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Nilofar Sakhi: Justice and Democracy in Afghanistan

Nilofar Sakhi is country director of the Foundation Open Society Institute–Afghanistan, which was established in 2008.

What is the Open Society Institute trying to achieve in Afghanistan?

We are trying to promote democracy and build an open society. We’re committed to strengthening civil society to achieve these goals, so we work closely with a range of local groups that focus on human rights, good governance, and rule of law.

Can you describe some projects that the foundation is supporting right now?

To reinforce the rule of law, we’re supporting the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association, which is training the country’s first independent defense lawyers. The bar association also manages legal clinics for law students, raising the standard of legal education and awareness of human rights law.

Transitional justice is a major priority for the foundation, so we have funded efforts to document war crimes, amplify victims’ voices, and encourage media attention. We let communities and civil society groups take the lead, as this is a very politically sensitive topic, and we don’t take a specific position. OSI facilitates conversation. And we’ve helped coordinate exchange trips to Nepal and Cambodia, so that Afghans can learn from what has been tried elsewhere.

We also support a legislative watch group that includes religious leaders, community elders, lawyers, and women’s advocates who join together and engage with Parliament to protect women’s rights and interests.

What challenges do you face?

Insecurity has been the biggest challenge. We want to reach most provinces, but it’s difficult to travel and have access to the population.

What is it like to live in Kabul?

As an Afghan, it’s a tough situation now.  The insecurity has caused fear and frustration among all of us. It is tough to travel even within Kabul—it is a challenge just to get to the office. There are weekly suicide attacks in public places and business centers. Freedom of movement is limited, and there is a daily risk of being threatened or attacked.

What’s on people’s minds these days?

People are concerned about the US exit strategy and the idea of reconciliation or power sharing with the Taliban. The future is uncertain. What happens in case of international withdrawal? For those of us working on promoting democracy, how will these political changes affect our work on rule of law, freedom of expression, and women’s rights? As I work on transitional justice, I’ve received threats before, so I’m afraid that this will continue or maybe worsen in the future with the resurgence of warlords or the Taliban.

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