George W. Bush photo

Remarks on Signing the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act of 2001

December 12, 2001

Thank you all. For several years, the people of Afghanistan have suffered under one of the most brutal regimes—brutal regimes—in modern history, a regime allied with terrorists and a regime at war with women. Thanks to our military and our allies and the brave fighters of Afghanistan, the Taliban regime is coming to an end.

Yet, our responsibilities to the people of Afghanistan have not ended. We work for a new era of human rights and human dignity in that country. The agreement reached in Bonn last week means that in 10 days the international community will have a new partner, an interim government of a new Afghanistan.

We join those in the interim government who seek education and better health for every Afghan woman and child. And today, with the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act, we take an important step toward that goal.

I want to thank Laura for her introduction, and I want to thank her for her steadiness during this crisis. I want to thank Farida for her courage. I want to thank the Members of the House and the Senate who sponsored this piece of legislation, and all the Members of Congress who are here today.

I want to thank Sima Wali, who is the president and CEO of Refugee Women in Development, a key advocate for women's rights at the conference of Bonn negotiations last week.

I thank the members of my Cabinet who are here, Secretary Veneman and Administrator Whitman, thank you all for being here. I want to thank the Ambassadors who are here representing the diplomatic corps. Thank you all for coming. And I also want to thank Billie Holladay for opening up this beautiful museum for all of us to come and celebrate this important piece of legislation.

America is beginning to realize that the dreams of the terrorists and the Taliban were a waking nightmare for Afghan women and their children. The Taliban murdered teenagers for laughing in the presence of soldiers. They jailed children as young as 10 years old and tortured them for supposed crimes of their parents.

Afghan women were banned from speaking or laughing loudly. They were banned from riding bicycles or attending school. They were denied basic health care and were killed on suspicion of adultery. One news magazine reports, "It's hard to find a woman in Kabul who does not remember a beating at the hands of the Taliban."

In Afghanistan, America not only fights for our security, but we fight for the values we hold dear. We strongly reject the Taliban way. We strongly reject their brutality toward women and children. They not only violate basic human rights; they're barbaric in their indefensible meting of justice. It's wrong. Their attitude is wrong for any culture. Their attitude is wrong for any religion.

You know, life in Afghanistan wasn't always this way. Before the Taliban came, women played an incredibly important part of that society. Seventy percent of the nation's teachers were women. Half of the government workers in Afghanistan were women, and 40 percent of the doctors in the capital of Kabul were women. The Taliban destroyed that progress, and in the process, they offered us a clear image of the world they and the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us.

The central goal of the terrorists is the brutal oppression of women, and not only the women of Afghanistan. The terrorists who help rule Afghanistan are found in dozens and dozens of countries around the world. And that is the reason this great Nation, with our friends and allies, will not rest until we bring them all to justice.

America is so proud of our military and our allies, because like the rest of us here, we've seen the pictures of joy when we liberated city after city in Afghanistan. And none of us will ever forget the laughter and the music and the cheering and the clapping at a stadium that was once used for public execution. Children now fly kites, and they play games. Women now come out of their homes from house arrest, able to walk the streets without chaperons. "It feels like we've all been released from prison," said one young person in Kabul, "that the whole of Afghanistan has been released from prison."

This is an important achievement. Yet, a liberated Afghanistan must now be rebuilt so that it will never again practice terror at home or abroad. This work begins by ensuring the essential rights of all Afghans.

This week is Human Rights Week, when we celebrate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights more than a century ago—a half-century ago. The preamble to that document declares that the people of the world reaffirm their "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in equal rights of men and women." This is a great goal, and that's why I'm so pleased that Afghanistan's new government will respect the rights of all people, women and men.

America and our allies will do our part in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. We learned our lessons from the past. We will not leave until the mission is complete. We will work with international institutions on long-term development—on the long-term development of Afghanistan. We will provide immediate humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.

After years of civil war and misrule by the Taliban, this is going to be an incredibly difficult winter in Afghanistan. We're doing what we can to help alleviate the suffering. In the month of November, the United Nations World Food Program, with our strong support, provided enough supplies to feed 4.3 million Afghans. And the Defense Department will continue to make sure that food is delivered in remote regions of that impoverished, poor, starving country.

The bill I sign today extends and strengthens our efforts. The Afghan Women and Children Relief Act commits the United States to providing education and medical assistance to Afghan women and children and to Afghan refugees in surrounding countries.

The overwhelming support for this legislation sends a clear message: As we drive out the Taliban and the terrorists, we are determined to lift up the people of Afghanistan. The women and children of Afghanistan have suffered enough. This great Nation will work hard to bring them hope and help. To the bill's sponsors, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You show the true compassion of this great land.

May God bless the women and children of Afghanistan.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:35 a.m. in the Great Hall of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. In his remarks, he referred to Afghan human rights activist Farida; and Wilhelmina "Billie" Cole Holladay, founder and chair of the board, National Museum of Women in the Arts. S. 1573, approved December 12, was assigned Public Law No. 107-81. The proclamation of December 9 on Human Rights Day, Bill of Rights Day, and Human Rights Week is listed in Appendix D at the end of this volume.

George W. Bush, Remarks on Signing the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act of 2001 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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