Afghanistan Mourns Rights Advocate Killed in Supermarket Bombing

New Haven, Connecticut – Prominent human rights advocate Hamida Barmaki and her entire family were among at least 14 people killed when a Taliban suicide bomber blew up a crowded supermarket in Kabul on Friday.

Barmaki was a commissioner at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, a passionate activist for the rights of Afghanistan’s women and children, and a law professor at Kabul University. She was killed with her husband, Massoud Yama, a doctor, and their four young children.

Afghanistan’s community of human rights defenders is reeling. The New York Times reports:

A colleague from the human rights commission, Ahmad Nader Nadery, struggled to control his emotions as he spoke of Ms. Barmaki. She had gone with her family to Italy in 2007 to study for a master’s degree and then returned to Afghanistan in 2008. “Her brothers were trying to persuade her to stay abroad, have a good education and a good life for her family, but she resisted these requests and returned back,” Mr. Nadery said.

Barmaki dedicated her life to expanding access to justice for Afghanistan’s most vulnerable populations, and ending practices that harmed children. Her work was often dealt with taboo subjects, such as sexual abuse, and challenged the powerful.

Her work to end the recruitment of children by the Afghan police force and the use of boy sex slaves by military officials was just coming to fruition. (She had planned to give an interview to The New York Times on that subject later on Saturday.) In addition to her human rights commission work and teaching, she set up a training center for young lawyers, ran a charity that provided free legal aid to the poor and was trying to establish a post-graduate program in legal studies, Mr. Nadery said.

Given the opportunity to move abroad and escape the violence that had gripped her homeland all her life, Barmaki chose to stay in Afghanistan, a selfless decision that cost Barmaki her life.

Ms. Barmaki had been offered a fellowship in Germany this year, but decided against it so she could continue her work here. “She was loved by everybody,” Mr. Nadery said. “She was a very humble person, very quiet and soft-spoken, but when she did speak, it was with great force and authority.”

Thousands of mourners gathered in freezing rain for a final farewell to Barmaki, Yama and their children, when the family was buried in a cemetery on the outskirts of Kabul Saturday.

Even from afar, it’s impossible not to feel the darkness pressing in.