Sima Samar: “Acts of genocide” are committed against Hazara community in Afghanistan
More than 14 months have passed since the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. In a recent interview with Right Livelihood, 2012 Right Livelihood Laureate Sima Samar discussed the ongoing human rights crises in her home country, including a looming genocide, and what the international community can do to hold the Taliban accountable. This is part one of a three-part series detailing these crises.
On September 30, 2022, a man strapped with explosives entered the Kaaj Educational Center in West Kabul, claiming the lives of 53 Hazara teenagers and injuring 110 others. According to survivors, the bomb was detonated in front of a classroom where female students were seated, making girls the majority of the victims.
However, this was not a one-off event. It is not even the first time this particular education centre was targeted.
“This specific centre was part of the centre which has been attacked twice before,” Samar said. “So, it’s not new. And the other problem is that every time before, ISIS, or Daesh, was taking responsibility. This time, nobody took responsibility.”
Hazaras, one of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic groups, have been persecuted throughout the country’s history, Samar explained. But, under the Taliban’s rule, their persecution has once again become systemic.
Accounting for nearly 10 per cent of Afghanistan’s population, Hazaras are native to central Afghanistan and speak the Hazaragi dialect of Persian. This dialect is mutually intelligible with Dari, one of Afghanistan’s two official languages.
Although Hazaras’ religious practices are diverse, they predominantly practice Shi’a Islam. This has contributed to their persecution, as the majority of Afghans practice Sunni Islam.
“There are acts of genocide, there’s no doubt,” said Samar. “Because systematically, these people have been killed and attacks have been done.”
Despite the Taliban’s promise to protect religious and ethnic minorities, the killing and persecution of Hazaras have increased under their leadership.
Even if the Taliban were to protect the Hazaras, Samar explained, it would not be enough to stop the genocide.
“The problem is that even if the leadership of the Taliban say something, the other people who are close to the Taliban, they have a lot of hate speech,” said Samar. “They clearly say that [Hazaras] are infidels and they can be killed.”
To depict the depth of hatred among the Taliban’s foot soldiers, Samar shared a harrowing instance in which a shepherd was murdered for being Hazara.
“They happily kill the Hazaras,” said Samar. “There is a video where they stop a shepherd and say, ‘Are you Hazara?’ He says, ‘Yes, I’m Hazara.’ And they shoot at him several times after that. He was [dead] on the street…and they were still shooting at him and saying ‘At least we killed one of them.’”
Compared to other conflicts, where documenting human rights abuses has the potential to achieve change and justice for victims, this is not the case in Afghanistan, explained Samar.
“In our case, documentation is difficult,” said Samar. “If the government knows that people are documenting, that is enough to be killed or put in prison.”
For this reason, any hope for accountability and justice for Hazaras is unlikely to come from Afghans on the ground, and instead, lies with the international community.
According to Samar, there are three main actions the international community can take to protect Hazaras.
“One, I think they should not negotiate on the principle of human rights,” Samar said. The international community cannot accept that human rights abuses are simply part of life for Afghans.
“Two, I think they should have a united approach, everyone, to the issues in Afghanistan,” said Samar. “The UN Security Council should be united. And there should not be that many diplomatic negotiations between them to put Afghanistan aside because of some really big problem for Russia or China or the US.”
Samar concluded by emphasising the need for accountability and justice.
“The third point, I think, is they can really use the push for accountability and justice as a carrot against the Taliban. And that is really important to do.”