A lack of education and the absence of cultural understanding were among the reasons cited for human rights violations in Afghanistan at the Afghanistan and State Building Symposium last Friday, hosted by the La Verne College of Law.
The symposium, well attended by local and international dignitaries, featured panel speakers from Afghanistan, the U.S. Afghan Women’s Council and Harvard – all of whom shared their views on human rights violations.
One of the hot button issues revolved around the misconception that Afghanistan has no legal system for victims of abuse, particularly women.
“There is a lot of civil society in Afghanistan. People shouldn’t assume there isn’t a court structure there,” said Mariam Atash Nawabi, co-founder of Afghanistan Advocacy Group and a member of U.S. Afghan Women’s Council.
She also addressed the need for U.S. personnel to spend their time and money on what is important, which is to regulate and monitor programs in order to make sure Afghanistan’s legal system treats everyone fairly at all times.
She pointed out the development of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission which gives Afghan citizens a platform to voice inequalities, and stressed that more action needs to be taken because it does not have prosecutorial power.
“Sometimes the people creating the problems seem to be above the law,” Nawabi said. “If we are going to put money into these programs, we need to monitor them, and if they are not performing, we need to deal with that,” she added.
As the panel discussion progressed, heavier topics were dealt with concerning the roles that culture and tradition play in Afghan human rights.
Marisa S. Cianciarulo, immigration attorney and associate professor of law at the Chapman University School of Law, noted the horror stories from several of her female Afghan clients, many of whom were beaten in public during the days of the Taliban for laughing out loud and leaving their homes without a male escort.
She denounced the common excuse of culture for the way women were and are treated in Afghanistan.
“Human rights are not cultural. Nazism was not a culture. Violence is never excusable. These are not values,” Cianciarulo said, adding that if one were to dismiss the violence as part of Afghan tradition it would be an insult to their culture.
One unanimous thought throughout the panel was the fact that Afghans, particularly men, do not know enough about existing human rights laws in Afghanistan to begin with, especially since many are illiterate and do not read what is happening in the news.
The consensus was that Afghans need more knowledge about their own laws to promote the goal of basic human rights, which is an area that the U.S. should concentrate more on.
“There is a willingness with the Afghan society to move forward, they are ready for changes,” said panelist moderator and Harvard Kennedy School associate fellow, Jasteena Dhillon. “We need to provide them with what they need, which is not billions of dollars, but programs.”
The Human Rights component of the symposium took place at the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel in Pomona and was well received by the more than 50 attendees, among them La Verne College of Law student Kareem Abou-Ramadan.
He highlighted the benefit in attending the symposium to get an accurate portrayal of the state in Afghanistan regarding human rights.
“Here you get a range of issues from dignitaries sharing experiences that deal with the Afghan people first-hand. You get a rich understanding of the problem and the progress,” Abou-Ramadan said, who is entering his third year into the law program.
He said that the progress thus far in Afghanistan is hidden to many because the media only reports on “what sells” rather than reporting the positive strides occurring in the country.
Dhillon seems to agree with that and insists that Americans at home need to consider the good that is happening in Afghanistan.
“We have to remember it is a complex society and traditional society,” Dhillon said. We need to be sensitive to elements of their society. We need to remember that [change] is not going to happen over night.”
Mark Vidal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.