly reporting on its findings. UNAMA should share information and evidence with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court as well as other international or domestic bodies investigating war crimes and other abuses in Afghanistan.
At the United Nations, Japan should:
- Support the creation of an international investigative mechanism on rights violations and abuses by all parties in Afghanistan at the upcoming 48th Session of the Human Rights Council.
We would be happy to discuss these issues with you and your team.
Brad Adams and Kanae Doi
Executive Director and Japan Director
Human Rights Watch