Officials in Afghanistan said Sunday two female judges working for the Supreme Court were shot dead in the capital, Kabul, the latest victims of targeted killings in recent months.
A court spokesman said the slain judges were on their way to work in the morning when unknown assailants ambushed and fired on their official vehicle.
The city police confirmed a third female judge and the women’s driver were also wounded in the attack, saying an investigation is underway.
No one immediately took responsibility for the deadly ambush. A spokesman for the Taliban insurgency denied its involvement.
Afghan officials say currently there are more than 250 women judges in the country and nearly 400 female prosecutors.
Sunday’s violence is the latest in a string of mostly unclaimed assassinations targeting officials, politicians, prosecutors, doctors, journalists and civil society activists mostly in and around Kabul.
President Ashraf Ghani condemned the assassination of female judges, but he again blamed the Taliban for being behind the targeted killing spree. While reiterating his call for the insurgents to declare a ceasefire, the Afghan leader stressed that “violence and terrorism” are not the way to resolve issues.
Acting U.S. ambassador in Kabul Ross Wilson also condemned the assassinations of female supreme court judges and called for a prompt investigation. He also stopped short of blaming the Taliban.
“The Taliban should understand that such actions for which it bears responsibility outrage the world and must cease if peace is to come to Afghanistan,” Wilson wrote on Twitter.
The U.S. Embassy Sunday reminded Americans not to travel to Afghanistan due to increased terrorist attacks, kidnappings, criminal violence and civil unrest throughout the country.
“Hotels, residential compounds, international organizations, embassies, and other locations frequented by foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, are known to be under enduring threat. U.S. citizens already in Afghanistan should consider departing,” said an embassy statement.
For its part, the Taliban accuses the Kabul government of plotting the targeted killings to defame the group and subvert intra-Afghan peace talks, brokered by the United States.
Some of the attacks have been claimed by Islamic State militants operating in the country.
Heather Barr, the interim co-director of the women's rights division at Human Rights Watch, said the assassinations Sunday indicate the heightened risks facing female Afghan judges.
“It’s a depressing example of how limited the progress on women’s rights has been in Afghanistan that there are only about 250 female judges — so this murder of two of them represents the death of almost one percent,” Barr told VOA.
“Unfortunately this is part of a long-standing pattern of women in high profile roles being targeted, threatened and murdered—and the Afghan government doing little to protect them when they are alive and little to investigate when they’re dead,” she lamented.
The intra-Afghan peace negotiations, which began last September in Qatar, have so far not made any significant progress.
The dialogue is a crucial outcome of the February 2020 agreement the U.S. signed with the Taliban to promote a negotiated settlement to nearly two decades of Afghan war and bring home the remaining American troops.
Washington announced last Friday it had cut U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan to 2,500 as part of the deal, which requires all American and NATO-led troops to leave the country by May 2021.
In return, the Taliban has given counterterrorism security guarantees and pledged to negotiate a permanent ceasefire as well as a political power-sharing understanding with the Afghan government through the ongoing talks.