Thursday, April 22, 2010

Voices Of The People.

Today in the Afghan Heroes Series, a portrait of the brave young civil rights lawyer Mohammed Ishaq Faizi:

The conflict that shapes Faizi's life and work isn't between an enlightened western civil rights tradition and an obscurantist Muslim religious canon. It's between the west's occluded vision of what Afghanistan's sharia laws will necessarily and always entail, and a deeply-entrenched Afghan misapprehension that human rights are merely a foreign, western innovation.

The result sometimes erupts in international headlines. Most often, it involves innocent people getting locked away in jail in perversions of justice nobody ever hears about.

"But there does not have to be some fight between sharia and international human rights law," Faizi insists. "Human rights are not brought only from western law."

Afghanistan's 2004 constitution demands that no law must offend the Koran. But the constitution also requires that all laws must be consistent with international human rights standards and conventions. It's not going to be an easy fit, Faizi concedes. But it doesn't have to be as fractious as one might think.

Where the "west" gets it wrong is in a failure to appreciate that like the English common law tradition, sharia is a vast body of laws, most of which are inoffensive to universal human rights norms. But the semi-literate political appointees that often end up as Afghan judges also get it wrong. . .

More on the series here, and coincidentally our good friend Fakhria Ibrahimi, who helped me when I was in Afghanistan working on the series, is profiled by Minority Rights Group International today, introduced this way: "Seldom does a day go by without the latest atrocities of the war in Afghanistan being splashed across the pages of the world’s media. Yet, we rarely hear the voices of ordinary Afghans who continue to go about their daily lives despite the conflict." I'll say.

I live in Kabul and am a member of the Hazara community, most of whom live in central Afghanistan. Our customs and culture are not so different from the Pashtun majority, but we are mainly Shia Muslims and speak Farsi. We also have some special words from the Mongolian and Turkish languages.

The discrimination faced by Hazara people in Afghanistan is mostly political, not social. We do not have as much political representation as we would like and this means that in Hazarajat the government does not have much of a presence. The infrastructure is not as good as in other provinces, there is not much development and few good roads.

I work for an organisation called Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan which supports women in my country through education, capacity building, health care, handicrafts and libraries. My work involves collecting reports, documents and photographs of our local Afghan partners. . .

It's a small world.

And what has the UN Human Rights Council been up to? "The Council views the Israeli government's actions as its most urgent human rights concern -- more dire than, for example, the assassination of human rights defenders in Russia; the continuing genocide in Sudan; the 8 million forced-laborers in China's Laogai prisons; the 200 political prisoners in Cuba; the assault on independent media in Venezuela; the persecution of gays in Uganda. Missing from the Council's resolutions are the cruel dictatorships in Vietnam, Belarus, Zimbabwe, and Eritrea, and the brutality of Iran's government against its own people. . ."

Contrast that with the work of a handful of schoolchildren in the Okanagan Valley. They've raised $250,000 to employ teachers in Afghanistan, so far. You can employ an Afghan teacher for $120 a month. Do the math.


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