Leitner Center Releases Report: “The World Simply Gave Up”: International Law and the Role of Non-State Entities in Humanitarian Evacuations in Afghanistan

(New York, USA and Brussels, Belgium, September 20, 2023) – The Leitner Center for International Law and Justice released a new report today examining the role that non-state entities played in coordinating support and humanitarian evacuations for Afghans in the midst of foreign military withdraw from Afghanistan in August 2021. A project supported by four Fordham Law students in the 2022-2023 Crowley Program, and with support from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) Rule of Law in Asia Programme, the research involved over a year of desk research and legal analysis as well as more than 40 interviews of private individuals, NGOs, lawyers, advocates, aid workers, and veterans, all of whom responded to requests for assistance to evacuate Afghan civilians. The report was launched at a hybrid event with a physical launch at the KAS offices in Brussels.

After the Taliban’s capture of Kabul on August 15, 2021, thousands of Afghan citizens gathered at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) seeking evacuation. The unexpectedly swift resumption of Taliban control meant widespread fear and panic among groups including former government officials, human rights defenders, journalists, the legal community, people from religious and ethnic minorities, the LGBTQI community, those who had worked for foreign governments and their organizations, and many others. The ensuing chaos at HKIA underscored the lack of preparation by foreign States and out of this confusion—compounded by an ISIS-K attack at HKIA on August 26, 2021—scores of volunteers from across the world rallied in response to requests for assistance to evacuate Afghan civilians.

The new report, “The World Simply Gave Up”: International Law and the Role of Non-State Entities in Humanitarian Evacuations in Afghanistan, provides a comprehensive review of International Human Rights Law (IHRL), International Refugee Law (IRL) and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) to document and examine the experiences of those volunteers. It seeks to shed light on the lived realities of evacuation processes; and the gaps that have been exposed by these experiences in terms of applicable laws, policies, and practices. Finally, it attempts to identify a series of guidelines to implement in advance of future instances where evacuations of civilians in the context of conflict may be necessary.

The Leitner Center came to this work as one of those non-state entities seeking to help coordinate information around humanitarian evacuations in August 2021, and Fordham Law students provided research for legal pathways into countries that evacuating Afghans could travel to, contributing to the PILnet Afghan Legal Aid and Pathways. As the evacuation chaos unfolded, it was clear that critical assessment and accounting for the failures on the part of State actors in Afghanistan was needed—even while global attention shifted to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. The research and resulting report aims to record the history of this period and the stories of those affected by conflict and crisis. It aims to identify recommendations that improve on policies and processes to prevent similar failures in the future.

Download the report here.

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