In 2002, Sima Samar became the first women's affairs minister in Afghanistan's post-Taliban interim government. Prior to her appointment, Samar had dedicated her life to the preservation of basic rights for women and girls in Afghanistan. She fled her country in 1984 during the Soviet occupation and moved to the border town of Quetta, Pakistan, where she founded the Shuhada Organization to support the education and health needs of Afghan women and girls. With dogged persistence and at great personal risk, she kept her schools and clinics open in Afghanistan even during the most repressive days of the Taliban regime, whose laws prohibited the education of girls past the age of eight. When the Taliban fell, Samar returned to Kabul and accepted the post of Minister for Women's Affairs, even as she continued to run her clinics and schools. But her persistent calls for equality and justice attracted the attention of Afghanistan's powerful religious leaders, who still saw no place for women in Afghan public life. She was taunted by male colleagues, and she began to receive thinly veiled death threats from Islamic conservatives hoping to silence her. She was ultimately forced to step down from her cabinet post, which was left unfilled. She subsequently was offered a non-cabinet position chairing the Independent Afghanistan Human Rights Commission, a position she still holds.
Afghan Human Rights Activist Dr. Sima Samar, Former North Carolina State Representative Cindy Watson, and Former Oklahoma State Senator Paul Muegge Honored with John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award
Boston, MA, May 24, 2004 - Caroline Kennedy and Senator Edward M. Kennedy today presented Afghan physician and human rights activist Dr. Sima Samar, former North Carolina State Representative Cindy Watson (R), and former Oklahoma State Senator Paul Muegge (D) with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award at a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
Sima Samar was honored with the 2004 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for the courage she displayed in ignoring death threats and defying the Taliban for twelve years to ensure that Afghan girls and women had access to health care and education. Following the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Dr. Samar became the first woman appointed to a cabinet position in the interim Afghan government. She serves today as the chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
Former North Carolina State Representative Cindy Watson (R) and former Oklahoma State Senator Paul Muegge (D) were honored with the 2004 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for their courage in standing up to the powerful hog industry in their respective states in order to protect the environment and the health of their constituents.
"The winners of the Profile In Courage Award are especially impressive this year because they have all stood up against overwhelming pressure on behalf of those who could not do so for themselves," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
"Today, we honor three individuals who have acted courageously to better the neighborhoods and the lives of their fellow citizens," said Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. "While they have served in different ways, the three people we recognize today have a great deal in common. They have all accepted the risks of standing up to powerful interests when their principles demanded that they act. And they have all shown us how one individual's public courage can bring comfort and support to thousands of people. They are role models for us all."
The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to public servants who have withstood strong opposition to follow what they believe is the right course of action. Past recipients of the award include former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, former South Carolina Governor David Beasley, former Georgia State Legislator Dan Ponder, Jr., former U.S. President Gerald Ford, U.S. Senator John McCain, U.S. Senator Russell Feingold, U.S. Representative John Lewis, California State Senator Hilda Solis, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, and America's public servants who responded to the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001.
The award is named for President Kennedy's 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers to fight for what they believed in. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation created the Profile in Courage Award in 1989 to honor President Kennedy's commitment and contribution to public service. It is presented in May in celebration of President Kennedy's May 29th birthday.
Described by one recipient as the "Nobel in government," the Profile in Courage Award is accompanied by a sterling-silver lantern representing a beacon of hope. The lantern was designed by Edwin Schlossberg and crafted by Tiffany & Co.
Dr. Sima Samar has become an international symbol of the steadfast courage required to demand basic human rights for girls and women in Afghanistan. Through the Shuhada Organization, a non-governmental, nonprofit organization she established in 1989, Dr. Samar has opened four hospitals, ten health clinics, and numerous schools that serve girls and women in Afghanistan. She worked undercover in defiance of the brutally repressive Taliban, the country's ruling military and political force from 1994 to 2001, to operate schools for girls and health clinics for women. Dr. Samar's personal safety has always been at risk, forcing her on one occasion to seek refuge at a United Nations office.
Following the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Dr. Samar was the first woman appointed to a cabinet position in the interim Afghan government when she was named to the newly created position of Minister of Women's Affair. However, she was forced to step down when Afghanistan's conservative Supreme Court deemed her unfit. Although she publicly reiterated her commitment to Islam and the Koran, local Islamists continued to criticize and threaten her. As a result, she was not included in Prime Minister Hamid Karzai's permanent government. Dr. Samar was later offered a position as Chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, a position she accepted and presently holds.
As a freshman legislator in 1995, North Carolina Representative Cindy Watson was the first Republican elected from Duplin County in more than a century and the first woman ever elected to the House from Duplin County. She worked to improve the quality of life for eastern North Carolinians through economic growth, market deregulation, corporate tax relief, and agricultural expansion. After meeting with a small group of concerned citizens, known as the Alliance for a Responsible Swine Industry, she became informed about the health risks of waste and stench from hog farms that caused asthma in children, made walking outside unbearable, and contaminated water wells with E. coli bacteria. She met with more citizens and realized the expansion of the hog-farming industry in North Carolina without regulation would have a devastating impact on the environment and the health of her constituents. The amount of waste produced by the animal and poultry population in her district was staggering, and the means by which the industry handled that waste had proved destructive to the environment.
In 1997, Watson co-sponsored legislation that would force farmers to better handle waste, in part by phasing out hog-waste lagoons that held waste for 9.3 million hogs and by placing a time-limited moratorium on new operations. In the past, big money from large-scale hog-farmers had helped quash attempts at enacting environmental regulations in the General Assembly, but when a hog factory accidentally spilled 25 million gallons of hog waste in North Carolina's New River, the worst spill in state history, the public rallied behind the need for regulations and Representative Watson's legislation passed in 1998. But the state's largest corporate hog farmers joined forces and created Farmers for Fairness to vigorously oppose Representative Watson. From June 1996 to May 1997, they spent $1.4 million in its campaign. Estimates suggest that $10,000 to $20,000 a week were spent on an advertising campaign to smear Watson. Farmers then poured money into the campaign of her Republican primary opponent, targeting Watson for defeat in the upcoming election. In the 1998 primary, despite her incumbent status, Watson lost her party's nomination to Johnny Manning, a hog farmer. After leaving office, Watson campaigned to draft Elizabeth Dole for the Republican nomination for president in 2000 and launched an unsuccessful bid for the North Carolina State Senate.
Oklahoma Senator Paul Muegge put his political career on the line when he authored laws that placed tough new regulations on the corporate swine and poultry industries in Oklahoma. Citing the need for clean air, clean water, and a protected environment to maintain the high quality of life Oklahomans enjoy, Muegge sponsored legislation that would regulate and impose restrictions on hog production to safeguard the environment. His bill required new hog farms to be set back from neighboring properties, mandated water and soil testing, and assessed large farms a 32-cents-per-hog fee to underwrite the new regulations. Although he knew he would be vigorously targeted by the state's well-financed, pro-hog industry and Republicans in upcoming re-election campaigns, Senator Muegge stood firm on his environmental protection legislation. He cited his strong position in the Senate as Chair of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee and support from the Governor, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, and environmental, citizen interest, and independent farmers groups as key to getting the legislation passed in 1998. He also shepherded through a first-of-its-kind bill regulating waste from chicken farms to protect constituents who complained about the waste's hideous odor and expressed concern about risks to groundwater. After a brutal campaign, Senator Muegge was reelected to a third term in 1998 by a mere 67 votes.
He did not seek a fourth term, stating, "There's no better job than serving the people of northern Oklahoma, but just like every job, you eventually reach a point when you feel that you've accomplished everything you can." He continues to be an active voice in environmental and rural development issues impacting Oklahoma and the nation.
Sima Samar, Paul Muegge, and Cindy Watson were chosen as recipients of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation's prestigious award for political courage by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders. John Seigenthaler, founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, chairs the fourteen-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are Michael Beschloss, author and presidential historian; David Burke, former president of CBS News; U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi); Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund; Antonia Hernandez, president and chief executive officer of the California Community Foundation; Al Hunt, executive editor of the Wall Street Journal; U.S. Representative Nancy Johnson (R-Connecticut); Elaine Jones, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts); Paul G. Kirk, Jr., chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); and Patricia M. Wald, former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. John Shattuck, chief executive officer of the Kennedy Library Foundation, staffs the Committee. Mr. Shattuck is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and a former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.
In selecting a recipient, the Profile in Courage Award Committee considers public servants who have demonstrated the kind of political courage described by John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Kennedy wrote:
"The true democracy, living and growing and inspiring, puts its faith in the people - faith that the people will not simply elect men who will represent their views ably and faithfully, but also elect men who will exercise their conscientious judgment - faith that the people will not condemn those whose devotion to principle leads them to unpopular courses, but will reward courage, respect honor and ultimately recognize right."
Past recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award are former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes; former South Carolina Governor David Beasley; former Georgia State Representative Dan Ponder, Jr.; United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan; former Palos Heights, Illinois, Mayor Dean Koldenhoven; former U.S. President Gerald Ford; California State Senator Hilda Solis; U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona; U.S. Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin; Garfield County, Montana Attorney Nickolas Murnion; Circuit Court Judge of Montgomery County, Alabama Charles Price; former Calhoun County, Georgia School Superintendent Corkin Cherubini; former U.S. Congressman Michael Synar of Oklahoma; U.S. Congressman Henry Gonzalez of Texas; former New Jersey Governor James Florio; former Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker, Jr.; former U.S. Congressman Charles Weltner of Georgia; and former U.S. Congressman Carl Elliott, Sr. of Alabama.
Special Profile in Courage Awards have been presented to the Irish Peacemakers, eight political leaders of Northern Ireland and the American chairman of the peace talks, in recognition of the extraordinary political courage they demonstrated in negotiating the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement and America's public servants who demonstrated extraordinary courage and heroism in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. A Profile in Courage Award for Lifetime Achievement has also been presented to U.S. Congressman John Lewis (D-GA).
The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.
Caroline Kennedy, Senator Kennedy, members of the Selection Committee, Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Library, family and friends.
A journalist this winter asked me what do I consider to be my biggest success - of what achievement am I most proud? My answer is that my greatest success is that I am still alive, that I am still in Afghanistan and that I am still imposing myself on the men in power.
I am proud to accept this very prestigious award from the Kennedy family. It is an honor to be with members of a family who have dedicated their lives to social justice and with all of you who are committed to keeping this legacy alive. I accept this award on behalf of the women of Afghanistan who cannot be here to speak for themselves - women who have had the courage to survive war, the death of loved ones, destruction of their homes, persecution as members of ethnic minority groups, and oppression because they are women.
No environment has been more hostile to women's rights than Afghanistan. Afghanistan has always been a patriarchal society, but 23 years of war destroyed the progress that women had begun to make in the 1960s and 1970s. Fundamentalism was built and supported by outside countries as the strategy to fight the communists. This strategy had horrible consequences for women in our country. With the claim of upholding Afghan culture and observing Islamic values, men victimized women more with impunity.
Throughout my life, I have had to struggle against Afghanistan's patriarchal society and against the fundamentalist forces that have held power in this country, within my own family and with the society.
I have faced death threats throughout my life, for trying to live my life as a woman and for helping other women try to live theirs.
From my family - because I was not obedient to the culture. From the fundamentalists in Pakistan and Afghanistan - when I would not cease my advocacy for women's rights. From the Taliban - when I defied their decrees, continued to keep my girls' schools open and to provide health care to women, and spoke out against their atrocities. From some within the post-Taliban interim Afghan administration - when I advocated for the rights of women as Minister of Women's Affairs and when I defeated other candidates to become Deputy Chair of the Emergency Loya Jirga even after the fundamentalists had slandered me for being "un-Islamic."
But I am still here today and am still working to secure women's rights, human rights, and justice in Afghanistan.
I come before you today to express my appreciation for this great honor. But also I come to share with you my very deep concerns about the future of Afghanistan. Without more support from the international community, I am not sure that women's rights, human rights, and justice will be possible in Afghanistan.
Sometimes the impression is given that with the fall of the Taliban, Afghan women are now "liberated" or "free." I wish that this would be the case, but so far women's rights in reality and peace are still dreams in our country.
Afghanistan is a country where using the words "women's rights" and "human rights" was a crime not long ago. It is a country where the gun still rules. Violations of women's rights and human rights are constant.
Girls' schools are set on fire by fundamentalists who seek to stop parents from sending girls to school and teachers from teaching them.
Aid workers are being murdered for helping with reconstruction.
Trafficking of women and children continues.
Tactics of intimidation are used to stop people and especially women from exercising their human rights.
Prisons - many of which are not authorized - detain women and men illegally.
Our courts are markets, where so-called justice can be bought.
In the face of forced marriages and hopelessness about their lives, young women are committing suicide by self-immolation.
And these horrible violations of human rights continue with almost absolute impunity.
There can be no peace without justice in Afghanistan. There must be accountability for the human rights violations of the past and the present. Without accountability and without justice, the culture of impunity will continue.
Some people think that our silence about the past violations is necessary for the stability of the government and for security. But, as we saw under the Taliban, security based on human rights violations is not security for the people at all. It is only security for those in power and for those who hold the guns.
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, which I chair, is leading a national consultation process that will recommend to the President a mechanism to deal with the human rights violations of the past and to stop the culture of impunity.
Tonight I would like to take the opportunity to appeal for more courage from world leaders to help us to achieve justice in Afghanistan. If leaders within the international community will not use the word "justice" and if they allow this culture of impunity to continue, what chance do we have of securing justice and human rights in Afghanistan?
We cannot forget that many of the human rights violations were caused by people from outside of our country, which is why the international community has an obligation to take some of the responsibility and assume some of the risk of holding violators accountable for their actions. The international community itself cannot afford to turn its back on Afghanistan again, as they did when the Soviets withdrew.
One of the main reasons advances for women's rights and human rights in our country are so fragile is the lack of security. Demobilization, Disarmament, and Rehabilitation, known as DDR, has to be accelerated and the rule of law promoted to ensure respect for human rights and women's rights. Right now, DDR is more hope than reality. Last fall, Afghanistan was again promised an expansion of peace keeping forces. But few new peace troops have been deployed. We really need help from the international community to send more peace troops to different parts of the country who can start disarming the political parties.
We also need a lot more money for reconstruction if we really want to bring democracy and peace to the country and give women and girls rights - at least the basic human rights such as access to education and health care. We must construct and repair schools across the country so girls finally have a chance to learn and so that madrassas are not the only "educational" options for boys. We also need job opportunities for men so they will put down their kaliznokovs and for women so they can help feed themselves and their children.
Despite the threats, we have continued to stand up for ourselves, for women's rights, and for a peaceful and democratic Afghanistan. Someone has to take the risk in our country if women and girls are to have freedom in the future. We need the solidarity of women's rights and human rights advocates such as yourselves to wage this struggle. I hope for peace, equality, justice, and a non-violent world. Thank you for the honor of this award and of being with you today.
Remarks delivered by Dr. Sima Samar
Chair, Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, on May 24, 2004 at the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Ceremony.
Thank you, John [Seigenthaler], for that very generous introduction. John’s leadership as Chairman of the Profile in Courage Award Committee plays a crucial role in finding the outstanding winners we honor here today. He is a most respected journalist and a valued friend to all the members of the Kennedy family.
The Profile in Courage Award was instituted more than a decade ago by the Kennedy Library Foundation as a memorial to my brother. It was created to recognize those elected leaders who had courageously taken difficult principled stands. We also hoped it would encourage those currently in office to be more willing to take on the tough issues, and to demonstrate the quality of political courage that my brother so admired and that is all too rare in public life today.
Our goal was to honor political courage in contemporary elected officials at whatever level of government they serve – federal, state, or local, and we hope that this award will continue to encourage the American people to value political courage more highly in their elected representatives.
In his prize-winning book, “Profiles in Courage,” President Kennedy recounts the stories of historic Senators and other elected officials who demonstrated political courage by challenging their party leaders or powerful special interests – often at risk to their own careers.
He would have been especially impressed by this year’s winners, for all stood up against special interests on behalf of those who could not do so themselves.
Paul Muegge, former Oklahoma state senator, and Cindy Watson, former North Carolina state representative, had the political courage to stand up to the powerful hog farming industry when it became clear to them that it was endangering the health of their constituents and the environment of the states they call home.
Senator Muegge, a strong Democrat, and Representative Watson, a devoted Republican, both came to the same conclusion after hearing from citizens concerned about the industry’s impact on their lives, and investigating the matter themselves.
Paul Muegge is a farmer by profession and his courageous effort to protect the environment reminded me that our Founding Fathers, and first elected officials, were mostly farmers too. Like him, they were men who loved the land, and they would be proud of Paul Muegge’s efforts to save our land from pollution.
Both Paul Muegge and Cindy Watson heard from their constituents that the vast lagoons of hog waste on the large hog farms was polluting the groundwater and E. coli bacteria was being found in well water. The horrible stench coming from the hog farms was so suffocating that it was causing asthma in children. Some people said they couldn’t leave their homes without being overcome. It was destroying the tranquility in neighborhoods and undermining the ability of shops to do business.
As one who had once gone to Washington, three decades ago, to lobby for the right of farmers to use toxic chemicals on their own land, Senator Muegge said, “We started meeting with the environmental groups and we found we had more in common with them than differences. We couldn’t exempt ourselves from environmental regulation anymore.”
As an interior decorator, Cindy Watson knew many of her neighbors. She had been in their homes and won their gratitude and trust. They became her base when she decided to run for office. She became the first woman, and first Republican, to be elected to the North Carolina House from her district.
The more she heard from her alarmed constituents, the more she realized the quality of life she wanted for them was being devastated by the large hog farms. She realized she had to take action in spite of her long distrust of government regulation, and this was one of those times when regulation was necessary.
Both Senator Muegge and Representative Watson recognized that to introduce legislation to regulate the corporate hog farm industry was risking the wrath of the industry. But they went ahead and did what they believed was right. The impact of an accidental spill of 25 million gallons of hog waste into a North Carolina river, which proved to be the worst spill in the state’s history, reinforced the need for action.
As a result of their efforts, regulations were enacted to control or phase out the hog-waste lagoons, have water and soil testing, mandate that new hog farms be set back from neighboring properties and put a moratorium on new operations.
It was a resounding defeat for an industry used to having its own way and the large hog farmers didn’t take it lying down. As pointed out by an environmental lobbyist, “Everybody knew there would be big money coming in that could take them out at election time.”
Opponents well financed by the hog farming industry targeted Paul Muegge and Cindy Watson. Cindy Watson was challenged by a hog farmer in the Republican primary.
Paul Muegge fought back and prevailed by a winning margin of only 67 votes. He continued to do battle with agribusiness on related issues such as poultry waste and fought unfair practices by processing plants. He was not always successful but he became a shining example of stewardship of the land, concern for the environment and safety of all the people of his state.
Although she was the incumbent, Cindy Watson, sadly, was defeated. But defeat did not discourage her, for she strongly believed in doing her duty – doing what was right. As she said at the time, “I did not create this issue. This issue came to me and I can’t walk away from it.”
President Kennedy said that “one person can make a difference and everyone should try.” Paul Muegge and Cindy Watson not only tried, they succeeded. They made a difference and inspired others by their example. They are true profiles in courage.
Our third recipient of this year’s Award is a woman of remarkable courage, Dr. Sima Samar of Afghanistan. As a physician providing health care and education for women, she championed the rights of women in her embattled country under the most trying circumstances and secretly provided help to women and girls during the time of the Taliban.
Since 1989, when she established a non-governmental, and nonprofit organization call Shuhada which opened four hospitals, ten health clinics and numerous schools for girls in Afghanistan. More than 20,000 girls have benefited from her schools.
Dr. Samar is the leading voice in her nation for the rights of women. Facing one of the world’s most severe challenges, Dr. Samar has become an inspiring example of one woman’s dedication to begin the transformation of an entire society.
She told the Washington Post “during the 23 years of war, there were no women in any decision-making or policy roles…we had to make a space for ourselves.”
With the fall of the Taliban, Dr. Samar has been able to return to a public life of advocacy for women and human rights. She was appointed Minister of Women’s Affairs in the interim Afghan government. Continuing her dedication to courage in all circumstances, she maintained her opposition to the Islamic legal code – even though this view has increased the political pressure on her and the threats against her. She now is the Chair of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission where she continues to fight for the rights of women.
Although the Taliban no longer rule, the plight for Afghan women continues to be dire. The most recent State Department human rights report makes clear that significant barriers to equal rights and equal treatment for women remain.
Eighty-five percent of Afghan women are illiterate. Nearly 40 percent of basic primary-health facilities in Afghanistan have no female health professionals. This is a major problem for women’s health in a country where women are discouraged from seeking health care from male professionals.
Laws continue to discriminate against women. Two to three thousand women have been expelled from school, because married women are not permitted to attend high school classes. Male relatives must give permission for women to obtain passports.
Forced marriages have reportedly led to a recent increase in the number of suicide by women. Dr. Samar herself lives under constant threat, with men pounding on her gate late at night to intimidate her.
Today, as the Afghan people struggle every day to build a new society, she continues her advocacy for women’s rights and human rights. Day in and day out, her magnificent efforts to transform Afghanistan are heroic and an inspiration to us all. Her entire life is a Profile in Courage and she is truly one of Afghanistan’s – and the world’s – great heroes.
It is now my privilege to introduce the individual who’s leadership at the Kennedy Library and on the Profile In Courage Committee is the moving force and guiding spirit for us all. She is a joy to all her family and no one would be more proud of her, and all she has accomplished, than her parents.
I know they would be especially impressed by all she is doing to improve the schools for the students of New York City. She represents the best ideals of those extraordinary years of the New Frontier - - Caroline Kennedy.
Remarks delivered by Senator Edward M. Kennedy at the Profile in Courage Award Ceremony, Monday, May 24, 2004.