18/09/2019 Sima Samar appointed Afghanistan’s Human Rights Minister

Sima Samar appointed Afghanistan’s Human Rights Minister

Human Rights, 18/09/2019

After seventeen years at the helm of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Sima Samar takes on a new challenge. The Right Livelihood Award Laureate has been appointed Afghanistan’s Special Envoy and State Minister for Human Rights and International Relations. One month into the new position, she does not yet have staff, a budget or an office. But this is not stopping her. She’s been there before.

For her new job, Sima Samar set ambitious goals. She is determined to push the Afghan government to implement the human rights obligations it committed to when it ratified international conventions, whether it is in the realm of children’s rights, gender equality or torture. She does not plan to concentrate on individual cases. She rather pursues large-scale impact:

“The new position will be about paving the way for broader change. To be efficient you have to change the reality on the ground”, Sima Samar says.

Her appointment was officially announced in mid-July. As a cabinet member, she wants to make sure that human rights are not sidelined while the Afghan government makes peace negotiations a priority.

 “Working on the promotion and protection of human rights is especially necessary in a country torn by decades of armed conflicts where the rule of law is particularly weak. There is no excuse for talking about peace and peace negotiations only and not addressing the justice issue”, she adds.

This is not the first time Sima Samar serves as a member of government. In 2001/2002 she was Minister of Women’s Affairs for the Interim Administration of Afghanistan. In 2002, Sima Samar started building the Afghanistan Independent Commission for Human Rights from scratch. With courage, determination and grit, she set out to introduce human rights into the everyday lives of Afghan citizens. She received the Right Livelihood Award in 2012 “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.”

While human rights violations are still widespread in Afghanistan, there has been progress over the past fifteen years, she says:

“Human rights used to be a foreign term that was almost considered a curse. Today it is part of the discourse in every family. Even the most conservative groups in society, such as the Taliban, are using the word.”

A striking example that highlights the progress achieved is the changing attitude on violence against women.

“Violence against women used to be accepted as some kind of traditional practice. No more! People have the courage to come forward. The number of reported cases is at a record high. That’s not because there is more violence, but because sensibilities changed. People report incidents that would have gone unnoticed before. The awareness has risen.”, she points out.

Sima Samar looks back at the work at the Afghan Human Rights Commission with a sense of closure:

“When I started, we had no office, no staff, no budget, no strategy. Currently everything is in place. Offices with trained staff are fully furnished with computers and every equipment which is needed for an office. My successor takes over a well-functioning institution.

Sima Samar is member of the jury that selects the Right Livelihood Award Laureates 2019 who will be announced on September 25.

We congratulate Sima Samar on her new position and wish her great success.