Sunday, 9 March 2014

Afghanistan’s setbacks in women’s human rights

Karol Arámbula
Last January, the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) launched the 24th edition of its annual World Report, which reviews human rights practices in over 90 countries. The situation in Syria, as well as mass atrocities occurred in Africa, specifically in Egypt and the Central African Republic and Edward Snowden’s revelations about U.S. surveillance, were among some of the issues mentioned in the report.
The situation of human rights in Afghanistan took a central role ahead of the 2014 presidential election. HRW’s report highlighted the setbacks suffered in Afghanistan in relation to women’s human rights, as the country faces the deadline for the withdrawal of armed forces and continues to discuss the presence of U.S. troops beyond 2014. Government policies on human rights are still severely affecting women and girls, HRW reported.
Under the presidency of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan government made a series of decisions which have undermined women’s human rights, such as the parliamentary attempt to appeal the law on the ‘Elimination of Violence against Women’ (EVAW). Despite the fact of having passed this law in 2009, it was again discussed May last year as officials spoke out against legal protections for women and girls. This groundbreaking law, provided new criminal penalties for various abuses including rape, child marraige, forced marriage, domestic violence, sale of women and girls and the giving of girls to resolve dispute between families. Although law remains valid, its enforcement is considerably weak.
The report also mentioned that Taliban insurgents continued their campaigns of targeted assassinations of government officials and women in high positions of authority; such as the targeted assassinations of Roh Gul –a member of Parliament- or the killing of other world-renowned Afghan Sushmita Banerjee who was found dead in September 2013, and the killing of the highest ranking police officer in Helmand Province, Lieutenant Nigara. Physical assaults and assassinations against these women highlighted the dangers to activists and other women in public life.
Setbacks also include the reduction of parliamentary seats reserved for women from 25 to 20 percent, increasing concern over female representation in the upcoming years. Security is also a concern in the run-up to April’s presidential election, having particularly negative effects on the participation of women who have already a highly limited role in the country’s political life.
As a result of the Ministry of Justice’s revision of the Criminal Code, adding provisions that ban family members to testify in criminal cases, makes it extremely difficult to prosecute domestic violence and child and forced marriage, HRW argued. This new criminal procedure passed by both houses of the Afghan parliament on February 4, failed as President Karzai refused to sign and requested the re-drafting of the initiative thanks to human rights groups' pressure and the attention of the international community.
Presidential signature of this law would have represented a serious threat to key protection mechanisms for women and girls emboried in the EVAW Law and a clear contradiction to the government's commitment to women's human rights and to its United Nations Second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of January 27, 2014. Human rights organizations requested President Karzai to reject a law that will effectively let batterers of women and girls off the hook. 
The organization also added that impunity for abuses was the norm of government security forces and other armed groups, as research documents of declining security and respects for human rights in the country is deteriorating local security and growing fears in the future of Afghans.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are more than 106,000 internally displaced people in Afghanistan from January through June 2013, which brings the total to over 583,000. Most displacements are related to insecurity and instability.
HRW’s Director for Asia, Brad Adams mentioned that Afghan women are all too aware that international donors are walking away from the country, realizing that those who want to curtail women’s rights know this as well. The official also said that the situation of human rights in Afghanistan demands urgent action by both government and foreign donors. He added that “the failure to make human rights a priority during the year of a presidential election, and the blacklash resulting from diminished international attention and support, threaten much of the progress that has been achieved."
Karol Alejandra Arámbula Carrillo – Consultant in International Affairs (Twitter @KarolArambula).

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