Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Rights and Freedoms

No Nobel Price (Yet) for Sima Samar

Thomas Ruttig 3 min

The Nobel Committee is never shy of picking a fight. The one it picked this year is with China – by awarding its Peace Prize to the jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo; it has been warned before by Beijing that this could impact on Norwegian-Chinese relations. AAN’s Senior Analysts Thomas Ruttig and Sari Kouvo wished the Committee would have picked a fight with last year’s winner by sending the message that human rights do matter, also in Afghanistan.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee finally has not awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Sima Samar, the head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), who was amongst the favourites for it. Sima could have used the prize this year. Through her, the prize could have benefited Afghanistan’s human rights defenders and the people of this country that have suffered war crimes by the hands of fellow Afghans – and international forces. The prize would have been timely: It would have come in the middle of the heating-up discussions about troop withdrawal, ‘reconciliation at all costs’ and the newly-appointed, warlord-dominated High Peace Council (HPC, see our recent blog about it here).

From the platform of such an honour, Sima and her colleagues within and outside the AIHRC could have gone into the up-coming debates with a much stronger position. There are battles fought in Afghanistan that many do not know about or choose to ignore: These are the battles for the still fragile human rights that have been obtained in post-Taleban Afghanistan and the battles against the trend amongst Western governments to be ‘realistic’ and settle for ‘Afghan good enough’ (Gen. Petraeus). Slowly, but very surely human rights have been pushed off the agenda – remember theTransitional Justice Action Plan? – as Western governments choose to base their exit stretagy on an even intensified cooperation with warlords and commanders‘ networks, which euphemistically have been renamed ‘local powerbrokers’ for that purpose but in reality are drug and gun-running militia bosses or corrupt officials – or both.

Sima reiterated her position in an interview on Thursday with Afghan Tolo TV. She warned that human rights violaters ‘may influence the [new] Afghan parliament’ elected on 18 September, that ‘[t]he names of some people accused of human rights abuse[s] are on the top of the victorious parliamentary candidates list after a partial vote counting’ by the IEC and that ‘[s]uch elements were also present in Afghanistan’s previous parliament’. These are some of the same figures that have been listed (with convincing evidence) in the reports of the Afghanistan Justice Project,Human Rights Watch, the never officially published human rights ‘mapping‘of Afghanistan by the former Office of United Nations‘ High Commissioner for Human Rights, and that now have been appointed members of the HPC.

In the Tolo TV interview, Sima also once more made clear her – and many Afghans’ – concerns about the course ‘reconciliation’ is currently taking: ‘Any talks with the anti-government forces in Afghanistan [are] impossible without considering the princip[les] of democracy and the human rights values’, she said. ‘In any post-conflict country, there is a need for reconciliation, but no peace talks must undermine the human rights values and justice.’ This is also the position that came across in the AIHRC’s 2005 ‘A Call for Justice’ report which showed that while Afghans wanted reconciliation, they did not want reconciliation without justice and they wanted the perpetrators either prosecuted or removed from power.

This, actually, is the kind of position of strength the US should aspire to in Afghanistan: of moral, political and humane superiority as opposed to the emphasis on militarily might – with last year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize at the top of its administration. By now, however, he seems to have settled for a strategy in Afghanistan which is entirely oriented on US and not on Afghan goals, as he states in his 29 November 2009 ‘Final Orders for Afghanistan Pakistan Strategy, or Terms Sheet’ (published in Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars): ‘not fully resourced COIN or nation building, but a narrower approach tied more tightly to the core goal of disrupting, dismantling and eventually defeating al Qaida and preventing al Qaida’s return to safe haven in Afghanistan and Pakistan’. Not a word about human rights, democracy or such. One can only hope that the upcoming strategy review will reverse this – but with headlines promising that ‘Obama envisions no major changes in Afghan strategy’ (Washington Post, 18 September 2010), this seems to be wishful thinking again. Like the 2009 Peace Nobel Prize award for him.

Finally, Sima could have used the peace prize to bolster the position of the AIHRC and the Afghan human rights community more broadly. The Commission’s position and its composition is under threat to be marginalised and watered down by new appointments. Afghan human rights defenders are often called upon to speak out – and they are questioned when they do not speak out – but they are increasingly left alone when facing political or security threats.

Sima Samar might still get the prize next year. And it hopefully will still be in time.


Nobel Prize Sima Samar