HUMAN RIGHTS ON CAPITOL HILL
september 2021 NEWSLETTER
SPECIAL EDITION: Human Rights Crisis in Afghanistan
Following the Taliban’s seizure of Kabul in mid-August, the world has watched in horror a dire human rights and humanitarian crisis as thousands of people desperately seek to flee Afghanistan. Amnesty International has received desperate calls from human rights defenders (HRDs), journalists, civil society activists, academics, women activists, and ethnic and religious minorities seeking help to get them and their families out.
In the wake of the withdrawal of U.S. forces and diplomats from Afghanistan, Amnesty International USA calls on the U.S. government to implement a whole-of-government strategy that protects the human rights of Afghan civilians left behind and the rights of arriving Afghans to the U.S. While Aug. 31 has passed, the Biden administration must pursue every avenue to provide protection and safe evacuation to the thousands of Afghan civilians who face serious risk of reprisals and persecution from the Taliban. We call on all U.S. lawmakers to commit to evacuating, supporting, and welcoming the resettlement of all vulnerable Afghans, irrespective of deadline.
Responding to President Biden’s Aug. 31 speech, Paul O’Brien, the executive director of Amnesty International USA said:
“Adhering to his arbitrarily determined deadline, President Biden failed to put in place a successful plan for the evacuation of all Afghans at greatest risk. His plan fails those most at risk in Afghanistan and abdicates the U.S. government’s obligations to the Afghan people, obligations made heavy by the weight of a two-decade military presence. At this very moment at-risk journalists, interpreters, and women’s rights activists left behind in Afghanistan desperately phone their contacts abroad, asking for help. Their fears are real.”
Amnesty International USA is calling on the Biden Administration to:
- Commit to admitting at least 200,000 refugees in fiscal year 2022, and immediately commit to halt any and all removals to Afghanistan and designate Afghanistan for Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
- Work with Congress to ensure all arriving Afghans have a roadmap to citizenship and access to refugee resettlement benefits, including food, shelter, transportation, medical assistance, English training, employment preparation, and job placement
- Promote and expand community sponsorship – including a new private sponsorship program – to empower people across the country to directly welcome and support our new Afghan neighbors
- Use all diplomatic means to press Afghanistan’s neighbors to open their borders to Afghanistan’s refugees
- Stand up a robust humanitarian infrastructure to support Afghan refugees, including by urging Congress to pass emergency funding to support Afghans abroad and Afghans arriving to the U.S.
- Work with the UN to establish a fact-finding mission or similar investigative mechanism, with a multi-year mandate to investigate all crimes under international law, including human rights violations and abuses committed by all parties across Afghanistan.
- Work with the UN to urgently pass a resolution at the UN Security Council, calling on the Taliban to uphold international human rights law and guarantee protection from reprisals to those most at risk, including HRDs, journalists, and women leaders in Afghanistan.
- Provide accountability and remedies, including compensation, to Afghan survivors of torture by U.S. government personnel and military contractors as well as to civilian casualties of U.S. operations; and commit that the U.S.’s future operations, if any, in Afghanistan will reflect its obligations under international human rights law.
Arriving Afghans in Need of Tremendous Support
CONGRESS MUST SUPPORT AFGHANS ARRIVING IN THE U.S.
- Ensure that all arriving Afghans have access to refugee resettlement benefits, including those who are arriving on humanitarian parole. Congressional authorization is needed to ensure all Afghan parolees have access to the same resettlement services as refugees who are resettled through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Resettlement services include refugee medical assistance, English-language classes, housing assistance, job training, and helping children enroll in school.
- Pass legislation to establish a roadmap to citizenship for arriving Afghans to ensure that all those seeking safety in the U.S. have the ability to become permanent residents. This is a critical need as many Afghans were advised to destroy documents associating them to the U.S. mission, their human rights work, and other information that would otherwise be used as evidence to pursue an asylum claim.
- Pass robust appropriations to fund these efforts including:
- $5 billion for the Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Department of Health and Human Services for states and localities to welcome and support refugees;
- $2 billion for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration within the Department of State for the domestic reception and placement program;
- $1 billion for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within the Department of Homeland Security to address the refugee and asylum backlog – and to help process parole renewals and adjustment applications; and
- $10 million for Legal Orientation Programs and Recognition and Accreditation Programs within the Justice Department to provide legal support for arriving Afghans.
Afghans Left Behind Face Grave Danger
The U.S. government must commit to providing protection and safe passage to all Afghans left behind, who face risk of persecution from the Taliban. The U.S. must also ensure accountability for all human rights violations, whether committed by the Taliban or U.S. military operations.
Prior to the Taliban takeover of Kabul, an Amnesty research mission was on the ground in August to investigate and document atrocities committed by parties involved in the conflict. Amnesty released an Aug. 19 briefing documenting a massacre of nine ethnic Hazara men by Taliban fighters after taking control of Ghazni province. Amnesty’s researchers spoke to eyewitnesses who gave harrowing accounts of the killings which took place between July 4-6 in the village of Mundarakht, Malistan district. Six of the men were shot, and three were tortured to death including one man who was strangled with his own scarf and whose arm muscles were sliced off.
Amnesty sent an Aug. 24 letter to the White House expressing deep concern about the safety of women and girls in Afghanistan. President Biden should prioritize the urgent evacuation of women’s rights defenders; ensure paths to refugee protection for women; support the work of women human rights defenders and peacebuilders; integrate gender-based violence prevention and response into humanitarian response plans; help secure shelters for survivors of gender-based violence; and hold the Taliban and all actors publicly accountable for violations.
Tune into the Aug. 24 NPR interview of Amnesty’s Afghanistan Campaigner Samira Hamidi.
Given the significant risk of serious human rights abuses in Afghanistan, Amnesty International USA called on social media platforms to preserve and archive content that may provide evidence of past or ongoing abuses in support of future efforts to provide justice and accountability.
In response to the tragic news reports that an Aug. 29 U.S. airstrike killed a number of Afghan civilians, including children, Amnesty International issued a statement – calling for a credible and transparent investigation into the airstrike; remedy for decades of civilian casualties as a result of U.S. military operations including compensation, restitution, and rehabilitation; and for the U.S. to comply with international law moving forward, as the Biden administration is reportedly examining a policy on strikes outside of armed conflict.