Afghan rights leader heartbroken after year of Taliban rule

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – A year after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, prominent Afghan rights activist Sima Samar is still deeply saddened by what happened to her country.

Samar, a former women’s affairs minister and the first chairperson of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, left Kabul for the US in July 2021 on her first trip since the Covid-19 pandemic, a country Afghan President Ashraf Ghani never expected to flee. And after August 15, the Taliban will come to power for the second time.

“I think it’s a sad anniversary for the majority of people in my country,” Samar said, especially for women “who don’t have enough food, who don’t know what tomorrow holds.”

A visiting scholar at the Carr Center for Human Rights at the Kennedy School at Harvard, she has written the first draft of an autobiography and is working on a policy paper on customary law relating to Afghan women. She’s also trying to get a green card, but she said, “I honestly can’t say where I am or what I’m doing.”

She wants to go home – but she can’t.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, he recalled a Taliban news conference days after taking power when he said people would be forgiven if they apologized for past actions.

“And I said, I should apologize because I started a school for people?” Samar said Afghanistan’s Hazara minority has long been persecuted. “Should I apologize because I started hospitals and clinics in Afghanistan? Should I apologize for trying to stop the persecution of the Taliban? Should I apologize for (for) advocating against the death penalty with the Taliban leadership?

She said, “All my life I fought for my life as a doctor. “So I cannot commute and support the death sentence. I should not apologize and be punished for those principles of human rights.”

Samar became an activist as a 23-year-old medical student with an infant son. In 1984, her activist husband was arrested by the then communist government and she never saw him again. She fled to Pakistan with her young son and worked as a doctor for Afghan refugees and started several clinics to care for Afghan women and girls.

Samar recalled the previous Taliban regime in the late 1990s, when they largely confined women to their homes, banned television and music, and carried out public executions. The Taliban were ousted from power by a US-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, which operated from Afghanistan while al-Qaeda harbored the Taliban.

After the ousting of the Taliban, Samar returned to Afghanistan, rose to the highest positions in women’s rights and human rights, and over the next 20 years, schools and universities were opened to girls, women entered labor and politics, and became judges.

But Samar said in an AP interview in April 2021 — four months before the Taliban took over the country for the second time — that gains were fragile and that human rights activists had many enemies in Afghanistan, from militants and warlords to those who wanted to stifle criticism or challenge. their power.

Samar said the Afghan government and leadership, especially Ghani, were primarily responsible for the Taliban’s infiltration and seizure of power in Kabul. But she also blamed Afghans “because we are so divided.”

In every speech and interview she has given nationally and internationally over the years, she has said that the Afghan people must be united and inclusive and that “we must have the support of the people. Otherwise, we will lose.”

As chair of the Human Rights Commission, she said she was often criticized for trying to impose Western values ​​on Afghanistan.

“And I keep saying, human rights are not Western values. As a human being, everyone needs to have shelter … access to education and health services, safety,” she said.

Since their takeover, the Taliban have limited girls’ public education to six years, limited women’s work, encouraged them to stay at home and issued dress codes requiring them to cover their faces.

Samar led international pressure not only to allow all girls to attend secondary school and university, but also to ensure all interlinked human rights. And she stressed the importance of education for young children, who without any schooling, jobs or skills can be at risk of getting involved in opium production, arms trafficking or violence.

She called on the international community to continue humanitarian programs that are critical to saving lives, but they should focus on food for work or cash for work to end people’s total dependency and give them “self-confidence and dignity.”

Samar said Afghan society had changed over the past two decades, with greater access to technology, rising education levels among the youth and some experience of elections, even if they were not free and fair.

She said such successes are likely to lead to positive changes in the future. “These are issues that they (Taliban) cannot control,” she said. “They would like to, but they can’t.”

Samar said she hopes for ultimate accountability and justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity. “Otherwise, we see a culture of impunity everywhere, everywhere — and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a repeat of the Afghanistan case,” she said.

Her hope for Afghan women is that they “can live with dignity rather than being slaves to people.”

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