Amnesty International Asks President Obama and President Karzai to Give Women a Role in Talks on Afghanistan's Future to Avert "Catastrophe"

Press Release
May 20, 2012

Amnesty International Asks President Obama and President Karzai to Give Women a Role in Talks on Afghanistan's Future to Avert "Catastrophe"

At “Shadow Summit” in Chicago with Madeleine Albright and Melanne Verveer, Human Rights Organization Urges Leaders to Protect Hard-Won Rights and Freedom for Afghan Women As Troops Leave

Release of “Open Letter” Signed by Notables Including  Madeleine Albright, Meryl Streep, Sandra Day O’Connor, Sima Simar of Afghanistan Human Rights Commission

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org @strimel

(Chicago) – With prominent Afghan women’s rights advocates at their side for a “Shadow Summit,” Amnesty International leaders today criticized NATO for excluding women from the conversation about Afghanistan’s future after the troops leave.  The organization issued an open letter to President Obama and President Karzai – with noted signers including Madeleine Albright and Meryl Streep -- urging the two leaders  to keep their promise to safeguard women’s rights and freedoms to avert ”catastrophe” in the years ahead.

Forty-six signers of the open letter, in addition to the former Secretary of State and Oscar-winning actress, include retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; former Defense Secretary William Cohen; former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq  Zalmay Khalilzad; Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams and Shiriin Ebadi; “The Kite Runner” author Khaled Hosseini; Sima Samar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and feminist leaders Gloria Steinem and Eleanor Smeal, among other noted figures.

Amnesty International, convening the “Shadow Summit for Afghan Women” in Chicago hours before the opening of the NATO Summit, called for specific steps to protect women’s rights as the troops leave. The open letter to Presidents Obama and Karzai warns: “Afghan women have never faced greater danger to the protection and advancement of their human rights; they need and deserve your support. Their human rights, their safety, their very lives, must not be sacrificed as U.S. Armed Forces withdraw from the country.”

At a press conference during which he released the open letter and list of signatories, Frank Jannuzi, head of Amnesty International’s Washington, DC, office, said: “The women of Afghanistan have come too far to see their rights vanish.  They must be part of the conversation about the future of Afghanistan or that future will look very bleak indeed. No one wants a return to the days when the Taliban banned women and girls from schools and work, and held them as virtual prisoners in their own country.  This would be the ultimate catastrophe after a decade of gains for women.  Afghan women are looking to NATO and to the United States to stand with them as they fight to keep their dreams for stability and prosperity and those of future generations alive. We are calling on President Obama and President Karzai to not turn their backs on the women of Afghanistan and not to let them down.”

Secretary Albright joined the discussion at the “Shadow Summit,” along with Melanne Verveer, U.S, ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, one of Congress’ most ardent champions of women’s rights who wrote in an oped Friday in The Chicago Tribune titled “The Burqa Reminder”:“Women must have a seat at the table; their concerns must be heard, and they must be part of the process of peace-building.

Amnesty International, the first and largest global human rights organization, called for eight steps to protect Afghan women, including 30 percent representation in peace talks with the Taliban,  the creation of a “trust fund” to support women’s rights and civil society, commitments guaranteeing women’s rights in reconciliation agreements with the Taliban, and training for security officials to protect women against violence, among other steps.

Read the open letter:  http://amnestyusa.org/obamaandkarzailetter
Read the list of signatories: http://amnestyusa.org/afghanwomensignatories

Afifa Azim, director and co-founder, Afghan Women’s Network, said: “Women must be involved in the planning of the transition and that is not happening right now. The continued safety and mobility of Afghan women will be a critical indicator of the transition's success. We want the world to know that the women of Afghanistan are not victims. They are active members of society and agents of change who worked very hard, even when it was underground, to make sure children were being educated and progress was being made. We cannot go back to the darkness and we expect to be heard as the new policies are being made. We are asking the U.S. and the international community to support us.”

Prominent Afghan women’s rights leaders traveled from Afghanistan at Amnesty International’s invitation for the “Shadow Summit” and signed the open letter. In addition to Samar and Azim, they included: Hasina Safi, executive director, Afghan Women’s Educational Center; Mahbouba Seraj, founder and director, Soraya Marshal Consulting, executive board member, Afghan Women’s Network, and Manizha Naderi, executive director, Women for Afghan Women.

Women and girls in Afghanistan are regaining rights and freedoms that the Taliban eliminated altogether, including going to school and work. Today, three million girls go to school (37 percent of all schoolchildren), where none did under the Taliban. Women make up 20 percent of university graduates, with their numbers growing. Roughly 10 percent of judges and prosecutors are women, where none were allowed under the Taliban. In the 2010 parliamentary elections, women won 27 percent of the seats – two percent more than guaranteed under the new constitution.

Now, Afghan women fear their rights may be sacrificed in the search for a settlement with the Taliban.  In areas the Taliban controls, women’s rights are severely curtailed – and horrific abuses are reported. The Taliban has carried out concerted attacks on girls’ schools, even poisoning water wells at schools, and murdered prominent women in public life.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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