Afghanistan’s Justice System in Jeopardy as Women Lawyers Forced to Cease Practice Commentary
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Afghanistan’s Justice System in Jeopardy as Women Lawyers Forced to Cease Practice
Edited by: JURIST Staff

The Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (AIBA) was founded in 2008 with the aim of promoting fair trials, enhancing public trust in the legal profession, fostering collaboration among justice sector stakeholders, fostering the next generation of committed legal professionals, and combating administrative corruption in a country ravaged by war.

The Association spurred the rise of a great many Afghan women lawyers — nurturing a generation of lawyers that grew in tandem with their male counterparts. These women exhibited intelligence and diligence, swiftly becoming the primary choices for women seeking legal assistance. Many of these women lawyers set up private practices, handling all law and advocacy work independently. Many even became the chief breadwinners of their families.

But with the rise of the Taliban, all of this progress came crashing down. The regime has refused to renew the legal licenses of these women, leaving a stark void in the country’s justice system.

“The last time I renewed my law license was in 2021,” recalls Freshta, a lawyer from Kabul. “When I approached the Ministry of Justice last year, they told me and my female colleagues that our advocacy was no longer permitted. After years of hard work and reaching my goal of becoming an excellent lawyer, I am now unemployed.”

The situation for defense lawyers, both male and female, has become increasingly dire since the regime change. Ruhollah Qarizada, Chair of AIBA, said the vast majority of defense lawyers have shut their offices and face serious threats from the Taliban. Many have suffered human rights violations and have faced abuses from Taliban judges, Qarizada said.

In response to this crisis, on January 24th — the International Day of the Endangered Lawyer — Ruhollah Qarizada of AIBA, along with the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), the International Bar Association (IBA), and the Brussels Bar announced the launch of a new Afghan Bar Association in exile, based in Brussels. AIBA members have also pledged to resume their activities and reopen the AIBA in exile.

The exiled AIBA has established a Women’s Committee to provide support services to female lawyers. These include capacity-building workshops, assessments of lawyers’ needs, and programs to protect, inspire, and evacuate at-risk lawyers from Afghanistan. Decribing the association’s goals, Qarizada said, “We’re dedicated to supporting the legal system and female lawyers across Afghanistan using every means at our disposal.”

Women lawyers from cities across Afghanistan express grave concern about their uncertain future due to the Taliban’s employment ban. Fatama, a female lawyer from the northern part of Afghanistan, recounts, “I was working as a professional and skilled lawyer in my city for almost seven years. Now, my female colleagues, who were the primary earners in their families, are prohibited from working. I get daily phone calls from female victims needing my advocacy, but I am helpless.”

This employment ban occurs as women’s rights activists and education activists are arrested for protesting in the streets, demanding their rights. The plight of women in Taliban prisons is horrifying—they suffer physical violence, sexual abuse, torture, and death at the hands of the Taliban. No female lawyer is allowed to represent and protect the rights of these women, leaving them to bear the brunt of extreme violence alone and defenseless.

The continued barring of female lawyers carries severe consequences. If this state persists for the next five years, the consequences will be dire. Female lawyers, along with their male colleagues, play a crucial role in maintaining the rule of law and safeguarding human rights. Often, they are the only source of legal aid for female victims of violence. The ban on their employment not only denies justice but also potentially violates the human rights of those they could have assisted. Economically too, preventing female Afghan lawyers from practicing law has far-reaching implications.

*The author is a legal scholar and activist in Afghanistan. For their safety and security, and in agreement with the author, we will not publicly identify them at this time. 

Suggested citation: Anonymous, Afghanistan’s Justice System Is in Jeopardy as Women Lawyers Forced to Cease Practice, JURIST – Academic Commentary, June 19, 2023,

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