Afghan rights leader heartbroken after year of Taliban rule

She wishes she could go home, but she can’t.

In a Friday interview with The Associated Press, she recalled a Taliban press conference days after they came to power when they said if people apologized for their past actions, they would be forgiven. .

“And I said, should I apologize because I started schools for people?” said Samar, a member of the long persecuted Hazara minority in Afghanistan. “Should I apologize because I opened hospitals and clinics in Afghanistan? Should I apologize for trying to stop the Taliban’s torture? Should I apologize for advocating against the death penalty, including (for) Taliban leaders? »

“All my life I have fought for life as a doctor,” she said. “So I cannot change and support the death penalty. I should not apologize for these principles of human rights and be punished.

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

Samar recalled the old Taliban regime in the late 1990s, when they largely confined women to their homes, banned television and music, and carried out public executions. A US-led invasion ousted the Taliban from power months after the September 11, 2001 attacks, which al-Qaida orchestrated from Afghanistan while sheltered by the Taliban.

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

But Samar said in an interview with AP in April 2021 – four months before the Taliban took over the country second – that the gains were fragile and that human rights activists had many enemies in Afghanistan, from activists 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 arriving in Kabul and seizing power. But she also blamed the Afghans “because we were very divided.”

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

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

“And I kept saying that human rights are not western values. As human beings, everyone needs shelter… access to education and health services, security,” she said.

Since taking power, the Taliban has limited girls’ public education to just six years old, restricted women’s work, encouraged them to stay home and issued dress codes requiring them to cover their faces.

Samar called for international pressure not only to allow all girls to go to secondary school and university, but to guarantee all the human rights that go with it. And she stressed the importance of education for young boys, who without any schooling, employment or skills could be at risk of becoming involved in opium production, arms smuggling or violence.

She also urged the international community to continue humanitarian programs which are essential to save lives, but said they should focus on food-for-work or cash-for-work to end people’s total dependency and their give “self-confidence and dignity”. ”

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

She said such achievements leave room for positive change in the future. “These are the issues that they (the Taliban) cannot control,” she said. “They would love to, but they can’t do it.”

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

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

Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press