FCO Human Rights Report 2019
The rights of all religious groups are legally protected in the Afghan Constitution, and the government has attempted to ensure their inclusion in policy-making processes. Many religious and ethnic minorities – such as Sikhs, Hindus, and Hazara Shia Muslims – continue to face widespread discrimination and insecurity. The insecurity faced by the Hazara community was made stark in August when Islamic State Khorasan Province conducted an attack against a Shia wedding, leading to 92 civilian deaths, and over 180 people injured. The British Embassy in Kabul maintains strong relationships with representatives of these communities and engages with them regularly. For example, the British Ambassador to Afghanistan met the sole Sikh MP in Afghanistan and a range of young leaders within the Hazara community, to mark International Religious Freedom Day. Such engagement helps us to stay updated about their concerns and signals the UK’s support for the rights of members of religious minorities.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019
The situation in Afghanistan is alarming. There is growing fear among religious minorities about their future safety and livelihood post-American withdrawal. 2018 was a very difficult year for the people of Afghanistan. Minorities – including Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians – had to flee from the country.
80% of Afghanistan’s population is Sunni Muslim, with a sizeable Shia (Imami and Ismaili) minority (10-19%). There are also small Christian, Sikh and Hindu communities. The indigenous Christian community mostly endeavours to remain hidden due to fears of persecution. The Sikh and Hindu community are more visible but are still at risk of extreme discrimination. The Taliban has continued to attack Afghan forces and civilians, including religious minorities. The most dangerous threat to religious communities has been the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP)
ISKP attacked civilians generally, but it undoubtedly targeted Shias disproportionately. In the last decade, attacks against Shia Hazaras have significantly increased and intensified. One estimate suggests that there were more than 12 attacks in 2018 alone which killed more than 300 people. On 9 March 2019, at least seven Shias were killed in a suicide attack near a Shia mosque.
A recent attack at a wedding ceremony in Kabul on 18 August killed more than 80 Shia Hazaras and injured over 160 people.
As one report states, there is an ongoing process of ‘dehumanization of Shias’. There has been a rise in public hate speech against Shias which is intended to dehumanize the whole community. This is partially a form of revenge for the defeat which ISIS faced in Iraq and Syria. It is also a response to the fact that many Shias from Afghanistan and Pakistan went to Iraq and Syria to fight against ISIS.
Other religious communities, i.e. Hindus and Sikhs, are continuously fleeing from Afghanistan. Before the fall of the Afghan government in 1992, there were nearly 200,000 Hindus and Sikhs. The figure has now reduced to between 3,000 and 7,000 due to continuous attacks on the community.
Since the Afghan government were unable to protect them, Hindus and Sikhs fled to India where they were given right to residency. The remaining Sikhs are still living in fear. In July 2018 a suicide attack targeted the Sikh community in Jalalabad, leaving at least 17 Sikhs dead including Awtar Singh Khalsa, the only Sikh candidate expected to contest the 2018 parliamentary elections.
It is not only militant organisations but also local authorities that discriminate against Sikhs and Hindus. One report states that both of these religious minorities are facing bureaucratic hurdles to hold funeral and cremation ceremonies. It is also reported that Sikhs are being discriminated against as a whole group as many Afghans refuse to conduct business with them.
While specific violations against Christians are rarely reported because of security issues, and Afghanistan’s Christian population tend to keep as low a profile as possible, killings of converts do continue. This lack of reporting has tended to give the impression that violence against Christians is not taking place in Afghanistan, at times leading to a misunderstanding that it is safe to return
Christian converts to the country. Amnesty International’s 2017 report underscored this issue by highlighting the story of a Christian convert called Farid. Although he had been attacked by family members when he had attempted to move back to Afghanistan 10 years previously, he was told that it was safe for him to return.
Non-religious people are also systematically targeted in Afghanistan. The authorities’ interpretation of Shari’a sanctions capital punishment for the atheist or ‘nonbeliever’. There is a little data available on the status of Baha’is in Afghanistan. The group was declared ‘blasphemous’ in a 2007 Supreme Court ruling.
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