Afghan Parliamentarian Confronts War: Malalai Joya Risks Her Life to Speak for Human Rights
Sam Diener is co-editor of Peacework. Malalai Joya is a human rights activist and illegally-suspended Parliamentarian in Afghanistan. In June of 2008, Peacework reported on the campaign to reinstate her to the Parliament.
At the Afghan Constitutional Assembly Loya Jirga in 2003, Malalai Joya managed to be recognized by the chair. According to a video of the scene accessed through the Defense of Malalai Joya website (www.malalaijoya.com), Joya proclaimed:
"My name is Malalai Joya from the Farah province. With the permission of all those present, and with respect for the martyrs who were killed I would like to speak. I wish to criticize my compatriots in this room. Why would you allow criminals to be present at this Loya Jirga? They are warlords responsible for our country's situation. Afghanistan is the center for national and international conflicts. They oppress women and have ruined our country. They should be prosecuted. They might be forgiven by the Afghan people, but not by history."
At this point, Malalai Joya was interrupted, with the room in an uproar (though there was also considerable applause). The chair declared that she was "...banished from this assembly and cannot return. Send her out! Guards, throw her out!"
Despite, or perhaps partially because of this brave statement, Malalai Joya was elected to the Afghan Parliament. After she continued her outspoken criticism of the influence of people who committed crimes of war in the government, she was unlawfully suspended from Parliament on May 21, 2007 on the pretext that her criticism of other members of Parliament violated Parliamentary rules.
The Governing Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) pointed out, in a unanimous resolution adopted October 15, 2008, that Article 70 of the Standing Orders (Rules of Procedure) states that suspending a Parliamentarian for more than one day can be done "only at the request of the Administrative Board and with the subsequent approval of Parliament." In Joya's case, this procedure was ignored.
The IPU observed, "no one else has been suspended on such grounds, not even those who have called Ms. Joya a 'prostitute' and a 'whore' and have reportedly called for her to be raped and killed." Though she endures death threats and assassination attempts, she continues to speak out for Afghan women, for human rights, and for governmental accountability. Despite entreaties from her lawyer and international advocates, the Supreme Court has not heard her reinstatement case, deferring to the Parliamentary leadership.
Joya Wins Anna Politkovskaya Human Rights Award
RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in War), a London-based human rights organization, issued the following statement about its 2008 award: "October 7, 2008 marked the second anniversary of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, the campaigning Russian journalist and outspoken government critic, who exposed the brutal treatment of civilians in Chechnya at the hands of both the Russian forces and the Moscow-supported Chechen officials. No closer to having her assassin brought to justice, two years on, the Russian authorities remain reluctant and show no political will to identify who ordered the killing.
"To mark the anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya's murder and to honor Anna and other women like her in the world, RAW in WAR annually presents the Anna Politkovskaya Award to a woman human rights defender from a conflict zone in the world who, like Anna, stands up for the victims of this conflict, often at great personal risk."
Joya's acceptance speech follows.
This award means a lot to me as it links me to Anna Politkovskaya, an extraordinary woman who sacrificed her life for telling the truth. Her perseverance, bravery, and dedication to justice inspire me and many others around the world. For me, Anna is a true symbol of heroic struggle on behalf of freedom and democracy and against oppressive regimes.
I am pleased to receive this award on behalf of the suffering Afghan women and men. It has a tremendously high moral value to me.
It puts extra responsibility and obligations on my shoulders to fight against injustice and brutal fundamentalists in my country. In turn, I pledge that I will not stop for a moment from telling the truth in the face of intimidation and death threats. I believe, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant."
Joya's Message to the US
Malalai Joya visited the US and spoke with Amy Goodman of the radio program Democracy Now! in an interview broadcast on July 24, 2007.
Joya said, "My main message is for
the freedom-loving, democratic people and parties of the US, and
also the human rights defenders here. Place pressure on the policymakers
of the US. They have made the wrong policies. Stop supporting
fundamentalist warlords in Afghanistan, this Northern Alliance
who are more risky than the Taliban and they're the brothers
in creed of the Taliban. Another main message of our people is
please, try to support freedom-loving, democratic people and parties,
support the men and women in Afghanistan who have no kind of support."