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Afghan people mourn loss of Japanese doctor Tetsu Nakamura
by Tolo News, NYT, agencies
5 Dec. 2019
Afghans on Thursday held a nationwide candlelight vigil prayer ceremony in remembrance of Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, the head of Japanese NGO Peace Japan Medical Services (PJMS), who lost his life along with five others in an attack in Jalalabad city, the capital of Nangarhar province, on Wednesday morning.
The murder of Nakamura sparked a strong backlash and an outpouring of grief from the Afghan people with whom he spent thirty years of his life. Vigils were held in Kabul, Nangarhar and in Parwan.
Dr Tetsu Nakamura, left his home in Japan in the 1980s to treat leprosy patients in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He later found, however, that severe drought was killing more people than his clinics could save.
So he discovered a new calling: irrigation. In the 2000s, adapting old Japanese techniques that required little technology, he helped villagers displaced by drought build a network of canals that has transformed an area of nearly 1 million residents.
“A doctor treats patients one by one, but this helps a whole village,” Dr Nakamura had said. “I love seeing a village that’s been brought back to life.”
On Wednesday, Dr Nakamura was attacked by gunmen while driving to work in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, in eastern Afghanistan. Five members of his organisation’s staff were killed, and Dr Nakamura was wounded fatally. He was 73. It was the latest case in a series of attacks targeted at humanitarian workers in Afghanistan.
Dr Nakamura’s murder was particularly brutal, sending shocks of grief around Afghanistan and drawing widespread condemnation. No militant group has yet claimed responsibility. The Taliban denied involvement.
The sorrow for Dr Nakamura was deep in Khewa, a district in Nangarhar where much of the work of his organisation, Peace Japan Medical Services, had been focused.
“He showed us life — he helped build our land. He was a leader to us,” said Hamidullah Hashemi, a resident of Khewa. “I feel like they have killed my closest family member. They left us without Nakamura.”
Hundreds of Afghans posted photographs of Nakamura on their social media pages, condemning the killing and underscoring the esteem in which he was held.
President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, who in October awarded Dr Nakamura honorary citizenship for his services, expressed “utmost grief and sorrow” and ordered his security agencies to find the perpetrators. “Dr. Nakamura was a great man who dedicated his whole life for improving the lives of the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan,” Ghani said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan paid tribute to the transformative humanitarian work Dr Nakamura had done.
Dr Nakamura was among a handful of aid workers in Afghanistan who could trace a continual connection to the country from its descent into chaos in the 1980s through the decades of war and turmoil that have followed.
He was born in Japan’s Fukuoka prefecture in 1946, and his first exposure to eastern Afghanistan was in his early 30s. According to a biography published by the Ramon Magsaysay Award, a prize for “greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in Asia” that he received in 2003, he was initially drawn to the mountainous borderland between Afghanistan and Pakistan by a fascination with insects. He quickly found himself besieged with requests for medical help.
After finishing medical school, Dr Nakamura returned to the Pakistani border city of Peshawar, establishing clinics to treat the locals and Afghan refugees fleeing the Soviet war. He then opened clinics in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, just as a severe drought was affecting the region. His patients were not only suffering from malnourishment but also diarrhea, as sources of clean water were scarce.
Dr Nakamura, who also learned to speak the local language, Pashto, initially tried to improve the situation by digging hundreds of wells for clean water but soon realized that wasn’t the answer.
“Starvation, drought — medicine can’t solve these problems,” he told Japanese channel NHK in what was likely one of his last interviews. “We realised we needed to go beyond the narrow field of medicine and work to ensure that people had enough food and water.”
So he turned to building canals from existing water sources to irrigate arid regions. After facing difficulties in procuring equipment to dig the first canals, he drew inspiration from those built more than 200 years ago in his hometown in Japan.
Back then, Dr Nakamura said: “You didn’t have dump trucks and things like that. The villagers had to all work together to construct it by hand. So there was no reason why people living today couldn’t do the same thing. The thought inspired me. If we tried, we could do it.”.
Over six years, with a workforce drawn from drought-stricken villages, Dr Nakamura helped build a main canal about 15 miles long. He continued the work even after militants abducted and killed one of his colleagues, Kazuya Ito. The smaller canals his team built spread across four districts. All in all, Afghan authorities in Nangarhar said, by the time of his murder his canals had improved the livelihood of nearly 1 million people and irrigated nearly 60,000 acres of previously arid land. Along with irrigation projects, Mr. Nakamura also established two hospitals.
“He loved Afghanistan,” said Malek Zahoor, a local elder in Khewa district. “He had left his own home to be here, to help people here.”
* Story by Zabihullah Ghazi, Mujib Mashal and Fahim Abed for The New York Times, agencies

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Three exceptional women nominated for the 2020 Martin Ennals Human Rights Award
by Isabel de Sola
Martin Ennals Foundation
Three exceptional women are the finalists for the 2020 Martin Ennals Award, a demonstration of the leading position now occupied by women in the defence of human rights.
In Yemen, Huda Al-Sarari has exposed and challenged the existence of secret prisons and many cases of torture. In Mexico, Norma Ledezma is fighting against femicides and disappearances. In South Africa, Sizani Ngubane is fighting for access for women to education and to land.
Each year, the Martin Ennals Award rewards human rights defenders from around the world who distinguish themselves by their strong commitment to promoting human rights – often at the risk of their own lives. In 2020, for the first time the Jury nominated three women who defend the fundamental rights of their communities in sensitive contexts.
‘The Martin Ennals Foundation is proud to recognise the courageous work of three women. For the 2020 edition, our Jury’s choice reflects the ever-greater global impetus of individuals – whatever their gender – who are committed to respect for human rights and women’s rights in particular’, says Isabel de Sola, Director of the Martin Ennals Foundation.
‘The finalists for the 2020 Martin Ennals Award work on different continents, but all three have in common their resilience, determination, a tremendous rigour and, finally, the positive and concrete impact of their work,’ explains Hans Thoolen, Chairman of the Jury.
In Yemen, where the conflict has been ongoing since 2005, Huda Al-Sarari, a Yemeni lawyer, unveiled the existence of several secret detention centres where the worst violations of human rights were committed: torture, disappearances or even extrajudicial executions.
In South Africa, women face discrimination, the worst expression of which is widespread gender violence. In rural communities, they frequently have their land expropriated and are deprived of access to education and justice. Sizani Ngubane founded an organisation of more than 50,000 women from rural areas in her country and has fought successfully for over 40 years for the recognition of their rights.
In Mexico, the civil population is paying a high price for the weakness of the rule of law which is underpins widespread violence and impunity. Women are the primary victims, with more than 3,500 femicides committed each year. Norma Ledezma, who is the mother of one of the victims, puts all her energy into supporting families seeking access to justice in the state of Chihuahua.
* The Martin Ennals Award is an annual prize for human rights defenders. Finalists and the laureate are selected by a Jury of 10 of the world’s leading human rights NGOs:

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