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Bush Signs Afghan Relief Act

Aired December 12, 2001 - 11:30   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: The president and the first lady, Laura Bush, have just arrived at this event that will draw attention to the plight of Afghan women and Afghan children -- expected to sign the Afghan Women and Children Relief Act of 2001. Mr. Bush there at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

We will shall listen for both of the first couple. A quick dip in now, to hear what's happening in Washington.


"FERITA," AFGHAN EXILE: ... my children ask me when they will see their father again. Today, I cannot tell them. I hope to be reunited with my family in our homeland so that my children can have a different kind of future, the same kind of future that all people on this earth want for their children.

I have two boys. My husband and I have taught them that women are equal, and I want them to grow up in a country that treats us that way.

After 25 years of suffering and sacrifice, my people finally have international attention and hope for the future. I have hope because of the legislation being signed today. I also have hope because of the talks last week in Bonn and the place that women are taking in our new government.

Now, we need a humanitarian task force that monitors and supports the rebuilding of Afghanistan. I ask the American people to remember my voice and my story and the millions of women I represent.

Together, we can restore women's full participation, so that women can work side-by-side with our Afghan brothers in rebuilding our country and giving our children a different kind of tomorrow.

No one has done more to give rise to our dreams than the first lady, Mrs. Bush. Two weeks ago, Mrs. Bush met with a group of us Afghan women who were in town with the Vital Voices leadership training program. She listened to our stories with compassion, as mother, as a woman, and she told us she would support us and our families.

I want to thank you, Mrs. Bush, for your radio address about the plight of Afghan women. When you spoke, the world listened. It is my great honor to introduce the first lady of the United States, Mrs. Laura Bush.


LAURA BUSH: Thank you very much and thank you for your beautiful words.


Thank you all. Thanks so much. And thank you, Ferita, for that very kind introduction and for your courageous work, speaking out on behalf of Afghan women and children.

Americans are inspired by the progress that's being made right now to restore human rights to all the people of Afghanistan. Before the Taliban regime, women and children enjoyed lives in which they could work and play and go to school outside their homes. Today, we look forward to their country's return to that way of living.

We are especially pleased that two women are to be a part of the interim government that is to be set up in Afghanistan.


Already much as been done to make life better for Afghans, from airdrops of food to humanitarian aid on the ground, from corporate contributions to America's Fund for Afghan Children.

Today, we celebrate another step in the process with President Bush's signing of this bill. We believe that a true commitment to freedom is expressed in the concern for freedom of others and in actions designed to protect those freedoms.

I'm proud of the women who sponsored this bill, and I'm proud to be here today as my husband signs this bill, a bill that will restore freedom and dignity to all the people of Afghanistan.

Ladies and gentlemen, President George W. Bush.



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 in 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 and 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 Ferita 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 Refugees, Women and 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 Billy Holliday for opening up this beautiful museum for all of us to come and celebrate this important piece of legislation.


America's beginning to realize that the dreams of the terrorists and the Taliban were a waking nightmare for Afghan women and their children.

The Taliban murder teenagers for laughing in the presence of soldiers. They jail children as young as 10 years old and torture 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 netting 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.

A central goal of the terrorists is the brutal oppression of women, and not only the women of Afghanistan. The terrorists who helped rule Afghanistan are found in dozens -- in 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, we've seen the pictures of joy when we've 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 chaperones. "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 assuring 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 -- 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 the long-term development of Afghanistan. We'll 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 Programme, 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're 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 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.

HEMMER: Clearly, this has been an issue for the White House since the very beginning of this conflict, trying to draw attention to the plight of women in Afghanistan, and the children. That is why the two-pronged approach -- one military, one humanitarian -- was set out at the very beginning of this conflict.

The president at this point will sign into law a relief act for Afghan women and children. He made mention of the U.S. commitment long term, saying they have learned the mistakes of the past and -- quote -- "will not leave until the mission is complete."

He also talked about the new government ushered in in about ten days time; December 22 is the date Hamid Karzai will take control in Kabul.

The president moving some youngsters out of the way there.

We will see him sign that act into law.

Certainly, some of the words we've heard for many weeks now: Strongly rejecting the Taliban way, he says, strongly rejecting their treatment of women and children; their attitude is wrong, for any religion -- their attitude wrong for any culture. Such the words went today for the president.

The first lady spoke before him, and we hear from a leading Afghan woman, there in Washington, with the introduction of the first couple.




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