Dr. Sima Samar, chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, warns that neither Afghan human rights nor the safety of women and girls can be forgotten in any successful campaign to stabilize Afghanistan and end terrorism.

As President Obama and his Administration conclude a two-month review of Afghanistan and formulate plans for moving forward in Afghanistan, Dr. Samar, who is a preeminent human rights leader and Special Human Rights Rapporteur for Sudan, reminded administration officials and members of Congress that human rights, especially the rights of women, must be a central focus. Viewing the people of Afghanistan and the U.S. as partners with shared responsibilities in the struggle to end terrorism, she asserted that for victory to be achieved, the US must not re-arm the warlords who have terrorized the people, especially women and girls.

Fearful that past mistakes will be repeated and describing deplorable existing human rights conditions in Afghanistan, Samar in her week-long stay in Washington, DC said she was hopeful that conditions will be improved with the U.S. now focusing on Afghanistan. “Afghan women and girls want education. Many risk their lives to go to school,” she explained. “People want accountability, transparency in the flow of aid to Afghanistan, and justice – not impunity and support for those who violate human rights. Human rights are not a western concept, but universal and necessary for all human beings,” continued Samar.

Samar is impatient with the characterization of Afghanistan as a 14th century culture. She reminds people she is a trained M.D. from Kabul University and that before this period of continuous war for over 30 years, Kabul was viewed as a leading medical center in Central Asia. Additionally, before the Taliban and the civil war period of the 1990s, women were about 40% of medical personnel and 70% of teachers.

Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, also announced the launching of a new campaign today, chaired by Mavis Leno and supported by many women’s organizations, leaders and celebrities to help Afghan women and girls and to ensure they will not be forgotten. Over the past weekend, some 500 college students from 38 states and 145 colleges were briefed by Dr. Samar on the disastrous current conditions of women and girls. Hundreds of girls’ schools have been destroyed. Teachers have been murdered – some right in front of their students. Girls are being attacked with acid being thrown in their faces on their way to or from school. One 75 year-old woman was nailed to a tree and killed for “collaborating” with the government and the U.S.; another woman was beheaded. Those terrorizing the girls and women are Taliban members or well-known human rights violators.

“We warned in 1998, and over and over again ever since, the women and girls in Afghanistan are the canaries in the mine,” said Smeal. “We cannot forget them if we are ever to gain peace and global stability.”

The Feminist Majority Foundation’s campaign will galvanize women’s groups, campus and community activists, as well as ordinary citizens to help Afghan women and girls. Today, because of the constant wars, a once-proud medical system needs help. One in 6 Afghan women is dying due to complications of pregnancy or childbirth. To address this, the campaign will raise funds to train midwives and to pass the Afghan Women’s Empowerment Act to fund Afghan women-led programs.

“The United States has a new opportunity to change direction in Afghanistan – we believe that this time, with the leadership of President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, women and girls will not be left on the periphery, but placed in the central focus of our new policy. We are determined to galvanize the public will and support to help make this happen,” continued Smeal.