Campaigners welcome Hamid Karzai’s intervention on domestic abuse law

Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
theguardian.com, Tuesday 18 February 2014

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has blocked a law that would silence victims of domestic violence, forced marriage and child abuse and demanded major revisions after a campaign by Afghan activists and western diplomats.

The legislation bans relatives from testifying against each other, and in a country where forensic evidence is relatively undeveloped, that would effectively halt prosecution in even the most vicious cases of violence against women, including those mutilated by their husbands or attacked by brothers and fathers.

The provision was inserted into a new criminal prosecution code, much needed and years in the making, at the last minute. It was steered through parliament by a prominent opponent of women’s rights, and conservative MPs resisted efforts to moderate the strict controls.

They apparently also had backing from some sections of government; early on Monday, a justice ministry official told the Guardian that western embassies had simply “misunderstood” the law, and that the expected confusion be resolved soon and without any changes needed.

But just a few hours later, a cabinet meeting chaired by Karzai ordered alterations to the brief section of the law causing the problems, his spokeswoman Adela Raz said. “At the meeting, His Excellency the President, and the cabinet, decided that article 26 needs to be amended.”

She declined to say how the law would be altered, but the public repudiation of what would have been a devastating step backwards for Afghan women was welcomed by activists and diplomats. They had mounted a vigorous lobbying campaign, both in public and behind the scenes, since the legislation first came to light earlier this month.

“Who says advocacy and lobbying does not work? It does and we have seen results!” campaigner Samira Hamidi said, celebrating on Twitter. The European Union welcomed Karzai’s decision to “stop [a] setback for women’s rights”.

The United States, which had previously issued only a brief statement of concern about the law, welcomed Karzai’s decision as a “response to the concerns expressed by many Afghans and their international partners”.

Five years ago, after a similar campaign against a family law that appeared to allow marital rape, the Afghan president ripped up the legislation and shepherded a more moderate version through the houses of parliament.

Raz denied that the president, currently at odds with the US over issues from the election to the long-term presence of foreign troops, had been slow to respond to the latest law in response to foreign or domestic pressure. The draft had been held up by bureaucracy, and Karzai demanded changes as soon as it reached his desk, she said.

“As soon as it arrived, it was brought to the cabinet as any law would be for discussion, and like anyone else who is concerned about women’s rights, they responded,” she said, adding that Karzai had a track record of supporting women. “In the past you have seen that the president is someone who has made sure women’s rights are protected according to the laws of the country.”

Whatever his personal views, Karzai has presided over a strengthening of factions opposed to women’s rights during his latest term in office. In the last year alone parliament has blocked a law to curb violence against women and cut the quota for women on provincial councils, while the justice ministry has floated a proposal to bring back stoning as a punishment for adultery.

Activists also say the change to the law as currently planned would still leave women more vulnerable than they are now. It allows relatives to testify against each other if they wish but does not grant any legal rights to call them to the stand. An amended draft in circulation now says that relatives of the accused have a right “not to answer questions”, according to an international diplomat following the case.

Protections in most countries exempt only husbands and wives from a legal obligation to testify against each other, while the new Afghan law covers a very wide range of relatives, from a mother’s great-uncle to a brother’s grandchildren. Especially in close-knit villages, this could potentially allow dozens of key witnesses to avoid giving evidence.

“We are cautiously optimistic after hearing statements from the palace,” said Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch, which first raised concerns about the law. “We need to see the exact language before we can know whether it will really fix the problem.

“President Karzai’s decision today is an indication that this kind of international reaction still makes a difference, and we would beg diplomats not to sit by next time there is an attack on women’s rights, because there will be one,” she added.

However, along with the demands to protect modest gains in women’s rights since the fall of the Taliban, there is also some pressure for a fast resolution of the current standoff, because Afghanistan is in desperate need of a new criminal prosecution code.

10 Responses to “Campaigners welcome Hamid Karzai’s intervention on domestic abuse law”


  1. 1 steve owens
  2. 2 steve owens

    Im just trying to get my head around the Iraqi cabinets idea that girls could be forced into marriage at 9 years old. This would mean that every female child faces the prospect of legalised rape. My back of the envelope calculation is that there must be about 10,000 girls turning 9 every year.
    Lets hope as the article states that because the elections are immanent that this proposed legislation might not have time to get up before parliament and if it does then hopefully parliament rejects it.

  3. 3 patrickm

    Well Steve how about doing just a little bit of work?

    ‘The draft was put forward by justice minister Hassan al-Shimari, a member of the Shiite Islamist Fadila party, and approved by the cabinet on February 25.’

    BUT

    ‘It must now be reviewed by parliament, but the draft could very well languish, with national elections scheduled for April 30, and vocal opposition among secularists.’

    and we can recall that;

    ‘Shiite religious parties first attempted to pass a version of the law in 2003 under United States occupation, angering secular Iraqis and prompting protests.’ and it wasn’t passed (occupation or not)!

    The average ABC dolt does not realize what we always knew would be the great thing about liberating the peoples of Iraq from tyranny and takes the actual process of struggle and revolutionary transformation to be doom and gloom instead of shouting out to the world – at last, at last thank whatever god all mighty you like, their free at last, as some well know king might once have said. So what a surprise that;

    ‘Since then, amid Iraq’s turmoil, the tug-of-war has continued between Iraq’s secularists and Islamists.’

    AND we already know that

    ‘Iraq’s current personal status law enshrines women’s rights regarding marriage, inheritance, and child custody, and has often been held up as the most progressive in the Middle East.’

    So it would be hardly surprising that;

    ‘The proposed new law’s defenders argue that the current personal status law violates sharia religious law.’

    and that they spend their time grumbling and trying to get the numbers in Parliament that they just can’t muster! So they pretend that;

    “This is the core of the freedom. Based on the Iraqi constitution, each component of the Iraqi people has the right to regulate its personal status in line with the instructions of its religion and doctrine,” Hussein al-Mura’abi, a Shi’ite lawmaker and Fadila party leader, said.’

    and we all have a little laugh at the thought that the Fadila party is still contesting elections in the 21st C but there you go that’s the swamp for you.

    Steve you must have a point in bringing this to our attention? now how about telling us what your point is.

  4. 4 patrickm

    Built in to your statement;
    ‘Lets hope as the article states that because the elections are immanent that this proposed legislation might not have time to get up before parliament and if it does then hopefully parliament rejects it.’
    is an implicit belief that the election will produce a better result than the current parliament. What you are falling for is the thought that the cabinet actually fully supports this and being the government could get the numbers and you could not be further from the truth.

    The further implication is that you want to see the government defeated. Well that is the ABC type line and it demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of what is going on in this PR democracy where the law is NOW …has often been held up as the most progressive in the Middle East’ The biggest of the Government parties are not bringing this on so it looks like political struggle ME style.

  5. 5 steve owens

    My point is that cabinet has proposed a law that if passed by parliament will legalise mass rape of 9 year old girls in Iraq.
    As the article and I pointed out it may not get through parliament before the elections and or it may be defeated in parliament, however it is a proposal that has gotten through cabinet. My point is that this proposal is a great threat to the well being of Iraqi girls, I would have thought that to be point enough.
    You say that I should do a little bit of work. Are you offering me employment?
    My contribution is relevant to the thread topic where we see President Karzai bending to international pressure and blocking laws that oppress women. Hopefully we will see the Iraq parliament stand up to the cabinet and block this abomination.

  6. 6 patrickm

    So why do you recon the big parties didn’t introduce the junk?

  7. 7 steve owens

    I think this article answers your question as to why parties like the Virtue Party exert such disproportionate influence over the government
    http://www.aina.org/news/20140307151231.htm

  8. 8 patrickm

    I don’t.

    The following quote from the link is the usual drivel produced by liberal dolts and conservatives still wandering around shell shocked in Neverland. Here is the way to read it Steve. Just remember that everyone knows that if you really allowed democratic elections in the swamp then parties like the one that won them in Egypt would win and guess what in Iraq thats what happened so as well as holding such elections they also meant something. Islamist parties won. Now read on.

    ‘After the US-led invasion in 2003, policies adopted by the occupation authority led to the empowerment of Shia Islamists and largely excluded Shia secularists from the new government of the “federal, free and democratic” Iraq.’
    It was widely believed that the administration of former US president George W Bush promoted the empowerment of Iraqi Shia Islamists following the 2003 invasion as part of a strategy to support moderate Islam and contain extremism.
    Noah Feldman, a US professor of law who was a key adviser on the Iraqi constitutional process, described policy in Iraq as aiming to create an “Islamic democracy” in which “citizens can vote for laws infused with Islamic beliefs, ideals, and values, and the state can endorse Islam and fund religious institutions and education.”
    These have since proved to be unrealistic, if not false, aspirations, as Shia religious groups have controlled the government and dominated the national political space, pushing leftists, nationalists, liberals and secularists to the sidelines.’

    I think whoever wrote this is trying to say that islamist parties won as everyone knew they would.

    ‘This is why the battle over the new draft law seems to be drawing new frontlines between the two groups, as the latter now fear that their lifestyle is at stake should Iraq be pushed into being a religious state. The critics’ priority now is to try to stop the parliament from ratifying the bill
    [get the numbers in parliament].

    They argue that the law violates the constitution, which stipulates that legislation should not contradict democracy, the principle of equality before the law and gender equality [+ they have a constitutional fallback through the courts].

    Naturally;

    Its opponents hope [know] that Kurdish and Sunni MPs will now join the few Shia secularists in the parliament [and the more numerous moderate Shia islamists] to shoot down the bill when it is brought forward for debate.

    The Kurdistan Region Government has also passed its own personal status law that has given further rights to women, and it is unlikely [inconceivable] that its members in the Iraqi parliament will support the Shia family law.

    [NOTE]There is little doubt that representatives of the Iraqi Sunni Arabs will reject the new law.

    Eleven years after the US-led invasion that toppled the secular [fascist tyranny] regime of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, many Iraqi Shias [Shia that now have a vote that is meaningful] fear that their country is now being gradually turned into a theocracy[so will vote accordingly].

    However, [some] Shia politicians are unfazed by the criticisms and seem determined not only to get the law passed but also to turn Iraq into a theocratic state [but clearly do not have the numbers, people in politics win and loose]. “A lot of politicians wish to have an Islamic regime in the country, and I am in the forefront of them,” Justice Minister Al-Shimari was quoted by Baghdad’s Al-Mada newspaper as saying on Saturday. “Those who believe that an Islamic regime contradicts politics should abandon politics and let them go to hell,” Al-Shimari said.

    What a surprise. Reading this has not helped and I won’t read any more of this trash until you do some real work and stop just flinging in links!

    Bored now.

  9. 9 steve owens

    I guess my bottom line question is why has America failed in Iraq?
    I have long thought that the resources of America properly deployed could transform Iraq into a half decent democracy.
    They did it in Germany they did it in Japan and they did it in Italy but Iraq looks like none of those countries. 10 years after the liberation of Germany, Japan and Italy they were good places to live, prosperous, law abiding places. Iraq is not. In the north Barzzani talks about Maliki declaring war on the Kurds. In the center Maliki is still trying to retake rebel held cities and in the south we have parties that Maliki relies on that are trying to engineer child marriage laws. People draw strong parallels between the current regimes stance on human rights with Iraq’s previous dictator with random arrests, confessions based on torture secret prisons a flawed legal process and executions of political opponents.
    I think why did America fail?
    Maybe the plan was always to fail, to leave Iraq divided and impotent.
    Or maybe the plan was to succeed but as with many other historical examples Stalins Winter War or Hitlers Barbarossa the plan just wasnt up to the task
    Still even after all these years I think that the question of why did America fail in Iraq is an open one.

  10. 10 steve owens

    This report states that the draft marriage law will go before parliament after the elections.
    http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iraq/100320141

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