Monday, April 13, 2009

Peace With Justice Activist Killed Outside her Home in Kandahar

Yesterday Sitara Achakzai, an Afghan woman’s human rights defender and Provincial Council member from Kandahar, Afghanistan, was killed outside her home for daring to prove that women can be leaders for peace, change and equality.

The first time we met Sitara, who returned to Afghanistan from Germany in 2004, she discussed her country in depth. She told us that while it would be a long struggle, women and men of Afghanistan must work together to demand women’s rights, and that equal power would never be achieved without a struggle. She described peace as a calm in which the rule of law could be implemented justly, and described a true leader as a person with a vision for equality and change. Throughout our three days with Sitara in February of this year, she astounded us with her bravery, courage and strength.

‘In other countries, day by day, human rights develop. But in Afghanistan, sometimes it feels like they move backwards.’ Despite this challenge, in 2008 and 2009 she and two friends gathered 2,000 Kandahari women in a mosque in the heart of Kandahar to call for their vision – a vision of peace with justice, and to hold those in power accountable to the voices of women.

Her killing was a cold-blooded act of cowardice, a means of refusing to engage in debate and dialogue, of silencing a powerful majority of the country through fear and violence. Sitara symbolized what Afghan women leaders pose nationally – a vocal minority, asking for change, asking questions about the role of women in Afghanistan, and demanding inclusion in the reconstruction and development of their homeland.

The killing of women like Sitara not only has tremendous personal ramifications for family and friends, but social repercussions that cannot be understated. Her killing silences thousands of other women and men in Afghanistan who believe that human rights are not a western imposition, but are central to their understanding of Islam, and to their beliefs and cultures.

The remaining few people who continue to bravely speak out in defense of human rights, both men and women’s, are crucial to the future of Afghanistan. Attacks on their lives are not spontaneous. They are premeditated and forewarned. Weeks and months before Sitara’s death she was telling anyone who would listen of her fears. An attack on women and men like Sitara is an attack on all human rights defenders. Brave women and men willing to stand up and be heard on issues of human rights must be supported and they must be protected. Violence with impunity must not be allowed to continue, and the Government of Afghanistan and the international community must join in holding the perpetrators of Sitara’s murder accountable to this standard.