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Afghanistan: Targeted killings of 65 media, rights workers

February 15, 2021

At least 65 media and rights workers have been killed in a series of attacks across the country since 2018, the report said. The number of attacks rose substantially since the start of peace talks in September 2020.

A man sweeps the ground after gunmen fired on a car in Kabul, killing two women judges who worked for Afghanistan's high court and wounding the driver, in January 2021
A man sweeps the ground after gunmen fired on a car in Kabul, killing two women judges who worked for Afghanistan's high court and wounding the driver, in January 2021Image: Rahman Gul/dpa/AP/picture alliance

At least 65 media professionals and human rights activists have been killed in a series of targeted killings across Afghanistan, from 2018 through the first month of this year, the UN reported on Monday. 

Thirty-two of the 65 victims were human rights defenders and 33 others were media professionals, the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) report said. 

UNAMA additionally found that the number of targeted killingssubstantially increased since the start of intra-Afghan talks to settle the ongoing war, in September 2020. Eleven media workers and rights activists were killed during that period, leading up to January of this year. 

"Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists," the UN said. "We are particularly concerned about the impunity that prevails in these dramatic cases. In 9 out of 10 cases, impunity for such violations and abuses is total."

Deadly year for journalists

Media pushed to self-censor

Such attacks have led several outlets and media professionals to self-censor, quit their jobs or even leave the country due to safety concerns. 

"Working to provide timely information to the population of Afghanistan, exposing a range of issues (including violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law), they are far too often exposed to threats, intimidation, harassment, surveillance, arbitrary detention," UNAMA said. 

The method and objective of the killings has also changed since 2018, when the leading source of casualties among both human rights defenders and journalists were attacks involving the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) aimed at maximizing casualties. Many of those attacks were not directly targeting human rights defenders or journalists. 

In 2018, "the greatest risk seemed to be of incidental harm while reporting on or working with those targeted," UNAMA said.

Killings become more 'targeted'

In 2019, the number of casualties decreased, but killings became more targeted – a trend which was observed into 2020. 

The report did not, however, directly blame the Taliban specifically for the killings, although the Afghan government has repeatedly accused the group of silencing the voices of civil society. 

"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," said Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan. 

UNAMA has asked the Afghan government to launch an effective national protection mechanism for the safety of civil servants, and asked non-state actors including Taliban militants to investigate any attacks they are accused of carrying out. 

lc (dpa)