Afghanistan president orders changes to controversial law impacting women's rights

[JURIST] Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai [official website] on Monday ordered changes to controversial proposed legislation which rights groups believe would effectively deny women protection from domestic violence and forced marriage. Article 26 of the proposed criminal procedure law [Guardian report] expressly prohibits "relatives" from testifying against each other in criminal proceedings, which may have the effect of silencing victims of domestic abuse. The law does not define a "relative," leading analysts to posit that the bill's proscriptive scope may extend to a wider variety of witness than Afghan authorities predict, especially in villages adhering to complex marriage and blood family frameworks. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] claimed [JURIST report] that the law will make it more difficult for women to vindicate their rights after domestic abuse. Reports indicate that Karzai and his advisers have yet to expound upon the extent to which the law will be revised before it is sent back to parliament.

Afghanistan has been the target of much criticism [JURIST op-ed] regarding human rights issues, including women's rights. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a study [JURIST report] in December that raised concern over the treatment of women in the country. The report states there was an increase of reported acts of violence against women to the Afghan authorities in the past year, but prosecutions and convictions under the landmark Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law remained low and most cases were settled through mediation. Reported incidents of forced marriage, domestic violence and rape all increased by 28 percent, but the indictments under EVAW only increased by 2 percent. In November the HRW reported the Afghanistan Justice Ministry proposed [JURIST report] new provisions to the nation's penal code that allow for stoning as punishment for adultery.

 

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