Dear Foreign Minister,
We write to you to urge your government to take urgent steps to address the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Afghanistan and help protect Afghans at particular risk by taking a rights-based approach in your role at the United Nations Security Council and the Human Rights Council.
In particular, we urgently ask that you support the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and over 50 civil society groups that are calling for creation of an investigative mechanism, with a gender-responsive and multi-year mandate, resources to monitor and regularly report on, and to collect evidence of human rights violations and abuses committed across the country by all parties, to address the escalating human rights and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. This will be crucial so that UN member states are fully informed of the situation on the ground as they take important decisions on how to respond to the crisis, how to help protect the rights and lives of the people of Afghanistan, and how to prevent further crimes. This will help address the accountability gap that fuels grave violations and abuses across the country, and to complement and support international and national work on accountability for crimes under international law.
International Protection for Afghans
The United States departure from Afghanistan on August 31, left behind many Afghans who fear persecution from the Taliban. The Indian government was able to evacuate all Indian embassy personnel and at least 550 people, including 260 Indian nationals. The Indian government has started an emergency e-visa system for Afghan nationals traveling to India, allowing them to stay in India for six months.
Indian officials have said that they are prioritizing the evacuation of Indian nationals and that the e-visa invalidated all previously issued visas for Afghans not in India, including students that had left following the university shutdowns to stem the spread of Covid-19.
Decisions regarding the status of Afghan nationals who were in India before the Taliban takeover, whose visas may have run out or will run out in the future, as well as of Afghans arriving on e-visas after their visas run out in six months, are still pending.
We welcome the efforts by the government to evacuate Afghans at risk and urge that any visa policies under consideration include Afghans who have worked directly or indirectly with the Indian government. This includes Afghans who studied in India, security force personnel who received training in India, those associated with Indian-backed development or infrastructure projects, and anyone else who would otherwise be perceived as being associated with India, including Afghan staff of local partner groups of Indian organizations, particularly those exposed to public recognition in performance of their role. Their family members should also be eligible for any visa scheme.
We also urge India to further its efforts to help Afghans 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 India. 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.
We urge you to announce an urgent relocation and resettlement program for Afghans at high risk. This should include options whereby at-risk Afghans can apply for humanitarian visas in third countries together with facilitating their evacuation and safe passage from Afghanistan.
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 Indians, and Afghans in India who may be at risk in Afghanistan.
Humanitarian assistance and civil society support
We urge you to increase humanitarian assistance to neighboring countries to which Afghans are fleeing and support those countries admitting them. The Indian 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.
The United Nations: strengthening reporting and fact-finding
At the ongoing 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, we urge India 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.
In her update on September 13, 2021, the High Commissioner for Human Rights committed to continue the efforts under resolution 48/141 and reiterated her appeal “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 India to join with other countries to call on the Taliban to 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.
We would be happy to discuss these issues with you and your team.
South Asia Director
Human Rights Watch