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Social justice remains far

Neil King / bmDecember 10, 2012

Afghanistan still faces important challenges. But in an interview with DW, Afghan human rights activist Sima Samar remains hopeful that Afghans will hold on to their basic human rights.

Sima Samar speaks at a press conference in Berlin December 10, 2012
Image: dapd

DW: Why did you decide to become a human rights activist? Was there any particular experience that induced you to choose this profession?

Sima Samar: One of the reasons why I became a human rights defender is the discrimination I faced in Afghanistan as a girl and the discrimination within the society over my religion and ethnicity. That put me into a position to start fighting for social justice. We've gone through a lot of difficulties. We lost a lot of our friends and relatives in this battle. We still have not achieved social justice in Afghanistan, there's still a long way to go. And that's why I'm continuing my work.

Now since 2002 you've chaired the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission that holds human rights violators accountable. And this has put your own life at risk. How do you and your family cope with the fear that something may happen to you?

Afghan human rights advocate Sima Samar talks to media before the announcement of this year's Nobel Peace prize, Friday, Oct. 8, 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Samar has dedicated her life to fighting for human rightsImage: AP

I accepted the job and I decided to do it, so unfortunately my family has to cope with my choice. Of course you're right that it's a quite difficult job. I feel that with the establishment of the Human Rights Commission we achieved a lot in Afghanistan. It's an exceptional institution in the region because none of our neighboring countries have such a strong institution to promote and protect human rights.

What would you say was the biggest setback and the biggest achievement in your career as a human rights activist?

The lack of security, justice and accountability in general are still problems in Afghanistan. And more importantly the culture of impunity continues which puts a lot of obstacles in the way of human rights and justice in the country.

You witnessed the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, during which many of your family members simply disappeared. After the Russians pulled out the Islamist Taliban established a harsh regime, especially for women. How did you experience this period?

In the last 30 to 40 years since the beginning of conflict in Afghanistan I've witnessed different regimes and different kinds of human rights violations but unfortunately the violation of human rights continues. Only the level and structure are a little different. For example, only last week a girl was the victim of an honor killing because she was promoting vaccination. There's not enough accountability or condemnation in this context. We keep losing girls in Afghanistan every day and there's no strong action taken to stop this kind of violation of women's rights.

You were one of only two women to serve in Afghanistan's transitional government from 2001 until 2002. You also established the first ever Ministry of Women's Affairs. And you're the founder of the Shuhada organization which operates numerous hospitals and schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now this all sounds rather time consuming. What does your private life look like?

The picture shows Dr. Sima Samar, head of Afghanistan human rights commission, speaking about role of women in peace process.
Samar speaking in Kabul in October 2012Image: DW

I hardly have any private life because I'm too busy. But again it's my own choice and I decide to do this. So I'm not complaining about not having any time for myself or my children and family.

The US-led alliance is set to withdraw combat troops by the end of 2014. What will this mean for your work in Afghanistan? Are you concerned about the withdrawal?

No, I'm a rather optimistic person and I see a lot of positive signs that we will not fall back into the 1990s. One of the reasons is that the people have experienced the Taliban and armed groups so they don't believe or trust them anymore. Secondly, the young generation of Afghanistan had the possibility to get education - both men and women - and they're not going to give up the basic rights they were able to exercise. Thirdly, we have quite a good vibrant so-called free media, which is a big achievement in the country. Fourthly, the warlords who fought with each other in the 1990s in Kabul and other cities now have a lot property these days, so they don't want to fight in case they lose that property. Finally, I think the Pakistani army who supported the Taliban are in a different situation than in the 1990s. They are facing problems themselves because of the Taliban. So hopefully they will stop training or supporting them. I think times have changed and I hope that the international community will not abandon Afghanistan again like it did in 1990.

Samar was the first minister of Women's Affairs in Afghanistan, from 2001 to 2003. She is currently the chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and was awarded a 2012 Right LIvelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize.