Setbacks to Afghanistan’s women’s rights are escalating, according to a Human Rights Watch statement released earlier today.
The statement called for the country’s lower house of parliament to “reject a proposed criminal law revision that would effectively deny women legal protection from domestic violence.”
A revised draft of the criminal procedure code is currently under consideration by Afghanistan’s parliament, the statement said, and the proposed language would ban relatives of the victim from testifying as a witness against the accused.
If the draft law passes, article 26, entitled “Forbiddance of Questioning an Individual as a Witness,” would damage the ability to successfully prosecute cases of domestic violence, among other offenses.
“Afghanistan’s lower house is proposing to protect the batterers of women and girls from criminal punishment,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for HRW. “Legislative approval of this criminal law revision would effectively stop prosecutions of people who beat, forcibly marry, and even sell their female relatives.”
The amended procedure code, HRW said, would pose a serious threat to critical protections for women and girls embodied in Afghanistan’s 2009 Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW).
The EVAW law “provides criminal penalties for various abuses including rape, child marriage, forced marriage, domestic violence, sale of women and girls, and baad, the giving of girls to resolve disputes between families.”
HRW calls the ban just “another effort to further weaken the inadequate legal protections for women’s rights,” adding that members of parliament who are opposed to women’s rights have “increasingly sought to repeal or weaken the EVAW Law.”
A RIGHTS report last month presented a discussion with Heather Barr, the Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch, that expressed concern over the “slowly and unevenly” enforced law, which has nonetheless been an essential tool for combating violence against women.
The interruptions in the implementation and development of the EVAW law, Barr said in June, are “ominous signs that women’s rights in Afghanistan face a dark future.”
“The debate over the Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women was last month,” Barr said of a May deliberation. “And not only could they not get the law passed but they could not even have a debate about it because conservatives in the parliament were standing up and saying things like, ‘there shouldn’t be minimum age for girls to get married,’ and ‘rape shouldn’t be a crime because adultery is already a crime and rape is the same as adultery.’ So, people were making statements like this in the parliament, which is alarming enough, but there were also several cities throughout the country that were actually calling for the repeal of this law that criminalizes violence against women. So that was something that was really shocking.”
The HRW report said that the new “legislative threat” is simply another indicator of a larger scale attack on women’s rights—an attack the Afghan government has contributed to—in which President Karzai has appointed a former Taliban government official, Abdul Rahman Hotak, to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
Hotak has publicly denounced the EVAW law, saying that it “violates Islam.”
“It’s perverse that Afghanistan’s parliament is devoting its time and energies to attacking women’s hard-fought legal protections,” Adams said. “The international donors who bankroll the Afghan government should serve notice that they will not underwrite legislative initiatives to victimize women.”
Afghanistan’s recent assurance to the UN that it is complying with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Adams added, is just lip service intended to conceal the undermining of women’s rights by parliament and the courts.