Afghanistan: More than 100 female judges and their families rescued by UK lawyers after Taliban takeover

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In this article:
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  • Helena Kennedy, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws
    Politician, lawyer, activist, author

More than 100 female Afghan judges and their families have been rescued by a team of pro-bono lawyers in the UK following the Taliban takeover. 

The women held senior roles in the Afghanistan judiciary and were vital in upholding the equal rights of women and girls. They were judges and prosecutors in the courts of domestic violence, rape cases, forced and child marriages and in cases involving the trafficking of women.

Baroness Helena Kennedy, an expert in human rights law, choreographed the successful rescue and has been instrumental in getting them to safety.

She said: "The women who were contacting me were terrified for their lives, they were hiding with their families, with their children in basements.

"They had moved out of their houses and gone to stay with relatives and they were getting these threats on their phones, and through relatives they would be receiving threats. I mean, it was really the horror of all of that that made us think, at the Institute of Human Rights, we've got to do something."

Through generous donations, the team managed to charter flights to get the women out of Afghanistan, to Qatar and then to a temporary base in Greece.

One of those on board was a senior judge of Afghanistan's Supreme Court, Fawzia.

For almost 20 years she fought against violence against women, won domestic abuse cases and shaped family law in Afghanistan.

Everything you need to know about Taliban takeover

But the Taliban dismantled it all - with foot soldiers storming her office in August as she fled. The legal system they built has been scrapped, hundreds like Fawzia were forced into hiding.

Now in England and in temporary accommodation she reflects on the career she built that's now been swept away.

"I'm very sad now, because our judicial system is not better now, it's sad for me and for other judges, it's very sad.

"There are so many who made it out but there are still many of my colleagues who are lawyers too who are still hiding. They can't go to work, they can't go to their offices."

When Kabul fell to the Taliban, the prisons were opened and the men the judges had prosecuted were freed once more.

"In a year we handled more than 300 cases in my courts. But now all the jails are open, all the criminals are walking in the street and we all had to stay at home, it was a big problem for us."

Amid the desperate evacuation effort in Kabul, the lawyers in the UK set out their own plan to rescue the women.

Australia, Ireland and Britain are among the countries taking in the families.

Baroness Kennedy says the judges could play a valuable part in the legal system in the UK, as many are keen to retrain.

"These are wonderful people who were doing good things for us and protecting the rule of law in trying to build a new democracy there and who were basically dealing with dealers in heroin and dealing with men who were abusing women, and the stuff that we care about in Britain and that we lead the world on.

"So I really would like to see Britain doing our bit and saying and expressing our gratitude and our pride in the courage of these women who were making justice in Afghanistan."

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Fawzia and her family are now safe but she misses her home and her career.

One day she hopes to step back into those shoes, she's adamant to continue to use her powerful legal mind for good.

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