I believe that reconciliation should not be traded for justice and that victims of human rights violations should not again be victims for short-term political gain.

Acceptance speech – Sima Samar

Mister Deputy Speaker,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Your excellencies,
Fellow laureates,
Dear friends,

Without any doubt, I feel extremely honoured and privileged to receive this year’s Right Livelihood Award and find myself among a multitude of dedicated and inspiring people who have been struggling for human beings to enjoy a peaceful and decent life.

This prestigious recognition is not solely for me and my work but for my people and my country, particularly for Afghan women who have been striving for a decent and dignified life. It is for sure not an easy task to fight for women’s rights and human rights in a country where women still are considered to be second-class citizens. It is indeed very motivating for me and my fellow women’s rights advocates working towards the creation of an environment free of violence and discrimination.

An obvious peculiarity of our globalized world is an indifference to injustice, discrimination and oppressive behaviors of dictators, which in any part of our common earth cannot be tolerated. In the same manner, the dedication of human rights defenders and promoters of democracy and rule of law should not remain unnoticed. This Award is an affirmation of our struggle!

As an Afghan woman, defending the basic human rights of my country-women and country-men in a land where human rights was once a taboo, has never been a smooth path. Though we are still a long way away from having our desire for human rights fulfilled, we have come a long way to reach this level. Risks, threats, intimidation, discrimination on one hand, and disparaging reactions from a male-dominated society and a prevailing conservative attitude on the other, has been a structural challenge that my fellow human rights companions and I continue to face.

However, now HUMAN RIGHTS have turned into a national debate and discourse in the country. Now one is openly talking about torture, which though not abolished, is not visible and common as it was before! Now no one is burying cases of honor killing and rape along with the victims and hiding them in the graves.

Earlier no one could even dare to talk about such issues. In a country like Afghanistan, where there is a low rate of literacy, the scourge of poverty, and years of marginalization, people and victims’ families are today talking about the violence and abuses that they were subject to, and are airing their voices for justice. This is indeed a pleasant outcome of our efforts and advocacy.

An Afghan woman who had never seen a medical doctor in her entire life happened to have a missed abortion—she would have been dead if she did not reach me in time. She did survive when, after a two-day journey, she reached one of the hospitals that I built. This is a small way in which I have been able to advance peoples’ access to health. Even today, that woman is always glad to see me after 20 years. When I went back to that area, she brought some sweets for me saying that I saved her life. Hundreds of such cases give me the satisfaction that I at least have done some positive work in this country.

As a matter of fact, what has kept me motivated is both the continued suffering of my people, and my strong beliefs in what I am engaged with and striving for. For me the best moment is to see a young girl or boy who has lost her/his family and have no one to look after them (whether during the former Soviet Union occupation or the civil war periods) and who are now graduates of universities and have a steady job and income.

I had too many such kids, and still have, at the shelters that I support. It is fascinating to see them coming to me and saying “Mother, I have a job, and I want to follow your path in upholding human rights and continuing my journey working towards well being and a peaceful life for my war-hit people.” It is for sure very difficult to compensate the opportunity loss in post-conflict and conflict situations like my country, but it is promising to have somebody continuing to walk the talk!

Honorable ladies and gentlemen, this prestigious recognition will indeed further boost the morale of Afghan women and men and particularly rouse the spirits of human rights defenders in the country. It enhances their effort and commitment to work for rule of law, democracy, and human rights. This is for my people and my country.

This award is a clear indication that we all have a shared vision for a world free of injustice, discrimination, and people’s suffering. No one should tolerate injustice, and we should all treat injustice anywhere as injustice everywhere! This is to prevent further loss of opportunity and for the young generation to enjoy a lasting peace, sustainable development and human security in its broadest sense.

We have no time for further enmities and people’s suffering, and we must make our voices louder and louder for our sacred and noble cause towards a bright future for all humankind! We must act today, as our common future depends, as Great Gandhi said, on what we do today!

At the end, I would like to quote Qamurzaman Qamar, an Afghan poet, who wrote:

Our life is too short for our friendship
How come people can spare time for animosity?

Thank you for your attention and your solidarity.

Dr. Sima Samar
Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission
Karte 3, Pul-e-SurkhDistrict 6
Phone: + 93 20 250 0676