The New York City Bar Association joins the international community in condemning in the strongest possible terms the Taliban’s recent takeover of the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association and related ongoing developments.
The Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (“AIBA”) was established in 2008 under Afghanistan’s Advocates Law as a statutory body to oversee the licensing and regulation of lawyers independent of the executive branch, to promote professional excellence and equal opportunity in the legal profession, and to champion the rule of law and social justice. The AIBA’s by-laws are among the most progressive of any bar association in the world. For example, the AIBA is believed to be the only bar association worldwide to have self-imposed gender quotas for bar leadership, including a quota for women on all executive committees, as well as a requirement of at least one woman vice-president. Similarly, the AIBA by-laws require all AIBA members to take on at least three pro bono cases a year. From its inception, the AIBA has been independent, non-governmental, and non-political.
In the wake of Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban in mid-August 2021, the AIBA had been viewed as the country’s sole remaining bulwark of fundamental human rights, due process, judicial independence, the rule of law, and democratic values.
However, on November 22, 2021, the Taliban Ministry of Justice published a decree stripping the AIBA of its independence, including its authority to license lawyers, and merging it into the Ministry. The same decree states that only Taliban-approved lawyers will be permitted to appear in the courts and declares that lawyers must be “honest and loyal to the Islamic Emirate” (the Taliban), must have not worked with the prior government (i.e., the internationally-recognized government), and must have taken part in the “jihad” of the past 20 years – criteria that, in effect, would appear to exclude all non-Taliban figures.
On November 23, 2021, the day after the decree issued, an estimated 50 armed Taliban stormed the AIBA’s offices in Kabul, threatening the lawyers and staff with violence before ordering them off the premises and installing a new president who has ties to the Taliban Ministry of Justice but no relevant experience. Days later, on December 5, 2021, armed Taliban raided an AIBA news conference planned to protest the Taliban takeover and to highlight the importance of the AIBA’s independence, forcing AIBA members to flee for their lives. The situation has continued to deteriorate since then.
Particularly alarming is the fact that, as a result of its takeover of the AIBA, the Taliban now have access to the AIBA’s database of the personal and professional records of more than 2500 lawyers and judicial system employees. These records include detailed, highly-sensitive information on matters such as individuals’ home addresses, family members, and client files – leaving lawyers, prosecutors, and judges (particularly women) even more exposed to the very real possibility of reprisals at the hands of convicted prisoners who were freed by the Taliban and at the hands of the Taliban itself. The Taliban have similarly seized control of the AIBA’s bank accounts and funds.
More recently, the Taliban Ministry of Justice has announced that Afghan lawyers will be required to re-certify under a new qualification process established by the Ministry. Male lawyers who have applied to renew their licenses under the new process report that they have been required to take an oral examination in which the questions are drawn from religious subjects and have nothing to do with the law. To date, the Taliban have failed to issue even a single law license to any woman lawyer. Although, like their male colleagues, women lawyers have applied to renew their licenses, their requests are not being processed and they have been told to wait until a decision is made as to whether they will be permitted to continue to practice.