NZ offers lifeline for Afghan women judges facing possible Taliban execution, but hundreds remain
Women judges living in fear after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan have been given a lifeline by the New Zealand Government.
Visas have been granted to four judges, who are among 230 women being targeted for their role in upholding law and order during 20 years of Western occupation.
However, the granting of visas could be a hollow gesture if the women cannot make it out of the country.
The Afghan judges in hiding are being supported by a network of international judges headed by a New Zealand Supreme Court judge, Dame Susan Glazebrook.
* Government faces mounting pressure to rescue stranded New Zealanders and at-risk Afghans from Taliban
* Afghan women 'heartbroken' after pleas for help from New Zealand turned down
* Route out of Afghanistan remains uncertain as allied countries meet without NZ
In a rare media interview, Justice Glazebrook told Stuff Circuit the women were facing danger on a number of fronts, including revenge attacks from individuals they sentenced for crimes such as domestic violence, who have now been released from prison by the Taliban, and threats from a regime that has stripped them of the right to work in their profession.
“They risk being targeted because they were women, and they had the effrontery to judge men. And that is seen as a totally unacceptable profession for women now.”
The International Association of Women Judges, headed by Glazebrook, helped 30 Afghan women judges leave before the West’s departure from Afghanistan. Now, they’re focused on those remaining, seeking assistance from governments around the world.
Justice Glazebrook says there could be only a matter of months to help, pointing to a warning from a Taliban commander that they “are coming to get all of the judges, all of the judges who they say were corrupt and applying Western justice”.
“It's very, very frightening and upsetting for them, as you can imagine.”
Other prominent Aotearoa women lawyers including Judith Ablett-Kerr QC, Kristy McDonald QC, and Mary Scholtens QC have added their voices, writing to the Attorney-General asking the Government to play a part in securing safe passage and refuge for Afghan women judges.
“We call upon the Government to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure New Zealand plays its part in relocating the judges.”.
Kristy McDonald QC told Stuff Circuit the Afghan judges were ‘’symbolic’’ of what 20 years in Afghanistan was meant to accomplish: “the rule of law, an independent judiciary and the full participation of women in society”.
“The fact that the Taliban has regained control means that tragically, most, if not all of those gains have been lost – and with that comes a loss of hope for the future,” McDonald said.
Judith Ablett-Kerr QC said it was “difficult to understate the plight that the women judges in Afghanistan face”, including fear of death, and living in hiding.
“I, personally, would like to think that we could use our excellent diplomatic skills to at least negotiate a safe passage for these women and their families to destinations which are willing to provide refuge.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta hasn’t said whether it’s likely any further visas will be issued. She said the four already approved included the judges’ immediate families, but acknowledged the Government was ‘’severely limited’’ in offering further assistance.
‘’Officials continue to work on finding options to best assist these individuals who remain in Afghanistan, including through consultations with a range of partner countries.’’