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West fears more backsliding on Afghan women's rights

KABUL — The U.S. Embassy is urging the Afghan government to amend a proposed article in a new criminal procedure code that Human Rights Watch says would in effect prevent victims of domestic violence, child marriage and child abuse from calling out their abusers.

A final draft of the code was completed last week, and rights groups say it could become official in just two weeks if President Hamid Karzai doesn’t veto it.

In a statement on its web site, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul wrote: “Like others, we are extremely concerned about Article 26 of the draft Criminal Procedure Code. We are following the issue closely and have raised our concerns with the Parliament and the Government. We hope to see the language amended.

“We will continue to urge the Government of Afghanistan, as we do countries around the world, to uphold its human rights commitments and protect the rights of women and girls,” the statement read.

The European Union, the Canadian Embassy and Human Rights Watch all also have expressed concern about the law, which would bar judicial authorities from questioning relatives of the accused, according to Human Rights Watch.

“Should this law go into effect, Afghan women and girls will be deprived of legal protection from relatives who assault, forcibly marry, or even sell them,” said Brad Adams, head of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, in a statement on the organization’s website.

Christine Roehrs, an analyst with the Afghanistan Analysts Network, said the law is very similar to one already on the books saying relatives cannot be forced to testify against a family member, and has precedent in international law.

The crucial difference between the proposed law and existing Afghan code, however, is that, currently, the law has three exceptions: if the victim is a relative, if a relative initially reported the crime, and if there is no other proof available.

The proposed Article 26 amendment would block investigators from even requesting that a family member testify, regardless of whether they’re the victim or the one who reported the crime. The family member would have to volunteer on their own to testify in court.

Roehrs said that, in many cases, that is unlikely.

“People want to protect the family’s honor — and their own — rather than appearing in court, and the victim is just a girl,” she said, referring to many Afghan men’s disregard for women.

The law has passed both houses of parliament, and will automatically become law, if Karzai does not act to veto it.

The presidential palace’s Office for Administrative Affairs, which deals with legislation, said it could not comment until its spokesman returns from leave in a week.

Prospects for women’s rights in Afghanistan after American withdrawal at the end of the year have looked increasingly grim.

Last May, the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act, which is currently in place through presidential decree, was brought before parliament for debate. The speaker of the house shut down discussion within 15 minutes after various parliamentarians suggested throwing out minimum marriage ages, shelters for domestic violence victims and criminal penalties for rape. A committee in the Ministry of Justice also toyed with the idea of bringing back execution by stoning as a penalty for adultery, though it ultimately decided against it.

Roehrs said that with ties between the West and the Afghan government currently strained, women’s rights have become an incidental casualty.

“Unfortunately, there are many, particularly among the conservatives, particularly in the rural areas, who throw women’s rights into one pot with the negative things that the international presence brought,” she said. “It’s being perceived as something that the international community wants to implant.”

standifer.cid@stripes.com
 

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