Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Sixty-five human rights defenders and media professionals have been killed in Afghanistan since 2018, the United Nations said Monday.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan made the statement upon releasing findings from its latest report, adding that 11 lost their lives since the the start of peace negotiations last September, including five human rights defenders and six journalists and media workers.
No claim of responsibility was made for the five human rights defenders and a claim of responsibility was only made for one of the six journalists killed. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan Province claimed responsibility for killing journalist Malalai Maiwand and her driver in Jajalabad.
"The Afghan people need and deserve a flourishing civic space -- a society where people can think, write and voice their views openly, without fear," Deborah Lyons, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for Afghanistan, said in the report. "The voices of human rights defenders and the media are critical for any open and decent society."
"At a time when dialogue and an end to the conflict through talks and political settlement should be the focus, the voices from human rights and the media need to he heard more than ever before, instead they are being silenced," Lyons added.
The Committee to Protect Journalists rated Afghanistan the deadliest in the world for journalists in 2018, with at least 53 journalists killed on the job that year, 34 of whom were targeted in retaliation for their work, amid extremists increasing deliberate attacks on journalists.
The new UNAMA report released Monday on the killing of human rights defenders, journalists and media workers in Afghanistan from January 2018 to January 2021, similarly noted the killings appeared to be premeditated and targeted.
"The killings of human rights defenders and journalists are no longer occurring directly in the context of mass casualty attacks affecting civilians in Afghanistan," the report said. "Rather, they are deliberate attacks directed at human rights defenders and journalists for their human rights work, presence in and engagement with civil society."
A lack of claiming of responsibility for the killings and impunity has worsened a "climate of fear," with some self-censoring or leaving their jobs to protect themselves, the UNAMA statement noted.
UNAMA recommended the government build on the recent establishment of the Joint Commission for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders under the leadership of the Second Vice President of Afghanistan Muhammad Sarwar Danesh.
Danesh told the Bakhtar News Agency in December the establishment of the commission was a "point of hope" in protecting human rights.
UNAMA also recommended that the government put in place an adequate preventative framework, including special protective and proactive security measures for human rights defenders, journalists and media workers subject to threats or other types of intimidation. And that the government promote genuine accountability, including prosecuting suspected perpetrators of targeted attacks.