Students at a community-based education program in Kabul, Afghanistan | Photo: Paula Bronstein for HRW
Students at a community-based education program in Kabul, Afghanistan | Photo: Paula Bronstein for HRW

A leading female judge from Afghanistan, Fawzia Amini, has been honoured with a prestigious international human rights award for continuing to advocate for the rights of women and girls in her home country. Following the events of last year in her home country, she had to be evacuated to the UK/

Fawzia Amini, one of Afghanistan's leading female judges, has been honored with this year's Lantos Prize, a prestigious international human rights award from the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice. Previous recipients include the Dalai Lama and the Hong Kong human rights activist Joshua Wong.

"It is a great honor to receive the Lantos Prize," said Amini in a statement. "It is my wish that this honor will bring attention to the threats facing the women of Afghanistan, and particularly my fellow women judges.

"I was fortunate to be able to leave the country, but many of them have been unable to leave and they remain in grave danger. It is my duty now to advocate for them. I will continue to share this message: The Taliban have institutionalized discrimination against women. They have denied our fundamental rights. We cannot forget the women of Afghanistan."

The other two recipients of the prize, which was awarded to the women on May 18 in Washington, DC, are Roya Mahboob, the country's first female tech CEO, and Khalida Popal, co-founder and captain of Afghanistan's first women's soccer team.

All three women now live outside of their home country.


Beacon for women's rights

During the US-led occupation of the country, Amini worked as a senior judge in Afghanistan's Supreme Court, heading a court that specifically dealt with women's cases.

She had previously served as head of the Legal Department of the Ministry of Women's Affairs, working closely with the Ministry of Justice, where she reviewed laws from a gender perspective, ensuring that women's rights were protected.

But with the Taliban takeover last year, Amini, 48, fled Afghanistan, continuing to advocate for her country's women and girls from London.

She told The Guardian that she was delighted to have received the prestigious human rights prize, but added that she was increasingly fearful about the lack of rights for women and girls: "I am so worried that so many girls are losing their opportunities. They have no hope, no jobs and no food."

Fighting from a hotel room

From her exile in the UK, Amini continues her fight. Among other things,she participates in secret sessions on zoom to educate girls and women about their basic rights, which are being increasingly restricted by the Taliban.

In March, the Taliban ordered secondary schools for girls to shut down -- mere hours after being opened for the first time since August 2021.

But in London, Amini faces a different set of restrictions in her own life: For almost nine months now, Amini, along with her husband and their four daughters, have been living in a London hotel along with thousands of other Afghans waiting to be resettled in the country.

UK government sources have admitted that there are still 12,000 Afghans residing in hotels like Amini and her family, and The Guardian reported that the hotels are to serve as a "stopgap" as officials are working to move Afghan families into homes of their own.

To date, more than 6,000 people have moved -- or are in the process of being moved -- into permanent accommodation since the first rescue flights took off from Kabul in June 2021, according to The Guardian.

Evacuation of female judges to the UK

Last year, as the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, threatening the rights of Afghan women, many women in high offices, especially lawyers and judges, were suddenly put at grave risk in the country.

Scottish barrister and Member of the UK's House of Lords, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, led a drive by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) to assist more than 100 female judges and their families to flee Afghanistan -- among them Amini. However, 93 female judges and their families remain stranded in Afghanistan.

Last December, Kennedy told The Sunday Post:: "In late August, I started receiving text messages which chilled my heart ... They were from women -- judges, prosecutors and human rights activists -- who were all afraid for their lives. They were hiding in their basements or in their outhouses. Some had moved to stay with relatives but feared they were putting them in harm's way."

Situation remains critical for women's rights activists in Afghanistan

Earlier this year, the German human rights organization Pro Asyl said it feared that the Taliban were using the global attention on the war in Ukraine to "increasingly violently persecute," torture and kill people in Afghanistan. According to the group, there are mounting reports of exit bans, house searches, arrests as well as acts of intimidation and brutality against women.

The situation is becoming increasingly critical, as the new Taliban government has begun enforcing an order requiring all female TV news presenters in the country to cover their faces on air. Most female presenters have now been seen with their faces covered after the Taliban's Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice began enforcing the controversial decree.

The Afghan government has also issued new restrictions on freedom of movement for women outside the home, saying that they must cover themselves from head to toe if they venture out.


 

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