By Allison Barss

In 2001, following the American invasion of Afghanistan, the country saw great change including the appointment of more than 250 women judges. Over twenty years later — when U.S. forces withdrew from the country — the Taliban returned to power, threatening the lives of the women judges.

Nova Scotia Supreme Court Judge and Aurum Award recipient, Mona Lynch (LLB’85), has made it her mission to help.

“It’s always been important for me to make a difference,” she says. “As Gandhi once said, be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Inspired by the altruism and kindness she always saw in her own mother, it’s an outlook Justice Lynch has applied to much of her life, including raising her daughter as a single parent and a lawyer, and her 20-year career as a judge.

Now, she is applying her legal expertise — and passion for justice — to help the 250 Afghan women judges find safety, and freedom.

Eye-opening news

In the spring of 2021, during a virtual, bi-annual conference with the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) — which represents more than 6,500 judges in over 100 countries — women judges from Afghanistan spoke and raised concerns about their safety and security.

“They shared details about two of their colleagues who, a few months prior, had been ambushed and killed on their way to work at the courthouse in Kabul,” says Justice Lunch, who is one of two North American regional directors for the IAWJ.

During the conference, the Afghan women judges asked the IAWJ for assistance with skills training, technology support and security. President of the IAWJ, Susan Glazebrook, formed the Afghan Women Judges Support Committee to help support these needs, which Justice Lynch was quick to join.

“We met with the Afghan women judges again in July,” says Justice Lynch, “but by then, things had changed.”

Dire straights

“The situation in Afghanistan had grown much worse,” says Justice Lynch. “The Afghan women were no longer asking for things like skills training — they were asking to be saved, and for us to share their plight with the world. They asked us to be their voice.”

Justice Lynch says that many of the women judges from other provinces of Afghanistan had moved to Kabul by this point, where they believed they were safe. “We thought we had more time, but then on August 15, we learned that Kabul had fallen.”

It was the final action of the War in Afghanistan, marking a complete victory for the Taliban’s rule.

“These Afghan women judges” she says, “who once sent Taliban members, ISIS members and drug lords to jail, were now being hunted by them.”

From August 15 to September, while the Allied forces controlled the Afghanistan airport, about 30 Afghan women judges were able to leave the country. “Many of them risked their lives to get through the crush at the airport and onto planes, but they had made it,” says Justice Lynch.

“We knew we needed to do more to help the others,” shares Justice Lynch. “We set up a 24-hour Zoom call to discuss other ways to help the women judges.”

“After the Allied forces left, we feared we would not be able to help the remaining women judges find a way out,” says Justice Lynch. They eventually partnered with non-governmental organizations such as the Jewish Humanitarian Support Organization and the International Bar Association and were able to get another 100 judges out by air.

In the fall, however, the Taliban halted all flights from Afghanistan, leaving land travel as the only way out. Justice Lynch and her international colleagues committed to never give up on finding ways to get the remaining Afghan women judges out of the country.

Onward and forward

Looking back, Justice Lynch shares the strength and determination of her IAWJ partners during that Zoom call, adding, “You should never underestimate the power of a group of determined, old ladies in their pajamas.”

To date, she says that most of their 150 colleagues who left Afghanistan are safely settled in new countries — 36 of them are in Canada — and 50 of them are lily-padding in other countries, waiting to find new, permanent homes. Roughly 54 are still left in Afghanistan.

“It’s challenging because there are not a lot of pathways out of Afghanistan,” she says, “But we’re working to find the best solution for each of them. We’ve committed to work until they’re all out of the country. And we’ll continue this work until it’s done — until they’re all safe.”

When asked what motivates her to help her Afghan colleagues, Justice Lynch shares, “You’re never wrong to do the right thing — that’s something I try to live by everyday.”

“By staying true to your values and doing what needs to be done to help others,” she adds “we can all make the world a kinder, fairer place.”

Next award recipient: Athanasius Sylliboy (MN’20)