By Tom Jarvis and Grace Yurish

The Roeen family sitting on the couch in their new home in Manchester, New Hampshire. From left to right: Mehrsa Roeen, Dr. Ziaurahman Roeen, Kyanoush Roeen, Judge Geeti Roeen, and Kiyomars Roeen. Photo by Tom Jarvis

            In the spring of 2022, New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice (NHSC) Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi began to organize what is now the New Hampshire Coalition for Resettlement of Afghan Women Judges (the Coalition) – a volunteer group of highly motivated and philanthropic judges, lawyers, and teachers recognized by the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ). Their goal is to assist the International Institute of New England (IINE) with providing essential support to women judges and their families who were evacuated from the threat of the Taliban in Afghanistan through the efforts of the NAWJ, the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), and the US Department of State.

            Thanks to the endeavors of the Coalition, one such judge, the Honorable Geeti Roeen (along with her husband, Dr. Ziaurahman Roeen, and their three children) was safely relocated to New Hampshire in December 2023.

            “Getting the family here was mostly due to the efforts of the NAWJ and the IAWJ but our support group played a big part in that it gave the ongoing efforts a goal,” Justice Hantz Marconi says. “Just the fact that we were here gave the working groups support and a push to kind of get it done. It was a lot of hurry up and wait for us but now, with the family arriving, it’s like the starting gun. We have concrete goals and can put together a needs list. It’s a more manageable, tangible project.”

            The seeds of the Coalition began when NHSC Justice James Bassett attended a virtual panel discussion about the Afghan women judges, presented by Duke University School of Law. After hearing from him about the efforts of the IAWJ, Justice Hantz Marconi got in touch with IAWJ member and retired Vermont judge Patricia Whalen.

            “I spoke to Patti about a judge who had previously arrived in Vermont, named Anisa Rasooli, who was the Ruth Bader Ginsberg of Afghanistan,” Justice Hantz Marconi says, adding that Rasooli was the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court of Afghanistan. “She had resettled in Vermont and there was a second judge slated for Vermont – Judge Geeti Roeen – and we wanted to try to host her in New Hampshire. Jackie Waters from the Judicial Branch and I worked with retired Judge Brenda Murray from the NAWJ to get the ball rolling and then Judge Ellen Christo got involved. We also have great support from lawyers and the law school. For fundraising, the Coalition partnered with the New Hampshire Women’s Bar Association and the New Hampshire Bar Foundation.”

The Roeen family arrived at LaGuardia airport in New York on November 16. Courtesy Photo

            The efforts of the Coalition are part of a collective response to a humanitarian crisis, striving to provide refuge for those who risked everything for justice and equality in a nation now gripped by fear and uncertainty.

            In the wake of the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, the once hopeful vision of a stable and thriving nation shattered as the Taliban swiftly seized power, once again, in Kabul on August 15, 2021. What was meant to be an end to America’s longest war resulted in a terrifying turn of events. The consequences have been dire – economic collapse, a surge in violence, and widespread human rights violations.

            Among the most affected are Afghan women, whose hard-fought rights and freedoms have been robbed by the takeover of the Taliban. This is evident in the harsh restrictions placed on them: mandated full-body coverings, the need for a male chaperone in public, and the denial of education and work opportunities. Afghan women judges, once champions of justice and equality, now face the most danger.

            Judge Roeen earned her law degree from the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Kabul University in 2007 and entered a two-year judiciary internship program held by the Supreme Court of Afghanistan. There, she trained under Judge Anisa Rasooli.

            In 2009, she began her career as a judge at the Primary Court of Kapisa Province and was later promoted to the Panjshir Province Appellate Court, where she presided over cases involving national security and violence against women and children. She continued this role passionately until 2021, when she was forced to abandon her entire life and home.

            For 20 years, judges like Roeen worked with the IAWJ to promote the rule of law in countries around the globe and to support women entering the legal profession. But as the Taliban regained control, decades of progress were erased, and their lives were put at risk. As Kabul began to fall, the Taliban released male prisoners who were often incarcerated for crimes against women and families. Women judges were frequently the ones who sentenced them, making them a target of revenge.

            “Two judges were assassinated right away and other women judges were going into hiding very quickly,” says Pamala Custer, a social studies teacher and member of the Coalition. “This was tactical on the part of the Taliban. These men who had been incarcerated wanted revenge against the women who historically had not been in power to make such decisions in their society and had done so.”

            Judge Roeen and her husband say they will never forget the fear they felt during those first few days.

            “When the invasion in Kabul happened, I was in my office in Panjshir, which is almost two hours away,” Judge Roeen says. “The director of the court came and said Kabul collapsed and I need to go home to my family there.”

            She traveled back to Kabul, seated in the back of a car with her face covered, pretending to be a lady going to market. Once reunited with her family, they fled to Kapisa to seek temporary sanctuary with other family members. They later learned that the Taliban ransacked their home and burned her court down.

            “We had a P1 status and were told to go to back to Kabul to take a plane from the airport to the United States,” Judge Roeen says. “We had to enter the airport through a water tunnel with sewage water but then there was some fighting and an explosion that killed 118 people, including some US soldiers and my husband’s cousin. Then the Taliban started firing and telling people to go away. We felt it was impossible to go any further with the kids, so we went back and waited for a call. We had to go back and forth from relatives’ houses – never in one place. After two months and 10 days, we received a call from the IAWJ.”

            So far, the IAWJ, collaborating with other organizations and groups, has helped to evacuate more than 200 Afghan women judges.

            “There were 254 judges in Afghanistan that wanted to evacuate,” IAWJ member and former Vermont judge Patricia Whalen says. “The total number of women judges in Afghanistan was 270 but some were elderly or sick and didn’t feel they could evacuate – and a few had already made other plans for evacuation. We’ve gotten more than 200 out but there are 48 judges still left there. There are also 18 in Pakistan and a number of others stuck in ‘lily pad’ countries around the world.”

            In addition to her extensive work with the IAWJ, Whalen serves as a project director for the Vermont Afghan Judicial Education Program, a cultural exchange and legal education program for Afghan women judges.

            “These women took on the rule of law and were ready to die for the principles we work for every day just for a salary,” she says. “They took the worst assignments – jobs that men were afraid of – sitting on violence against women cases, terrorism cases. They put ISIS and Taliban people in jail. They were fearless. They had a vision of a country that was not ruled by corruption and violence and were committed to getting those things out of their country. And now they have a target on their back.”

            Leaving Afghanistan was just the first step on a long road to the US for the Roeen family, though. The plan was for them to fly out of Mazar-i-Sharif to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where they would stay for three weeks before boarding a plane to the US or Canada. However, they trekked the eight hours to Mazar-i-Sharif only to find that their flight had been canceled.

            “We were scared, and we were in an uncertain situation,” says Judge Roeen’s husband Zia (short for Ziaurahman), who was a doctor of internal medicine and professor at Alberoni University in Kapisa. “We lost our home and everything and now we are in this suspended condition. But luckily, after two or three days, we arranged for a new flight, and we went to the UAE.”

            Unfortunately, the sands of uncertainty would continue to shift beneath the feet of the Roeen family as their three-week stay in the UAE turned into two years and 20 days.

            When they arrived, the five of them were assigned to a room inside a large building and were told they were not allowed to leave the premises. After about a month, they were finally allowed to go outside into a common area between the buildings but were still confined to the complex.

            “They just kept telling us our case is pending,” Judge Roeen says. “They didn’t tell us what was happening, and we were not allowed to go anywhere. Every time they knocked on the door – always at midnight – and brought us for a medical examination or somewhere, the anticipation increased. We were waiting second by second because your neighbor would get a knock at midnight and get a flight to the US, but you, in the same case with the same conditions, still had to wait. There were 12,000 people in that camp, and we were in the last 300. So, when you see 11,700 people leaving but you’re not, it was difficult.”

            While interned at the refugee camp, Judge Roeen served as a liaison for her fellow refugees, acting as a spokesperson and using her negotiation and diplomacy skills to help resolve problems with their UAE hosts and to facilitate the relocation efforts of other women judges. Whalen believes this is part of the reason the Roeen family was made to stay there for so long, as she was needed.

            “Geeti was a natural person to be a liaison,” she says. “She was quite remarkable. I was so impressed with her incredible leadership skills and her calm resilience. It also helped a lot that her husband is fluent in English. They are very organized folks.”

            Judge Roeen’s husband Zia shares that during their time in the UAE, many refugees, overcome with anxiety and despair, sought psychiatric help. For others, the hopelessness was too much.

            “One girl, two young men, and two women attempted suicide,” he says. “There was so much uncertainty. Three other people died waiting for their case. One of them was the Afghanistan Supreme Court leader. He died from a heart attack. He was the most important person [from the Afghanistan government], after the president, and even for him they said they don’t know when asked what the status is.”

            Zia continues: “When we had the final medical exam, and we were told that we would be going to the US – all [our] kids started dancing. They were so happy. But then we had to wait another 35 days. We counted every second of this 35 days. My kids kept asking ‘why aren’t we going?’ I was near to becoming crazy.”

On Thursday, January 4, the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the Vermont Supreme Court hosted a welcoming ceremony at Hanover High School. Pictured: Judge Geeti Roeen (right) and Judge Anisa Rasooli (left) speaking to an auditorium of approximately 500 dignitaries, students, and others as Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald and Chief Justice Paul Reiber look on in the background. See sidebar below for more. Photo by Tom Jarvis

            On November 16, the Roeen family finally touched down on American soil at LaGuardia Airport in New York. They were brought to stay in an Airbnb rented for them by the Vermont resettlement agency until they could be officially transferred to New Hampshire.

            The family then traveled by bus from Burlington to Manchester, where they were met by members of the Coalition and representatives from the IINE – one of two New Hampshire resettlement agencies. The IINE put the family up in a hotel for two days until a furnished apartment the agency secured for them was ready. By mid-December, the Roeen family moved into their new home in the Granite State.

            “I think it’s hard for us to imagine,” says Circuit Court judge and Coalition member Ellen Christo. “I think most judges look at it like you work hard to get to that position in life – it’s usually a well-respected position – and suddenly, you’re ripped out of your job, your home, and your family in one fell swoop. All of a sudden, you’re a refugee and all that you’ve worked for is gone in an instant.”

            Judge Christo adds: “To try to uphold the rule of law under the most difficult circumstances and then losing everything because of that is pretty intense. There are things we can do as colleagues around the world to help soften the blow a little bit, at least in the resettlement part – to open the door and welcome a fellow colleague from another part of the world.”

            The Roeen family is grateful for all the help and support the IAWJ, NAWJ, and the Coalition have thus far provided, and are happy to be living in the Granite State.

            “New Hampshire is a good place, a comfortable place – a place we deserve after being in that prison [the UAE refugee camp] for two years,” Judge Roeen says. “We need this calm and comfortable place with kind people. Our kids were out of school for so long and they are so happy to be in school. They miss school when it’s the weekend or a holiday.”

            Zia agrees and adds that they are thankful to have “the very best and supportive team of friends here.”

            “We were given this opportunity to come here, and we want to prove that we have the capacity to improve for ourselves and be independent,” he says. “We are getting help now, but one day we hope to be able to help others who came here in our situation.”

            With his medical background and fluent English, Zia hopes to quickly find employment in the medical field. Judge Roeen is exploring opportunities at the UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law and Dartmouth College.

            The IINE is providing for the initial immediate needs of the Roeen family, but the Coalition and volunteers are filling in the gaps where additional support and resources are needed. More of the family’s needs will be determined as they settle in.

            At this time, monetary donations will make the biggest impact. The family will need money for all basic living essentials such as rent payments, clothing, food, transportation, technology, school supplies, and everything else a family starting over in a new country may need.

            The New Hampshire Bar Foundation is collecting donations to support the Roeen family, which can be made at

            The Coalition is also seeking volunteers who are willing to assist Judge Roeen’s family with applying for benefits and state identification, moving furniture as more is acquired, and to provide rides for the family on an as-available basis. If you are interested in helping with any of these, please email

New Hampshire and Vermont Supreme Courts Welcome Two Afghan Women Judges

By Tom Jarvis

Speakers at the event from left to right: New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi, Vermont US Representative Becca Balint, IAWJ member and retired judge Patricia Whalen, Judge Anisa Rasooli, Judge Geeti Roeen, New Hampshire US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Circuit Court Judge Ellen Christo, New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald, and Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber. Photo by Av Harris

            On January 4, approximately 500 dignitaries, high school students, lawyers, media, and others attended the welcome reception at Hanover High School for Afghan women Judges Geeti Roeen and Anisa Rasooli, held by the Supreme Courts of New Hampshire and Vermont.

            The two distinguished guests resettled in New Hampshire (Roeen) and Vermont (Rasooli) after evacuating from their homes in Afghanistan with their families to escape the Taliban.

            The event started with the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, sung by Hanover High School Chorus, the Footnotes. Each speaker warmly welcomed Roeen and Rasooli and gave brief remarks about their plights and arduous journeys to New England.

            Speakers included: New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald, Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber, New Hampshire US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Vermont US Representative Becca Balint, New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi, Circuit Court Judge Ellen Christo, International Association of Women Judges member and former Vermont judge Patricia Whalen, and New Hampshire Coalition for Resettlement of Afghan Women Judges member and social studies teacher Pamala Custer.

            “Despite the challenges in Afghanistan, today is a celebration of Justice Rasooli and Justice Roeen,” Senator Shaheen said at the event. “We are so excited to have them in Vermont and New Hampshire. The life stories of Judge Rasooli and Judge Roeen include courage, perseverance, and resilience – and they are an inspiration to us all. Access to education is fundamental to ensuring that all children have opportunities to thrive, and that all communities can harness the potential of their citizens. Countries and societies that empower women tend to be more stable – they experience less conflict, and women are actively contributing more to their families, their communities, and their countries. This is a significant piece of what we should be thinking about as we look at our future foreign policy. This is the vision that Judge Rasooli and Judge Roeen and countless other Afghan women brought to their responsibilities in Afghanistan.”

            Chief Justices MacDonald and Reiber presented proclamations to the guests of honor.

            “Your honor,” Chief Justice MacDonald said to Judge Roeen. “We are deeply inspired by your commitment to education and training, your efforts in seeking justice for all (particularly with women and children survivors of abuse and violence), your extraordinary courage and perseverance – and that of your family – in the face of threats and violence and so many challenges in the last two years, and your devotion to upholding the rule of law. On behalf of the Supreme Courts of New Hampshire and Vermont, federal judges, and lawyers in both of our states, it is a great honor to welcome you and your family to our community. We look forward to learning from you, and from your family. And may your example guide us and inspire us in all our collective efforts to seek justice and uphold the rule of law.”

            Judge Roeen, who studied under Judge Rasooli at the Supreme Court of Afghanistan, addressed the room through an interpreter.

            “I am overwhelmed to see this welcoming and see everyone here supporting us, it has brought tears of hope and happiness into my eyes,” she said. “I come from a country where work and education are banned for women, and in general, being a woman is a sin and illegal. We tried our best to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the male companions of our country and stand for the rights and freedom for Afghan women. But unfortunately, we lost everything, all 20 years of achievements – everything was taken away from us overnight. Since arriving in the US in November, we have been greeted with such warmth and respect, and I feel that humanity is still alive, and there are so many here fighting for women’s rights and human rights.”

            After Judge Roeen and Judge Rasooli spoke, they fielded questions from some students at Hanover High School. During the questions, the two briefly embraced after Judge Roeen mentioned how proud and thankful she was to have studied under Judge Rasooli. Before reuniting in the US in November, the two had not seen each other since before Kabul fell in 2021.