Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 28 September 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Work of Front Line Defenders in Afghanistan: Discussion
Mr. Hassan Ali Faiz:
I echo what Mr. Anderson said about journalists and human rights defenders. There are still people on the ground who are working on human rights but they definitely cannot work the way they did previously. One good aspect is that we have social media. Whatever journalists cannot say through their official media, they can post on social media. We need the Afghans who are deeply involved to use social media to provide this information. I had a meeting with a few Geneva-based human rights organisations and they asked whether I would continue my work. I responded that my work has just started. There was some room to manoeuvre to work with the previous government but there is none to work with the current regime. What I should do, therefore, is gather information and be a voice for human rights defenders in Europe. People in the West would not be able to get that information from the media but we can provide it because we have people there on the ground who can pass us that information, which we can give to others who can lobby and advocate for the cause of human rights and give people a real picture.
One of the questions was about what the UN could do practically that was not just words. The UN still has open hands and there is much that it could do. An important thing is not to recognise the regime. I understand that international isolation like that will put a great deal of economic pressure on the population. I have heard that approximately 17 children have died of malnutrition in one of the provinces of Afghanistan. I know that international isolation will have economic repercussions for the public but I believe that death with dignity is much better than living under that sort of repressive regime that has no regard for human life, human dignity or women's rights. I propose that the Irish Government not recognise the regime. Ultimately, the regime will fall to its knees under such pressure. I know, as I am from that community and country. I know that, under such pressure, the regime will surrender to what the world wants of it. When the US showed it was serious about how the Taliban should not attack US soldiers, the Taliban did not attack any for 18 months. The US told the Taliban that, if it attacked, the US would attack it in return. Something that Ireland can do now is to not recognise the regime.
As to whether Taliban members will board planes and land in Europe or the US, I have that concern as well. I have not met anyone who has said he or she is a member of the Taliban or something, but I have heard a great many sympathising with the Taliban. I met them in Doha when I was in the camp and while I was in the camp in Ramstein, Germany. That was unbelievable to me because they were still praising the people they were escaping. One of the bad things with the American evacuation in particular was that more than 90% of those the US evacuated were from the ruling ethnic group and the Taliban is from the same ethnic group. The over 90% of people who were evacuated from that one ethnic group sympathise with the Taliban. That is why I am proposing, not to Ireland, but to Europe and America, that they be as careful as possible with the people they are bringing in. I am afraid that it will create a headache for Ireland as well. No one told me that he or she was a member of the Taliban or a relative of one, but I saw people sympathising with the group. It was very unfortunate.
The Senator is correct. In many cases, women cannot go anywhere without a male family member as a companion. At the beginning, the Taliban wanted to show a positive picture to the public in order to say it had changed. Now that the Taliban is holding its grip on the country, it is showing its real face to the world, and that is one that has no regard for equality or human rights. It was just a few days ago that the Taliban stated it would reinstate Sharia rule, under which it will execute people and cut off hands, feet and fingertips. It is thinking about bringing back that sort of brutal law. The Taliban cannot be trusted. It is a liar. It has lied to everyone in the international community. The committee might have heard of the Doha negotiation. At every step, the Taliban has lied to the international community and others. The international community should be as cautious about and strict towards the regime as possible. I repeat that the international community should not recognise this brutal regime.
Regarding UN troops, if the UN is serious about women's rights and human rights, sending in troops could still work, but I do not know whether the international community would be supportive of that. For the past 20 years, billions of dollars have been spent in Afghanistan. That is the claim, at least, although those billions of dollars did not bring many changes to the lives of ordinary Afghans. Something that no one can deny is that thousands of international troops died in Afghanistan. It was an investment of blood and money. For the past 20 years, they brought in the best equipment and equipped and trained 350,000 soldiers. How could those troops not withstand fewer than 50,000 terrorists? Can committee members believe that? How could a country with that sort of equipment and that many soldiers fall to this terrorist group within a matter of days? I could not have imagined it. I was there before the fall of Kabul. I never thought that the then regime would fall to this terrorist group, given all the equipment and the very well trained army, but it happened. Ultimately, there was no regime because it could not resist the Taliban. It had major international support, but I am not sure whether there would be that sort of investment again in a UN force of troops. I do not know whether it is feasible. The international community is frustrated with Afghanistan. It is tired of the country. I do not see a possibility of UN troops being in the country, at least any time soon. If there is, though, I would be happy.
A question was asked about whether there was still room to work. There is, but we cannot work the way we did previously. We cannot work under the direct title "human rights". While we were coming here today, I spoke about changing the strategy. In the foreground, perhaps people could work with a focus on humanitarian activities or aid delivery services but in the background they would pursue their own human rights activities. This would need a very smart strategy, though, so that the regime would not detect what people were really doing. One strategy could involve people providing aid delivery services in the foreground. Economically, the country is in a bad situation, so the regime would allow people their humanitarian activities, including aid delivery services. Behind the schemes, people could then pursue their previous work. There could be other strategies as well.
Afghanistan is not safe for human rights defenders. The regime is slowly gathering intelligence and training its intelligence services. It has a staunch supporter in the Pakistani Government, which is training the Taliban in how to keep an eye on human rights defenders and journalists. Unfortunately, the country is not safe, but there is still room in which people can work and for them to get information out.