Today we wrote to both the New Zealand Prime Minister, Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern, and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Honorable Nanaia Mahuta raising our concerns for Afghanistan.

You can read our letter in full below.

The Humanist Society of New Zealand wishes to thank the New Zealand government for the recent positive action regarding the plight of vulnerable people in Afghanistan.

The Humanist Society of New Zealand is gravely concerned with the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The withdrawal of international troops has triggered a humanitarian crisis. This presents a dire threat to many of the fundamental values of the humanist movement worldwide – freedom of thought, speech, and choice; the human rights of women, LGBTI+ people, and children; knowledge, rationality; human empathy.

The Taliban – a militant Islamist group designated a terrorist group by the UN Security Council – imposed a repressive regime over the country from the mid-1990s to late 2001. During this time, women and girls in Afghanistan suffered severe human rights violations and discrimination, including forced marriages, kidnapping, rape, and torture. The Taliban’s strict interpretation of Shari’a forbids women to work outside the home, attend school, or leave their homes unless accompanied by a male family member. The Taliban imposed strict Islamic sanctions for common crimes and regularly carried out flogging and executions (including by beheading or stoning). (1)

According to UN experts, the majority of women in areas under the control of the Taliban today, are again experiencing the same rights violations as those of 20 years ago. These include the forced wearing of a Burka, forced marriage, restrictions on freedom of movement and required use of a mahram, prohibition on working and restricted access to health care, education and more. Notably, some 80 per cent of the Afghans who have been forced to flee since the end of May 2021 are women and children. (2)

Progressive activists, humanists, human rights defenders, journalists, writers, academics, civil servants, interpreters, and former security personnel are all targets of the Taliban, because of their work defending human rights and democracy over the last 20 years. Minority religious and belief groups and ethnic minorities (such as Hazaras, who are mostly Shia Muslims) are also at risk. There is evidence of extensive human rights abuses against these people by the Taliban, including the beheadings and extrajudicial killings. Many are hiding in fear or are seeking to flee the country.

Considering the worsening humanitarian crisis, the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) has issued a non-return advisory for Afghanistan, calling for a bar on forced returns of Afghan nationals, including asylum seekers who have had their claims rejected. It has been advised that this moratorium on the return of Afghan asylum seekers should remain in place as a minimum standard, until the human rights situation, significantly improves. (3)

The Humanist Society of New Zealand asks our government to keep our borders open to receive asylum seekers from Afghanistan, and refrain from deporting any undocumented Afghans living in our country, in accordance with the UNHCR non-return advisory. New Zealand must publicly recognize that Afghans fleeing Afghanistan should be given meaningful opportunities to seek asylum, with particular attention paid to those feared to be at particular risk – such as Humanists, LGBTI+ people, minority belief groups, those who have worked to promote human rights, democracy, and education; academics, writers, journalists, and other media workers; and people who have done work for foreign countries.

As a free democracy, New Zealand has a legal and moral responsibility to allow those fleeing Afghanistan to seek safety and to not forcibly return refugees.

It is important to protect the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan by increasing funding and support for non-governmental programmes vital for local NGOs that promote women’s rights, including in education, reproductive rights, and equality before the law.

We ask that New Zealand support NGOs and human rights defenders by increasing support for non-governmental groups inside and outside of Afghanistan that promote human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, education, health care, and other vital needs.

New Zealand must call for accountability and sanctions against all actors and governments directly or indirectly supporting the Taliban, including through funding, training, and the provision of or supply of arms. (4)

We ask that New Zealand calls for governments with the capacity to provide safe passage and evacuation for those fleeing Afghanistan on humanitarian grounds.

We ask that the New Zealand government requests the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution which:

● Demands all parties to the Afghan conflict to abide by international human rights standards and international humanitarian law.

● Reiterates that the International Criminal Court, to which Afghanistan is a party, can prosecute war crimes and other atrocities.

● Calls on all parties to ensure that all civilians, including internally displaced people, have full and free access to humanitarian assistance from UN agencies and humanitarian groups.

● Applies to the fullest extent and consistent with international law, the international sanctions on designated terrorist organizations, including the obligations of all States to suppress and prevent terrorist acts.

We ask that the UN Human Rights Council to hold an emergency session addressing the obligations of all States to advance the promotion and protection of human rights including (5):

● By establishing a fact-finding mission to be deployed urgently to Afghanistan so as to assess the situation on the ground and report back to the Council on human rights violations and responsibilities.

● By supporting the High Commissioner for Human Rights in her efforts to prevent the further commission of systematic human rights violations and create a mechanism of international accountability for these systemic human rights violations.

● By engaging UN Special Procedure mandates to support fact-finding and accountability on the serious human rights violations occurring in Afghanistan.

● By paying particular attention to the protection of the most vulnerable in Afghanistan including children, women and girls, belief minorities, human rights defenders, journalists and the media, educators, and the disabled, using the full capacity of the Council’s diplomatic and political capacity to engage with all stakeholders to protect and support these groups.

The Humanist Society of New Zealand thanks our government for action already taken to address this unfolding crisis in Afghanistan.