Dr. Sima Samar – Afghanistan’s voice for human rights

She was a refugee, a Hazara woman and therefore part of the most persecuted minority in Afghanistan. Her husband went missing and never returned. In a country ravaged by more than three decades of war, Taliban rule and violation of women's rights, Sima Samar became a doctor, Afghanistan's first Minister of Women's Affairs and one of the country's most prominent human rights advocates.

Sima Samar had to flee to Pakistan with her son and started to work as a doctor in exile, at the refugee branch of the Mission Hospital in Quetta. Having realized that the Afghan women and children there had little or no access to medical treatment and healthcare, she established a hospital and later founded the Shuhada Organization. More than 30 years of conflict have deprived the women in Afghanistan of two basic human rights, according to Dr. Samar: the right to education and the right to healthcare. Her organization runs clinics and schools, trains medical staff and educates children and women in the country, and also reaches out to Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

Upon her return to Afghanistan in 2002, she was asked to serve as the Minister of Women’s Affairs, a new Ministry created under Karzai’s administration. Dr. Samar only lasted a few months in this cabinet post as she openly and publicly criticized conservative Islamic law. Following her forced resignation, she decided to broaden her fight for women’s rights and founded the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). “I wanted to help other people who can’t stand up for their own rights and raise their voices.”

It is at great risk and permanent danger to her life that Dr. Samar heads Shuhada and the AIHRC. She is a strong voice inside and outside Afghanistan and never stops campaigning for human rights and democracy in her country. In 2012, she received the Right Livelihood Award “for her longstanding and courageous dedication to human rights, especially the rights of women, in one of the most complex and dangerous regions in the world.” But it does not end there. The withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan in 2014 leaves many activists concerned about peace and the future of human rights in the country. In every interview and every speech, Dr. Samar calls on the US and Western nations to remember their moral obligations toward Afghanistan. She will keep on fighting for democracy, the participation of Afghan women in government and the reconstruction of civil society in Afghanistan.

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