In her talk at the Oslo Freedom Forum, Dr. Sima Samar explains how 31 years of war and invasion has forced Afghan society to become very conservative and unfriendly toward human rights and especially the rights of women. Samar describes how before the war, when she was young, she was able to study in a co-educational school. In today’s Afghanistan, she says, such a thought is unimaginable. Samar tells us how after the Soviet invasion, many Afghans rallied around religious conservatives and began to follow their lead both militarily and socially. These religious conservatives gained control of Afghanistan’s schools, and in a region severely lacking public education, were able to indoctrinate many younger Afghans. There were more than 6 million refugees in the Afghan region in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and many of them were taught in madrasas that, according to Samar, spread a false, extreme, hateful, and aggressive Islam that encouraged hatred and discrimination against women. This led to an environment where under the Taliban government, uttering the words “human rights” or “women’s rights” was a crime. Samar now heads the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission; a group established after the downfall of the Taliban whose very existence is a success and a good omen. Now, at least, there is an Afghan institution that conducts field monitoring and reporting on human rights abuses and provides TV, radio, and written programs that promote human rights and women’s rights. Samar explains that there must be more accountability, transparency, and institution building like this if peace in Afghanistan is to be achieved. There is no military-only solution, but it is essential, according to Samar, for international military forces to remain in Afghanistan to protect this kind of institution building and to train Afghan security forces. If the international community leaves without accomplishing its promised goals, many in Afghanistan and across the world will give up their belief in the ideas of human rights and democracy. Women’s rights are at the core of all of this. Samar explains how Afghanistan cannot achieve peace, security, and justice unless women are empowered and are full participants in the democratic process. Some international groups say that an Afghan culture that discriminates against women must be respected – Samar says absolutely not – that this is not culture, but ignorance. The mistreatment of women, according to Samar, is not “culture”, but a violation of human rights.

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