She fled Afghanistan with her law degree sewn into her dress. Many of his colleagues have been left behind


When Fawzia Amini worked as a senior judge at the Supreme Court of Afghanistan, she presided over cases of violent crimes against women, hearing harrowing and heartbreaking accounts of child marriage, sexual assault and femicide.

Last August, as the Taliban stormed Kabul and seized control of Afghanistan, they shut down the court for the elimination of violence against women that Amini headed, fired all his judges and, she said, froze their bank accounts. At the same time, the group took control of key prisons and freed thousands of inmates, including some of the men she had convicted in her courtroom, she said.

Amini said she was scared and started seeking asylum for herself and her family to flee Kabul.

“We were worried about everything – our situation, our lives and our safety in particular,” she told CNN in an interview from west London, where she now lives in temporary accommodation with her husband and children. four daughters.

Before fleeing their home, Amini grabbed a pair of scissors, a needle and some thread. She cut slits in the lining of her dress and sewed inside her most prized possession: her law degree.

Wherever she ends up, the 48-year-old Afghan judge wanted to make sure she took proof of her qualifications with her.

The same documents no longer mean anything to his colleagues stuck in Afghanistan, some of whom have gone into hiding. Amina’s friend, Samira, who sat on the same court that prosecuted violence against women, said she was one of about 80 female judges still in the country.

“Now I live like a prisoner,” Samira, whose full name has been withheld to protect her safety, told CNN in a Skype interview. “They (the Taliban) stole my life.”

The crisis currently facing women judges is emblematic of the Taliban’s massive dismantling of women’s rights won over the past two decades in Afghanistan.

Since 2001, when the group was last in power, the international community has pushed for legal protections for Afghan women and trained a group of young female judges, prosecutors and lawyers to enforce them. In 2009, then-President Hamid Karzai enacted the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act (EVAW), criminalizing acts of abuse against women, including rape, forced marriage and prohibiting a woman or girl from going to school or working.

Specialized courts to try cases of violation of the law – like the one where Amina and Samira worked – were deployed in 2018 and set up in at least 15 provinces of the country, according to Human Rights Watch. Although full implementation has been uneven and achievements have fallen short of expectations, the law became the engine of a slow but genuine change for Afghan women’s freedoms – a change that has been rapidly eroding.

Over the past year, Taliban leaders have banned girls from high school and barred women from most workplaces. They prevented women from taking long car journeys alone, requiring a male relative to accompany them for any distance over 45 miles.

New guidelines for broadcasters ban all dramas, soap operas and entertainment shows from featuring women, and female news anchors have been ordered to wear headscarves on screen. And, in their latest decree, the Taliban ordered women to cover their faces in public, ideally by wearing a burqa.

And by banishing women from the justice system, the Taliban has effectively denied them the right to legal recourse to remedy any of these violations. This has left women and girls without recourse in a system that enshrines a radical Islamic interpretation of patriarchal rule, Amini explained.

Judge Fawzia Amini is pictured on an overnight bus journey to Mazar-i-Sharif, from where she flew out of the country.

It was this terrifying reality, she says, that forced her to flee. Amini, her husband and daughters took a bus in September from Kabul to the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, driving 12 hours overnight with the headlights turned off to avoid detection.

“It was very hard for us,” she says, tears in her eyes. “During this time, we were very worried about everything.”

From Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport, they boarded a specially chartered plane for women judges, organized with the help of Baroness Helena Kennedy, one of Britain’s most distinguished lawyers. Brittany.

Last August, Kennedy, a member of the House of Lords, said she was inundated with WhatsApp messages from dozens of desperate judges, women she had developed a connection with through her work establishing a bar association in Afghanistan.

“It started with getting some really tragic and passionate messages on my iPhone,” she said. “Messages from people saying, ‘Please help me please. I hide in my basement. Already, I received threatening messages. Already, there’s a target behind my back.'”

Determined to help, Kennedy, along with the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, raised funds for the evacuations through a GoFundMe page and charitable donations from philanthropists. Over several weeks, Kennedy says, the team chartered three separate planes that flew 103 women, mostly judges, and their families out of Afghanistan.

The women are now scattered across several western countries, many still stuck in legal limbo seeking more permanent residence for themselves and their families.

When Amini’s family left Afghanistan, they say they traveled first to Georgia and then to Greece, where they waited over a month before receiving documents from the UK to apply. a reinstallation. They were eventually allowed to travel to the UK. But, a year later, they are still living in a west London hotel, awaiting more permanent accommodation.

The British government has been criticized for failing to move some 10,000 Afghan refugees still living in hotels, such as Amini, into permanent accommodation.

“I imagined the world would have opened its arms and said ‘bring me these incredibly brave women.’ But then my second set of problems came because we were having a really hard time finding places to relocate the women,” Kennedy said.

Amini and Samira were once among Afghanistan’s pioneers, leading women’s rights judges trying to create a more just and equal society. Now they live in worlds apart, their hopes for their country shattered.

“We dreamed of a new Afghanistan. We wanted to change our lives, we wanted to change everything,” Amini said. “Now we have lost our hopes for our country. Everything stopped. »

His priority is now turned to learning English. She hopes to return to work in the UK one day. Her daughters are enrolled in local schools and continuing their education – a right they would be denied in their native Afghanistan.

For Samira, there doesn’t seem to be an immediate exit from Kabul, at least for now. She fears for her young daughter and what growing up under the Taliban will mean for her.

“I think about his future. How can I save her? Because life now in Afghanistan is so difficult and dangerous,” Samira said. “We are facing a slow death.”

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