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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Weak Afghans need rights: activist

Women, kids at risk, war or not, thus mindset of equality urged


Staff writer

Rape, torture and murder — the daily realities confronted by the people of Afghanistan for as long as anyone can remember.

News photo
Rights path: Horia Mosadiq, an Amnesty International researcher, is interviewed at Amnesty's Tokyo office on July 5. YOSHIAKI MIURA

The strife that has raged across its land has claimed countless numbers of innocent civilian lives, including the most vulnerable in society: women and children. Now, says Afghan activist and journalist Horia Mosadiq, it's time to put an end to the violence — and put a greater emphasis on establishing their human rights.

A researcher for Amnesty International since 2008, Mosadiq travels between London and Kabul to investigate a wide range of alleged human rights violations, including torture at detention centers, deaths of civilians and violence against women.

Mosadiq was in Tokyo last week to observe a donor conference for Afghanistan that was attended by about 80 countries and international organizations.

In an effort to boost Afghanistan's security, Japan has provided about $330 million in aid over the past decade. That aid has helped train and pay the Afghan National Police while also supporting the reintegration of ex-Taliban militants into society.

Mosadiq, however, has urged Japan and the international community to do more for human rights in Afghanistan, including funding rights groups.

Japan "should allocate (a) certain percentage of the funding to support women's rights groups, human rights groups and civil society groups in Afghanistan because they are the key for accountability and maintaining rule of law in Afghanistan," she said in an interview in Tokyo with The Japan Times.

On Sunday, donors pledged $16 billion in aid for Afghanistan through 2015 to support the development of a self-reliant nation after international troops withdraw in 2014.

In exchange, Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed to battle corruption, hold fair and transparent elections, and ensure "respect for human rights for all citizens, in particular for women and children."

While Mosadiq agreed that foreign troops should not remain in Afghanistan indefinitely, she expressed strong concern that a withdrawal without an independent mechanism to investigate alleged human rights violations could exacerbate such concerns.

In the past decade, "the international community has focused much more on military gains . . . to fight against (the) insurgency and increase security, (which) have affected or overshadowed other work they should have done on Afghanistan," Mosadiq said.

"It is important that the right mechanisms are put in place so that (the) Afghan government should be able to investigate allegations of human rights violations," Mosadiq said, adding that the system should also oversee compensation and redress for victims.

Over the past several decades, Afghan women have increasingly become the targets of rights violations, Mosadiq noted. Earlier this month, a man believed to be a Taliban militant publicly executed a woman for alleged adultery by shooting her multiple times in the head. The act drew harsh international condemnation.

U.S. Gen. John Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, slammed the killing as "an atrocity of unspeakable cruelty," according to media reports.

Mosadiq said: "Women were the prime victims of the Taliban policy and if women are not engaged in this peace (process between the Taliban and the Afghan government) — and if their voices and concerns are not heard — our concern is that their rights will be easily (cast) away."

Born and raised in Afghanistan, Mosadiq herself has struggled to survive in a country rife with violence and injustice. She lost one of her brothers in the fighting. Her home has been destroyed and she has been displaced more than once.

And in the face of such horror and tragedy, Mosadiq became a journalist and activist, a strong advocate for human rights. But her outspoken nature and resolute attitude also made her and her family — her husband and daughters — targets.

Letters, phone calls and threats at gunpoint were made against Mosadiq and her family on a daily basis. However, she refused to back down and the warnings escalated.

Her husband was shot at in his car and her oldest daughter's face was slashed.

Finally, Amnesty International had to evacuate her and her family to London in 2008.

"As long as the threats were directed to me, I didn't care because when you decide what to do, you are also aware of the dangers," she said. "But when everything was directed against my family, it was quite difficult to see your family paying for what you do."

Despite this, Mosadiq said she has seen signs of improvement in Afghanistan in the decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. She credits support given by the international community for this shift.

According to the Afghan Ministry of Education, nearly 7 million children are currently enrolled in school, of which 37 percent are girls. That number is a marked difference from 2002, when less than a million students — and almost no girls — were enrolled.

"The important thing is Afghans are daring to see a better future for themselves, which was almost impossible in 2001, and I think it is important to see those hopes and give them that light," Mosadiq said.



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