Sixty-five journalists, media professionals and human rights defenders were killed in Afghanistan between Jan 1, 2018 and Jan 31, 2021, says a UN report released this week.
And 11 of these media workers have lost their lives since the start of peace negotiations last September, which led to a peace deal between the US and Taliban, signed in February 2020.
“This trend, combined with the absence of claims of responsibility, has generated a climate of fear among the population”, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in its latest report.
The violence resulted in contraction of the human rights and media space, with many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work. Some of these workers were forced to quit their jobs, and leave their homes, communities – and even the country to protect themselves, the report added.
The report — “Killings of Human Rights Defender and Media Professionals” — also documented “changing patterns” of attacks from sporadic to premeditated. UN observers noted that media workers and human rights activists were now facing “deliberate targeting” while the perpetrators of these attacks remained anonymous.
In the past, media workers were often killed because of their proximity to attacks by organised armed groups, mainly the militant Islamic State in the Levant-Khorasan-Province (ISIL-KP), involving the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
To discourage such attacks, UNMA suggested “promoting accountability and preventing impunity.”
“Investigations into killings must be independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent” and the “prosecution of suspected perpetrators should strictly follow due process and fair trial standards,” the report added.
“The voices of human rights defenders and the media are critical for any open and decent society,” said Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and the head of UNAMA.
“At a time when dialogue and an end to the conflict through talks and political settlement should be the focus, the voices from human rights and the media need to be heard more than ever before, instead they are being silenced”, she said.
“The Afghan people need and deserve a flourishing civic space – a society where people can think, write and voice their views openly, without fear”, Ms. Lyons added Recommendations UNMA urged the Afghan government to put in place an adequate preventive framework, including special protective and proactive security measures for rights defenders, journalists and media workers.
It also urged the Taliban to adopt, publicize and enforce policies that prohibit the killings of human rights defenders, journalists and media workers, as well as to repeal existing and refrain from new policies that limit civic space.