Peace without justice doesn’t exist: conversations with Sima Samar, chair of the Independent Afghanistan Human Rights Commission and with Mohammad Farid Hamidi, Attorney General of Afghanistan
Sima Samar, Chair of the Independent Afghanistan Human Rights Commission, has tirelessly advocated for rights and justice. Working in one of the most fragile and complex contexts in the world, and at times faced with perilous resistance, she pushed for the advancement of women’s rights and established Afghanistan’s first Ministry of Women’s Affairs in 2001.
Mohammad Farid Hamidi, a well-known lawyer with extensive experience on criminology and investigation and a former human rights commissioner himself, was appointed Attorney General and Minister of Justice of Afghanistan in 2016.
IDLO spoke to Chairwoman Samar and Attorney General Hamidi on the sidelines of the Global Conference on SDG 16 held in Rome on 27-29 May 2019 to discuss human rights, the reform of the justice sector and peace in Afghanistan and how access to justice, particularly for women, children and people living in remote areas, can fundamentally change the course of the country.
What are the key challenges for Afghanistan in the implementation of SDG 16?
When asked what the key challenges to achieve the three pillars of SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) in Afghanistan are, both Hamidi and Samar stressed that, in a society like theirs, in conflict and war for 40 years, the key challenge is insecurity.
‘We are in conflict and unfortunately violence continues to take people’s lives, restrict people’s movements, and puts a lot of fear in society. Also, the inclusiveness is not inclusive - there is a lot of discrimination in many aspects of the county based on ethnicity, religion and so on. The minorities are not as safe as they should be’ commented Samar. ‘Being in conflict for decades, limitations were placed on access to education for women, and we don’t have a lot of human capacity unfortunately. The main problem is insecurity. Most of the resources, internal and donor funding, go to security issues, which undermines the other problems. For example, can you imagine if you spend a million dollars on fighting but there are millions of patients who don’t have access to free medicine? This is a shame, and it is why a lot of issues persist.’
Furthermore, Hamidi highlighted the timeliness of the moment for Afghanistan, in the midst of peace negotiations to push the message of SDG 16:
‘Now that we have the peace negotiations involving the government, the people of Afghanistan and also the international community, I think that embracing the message of justice for all, access to justice, inclusive society and good governance is of key importance for the future of Afghanistan and its people’ said Hamidi.
Given the big challenge that insecurity represents in Afghanistan, ‘access to justice, especially for women and children and for people living in remote areas, must be facilitated in order to respect the obligation under the Constitution, to ensure justice for all’ said Hamidi. He explained that this can be done by expanding the presence of prosecution offices.
‘One of the issues that I learnt from the conference and that I intend to implement is how to remain open and how to be in direct contact with the people especially those who live in remote areas of the country as well as women and children’ added Hamidi.
Samar pointed out that, ‘if justice has achieved some positive things, access to justice remains a real problem in Afghanistan and is also one of the reasons why conflicts continue’.
To meet these challenges, Hamidi also emphasized the utmost importance of building capacity of all the people involved in delivering justice. ‘We developed and defined a national plan of reform of the justice sector and one of the most important pillars is to build capacity of all justice actors. I think that building capacity of the organization is really important’ said Hamidi.
How are you able to promote change under SDG 16?
‘One of the problems in Afghanistan is corruption and the continuation of the culture of impunity. As long as we have corruption, justice is not going to be implemented impartially, and it is really important to facilitate access to justice. Because of the lack of access justice, we have conflict. Those victims of violence and the victims of war are used by terrorists or by groups in order to promote violence in the country’ answered Samar.
A lot of progress has been made to fight corruption said Hamidi, giving the examples of the establishment of the High Council for the Rule of Law and Anti-corruption led by the president of Afghanistan himself, the implementation of the new penal code or the creation of a high commission to fight violations against women among other initiatives. ‘For the first time in Afghanistan just last year, we prosecuted and punished 22 powerful generals and 12 deputy ministers, which is a huge achievement for the government of Afghanistan. These are among the achievements of the government of Afghanistan according to the promises and obligations of SDGs’ pointed out Attorney General Hamidi.
Can there be peace and security without justice?
When asked what is being done in Afghanistan to promote change, Samar said: ‘We, as a national institution of human rights, keep our independence and try to promote, protect and monitor human rights. We have a constitutional mandate and the ability to investigate the issues, including the reform of the judiciary and implementation of laws. Secondly, we promote awareness in different sectors of society such as looking at the curriculum of the schools to make sure that they are based on principles of human rights and equality in the country, or training military forces including the police, the army and intelligence services, and promoting women’s participation in different sectors. Unless we push for accountability and justice for domestic violence within the families, we will not reach sustainable peace – and peace without justice doesn’t really exist and doesn’t mean anything.’
Hamidi’s words echoed this vision when he explained: ‘the reform of the government’s agenda, especially in the justice sector will continue as we believe, not only me as Attorney General but the government as a whole, that peace and security for the Afghans are not possible neither today nor in the long term without justice. Supporting the justice sector in order to be able to provide justice to citizens will enable them to live in a just and inclusive society where the rule of law prevails.’ As an example of the achievements of the Afghan government under SDG 16, Hamidi mentioned that in the past 6 months, they had re-opened 57 prosecution offices in remote districts that had been closed for 8 to 12 years.