Post-Taleban, post-war: justice for Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights in Afghanistan?

Two years after the beginning of the military action against the Taleban, the Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights of Afghanistan are still subject to horrific abuses, from honour killings to forced and underage marriage, virginity testing, and prosecution and imprisonment for adultery, said Amnesty International in a major new report published today (6 October 2003).

'No one listens to us and no one treats us as human beings: Afghanistan - Justice denied to Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights is based on interviews with Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights in many parts of Afghanistan and finds that the day-to-day lives of many Afghan Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are little changed from the oppression they endured under the Taleban.

Amnesty International UK Director, Kate Allen, said:

'World leaders, including President Bush and US Secretary of State Colin Powell, promised that Afghan Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights's rights would 'not be negotiable.' But there is violence on a huge scale in families and the community, and the criminal justice system is still completely unable to protect Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights.

'The international community has failed to keep its promises to Afghan Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights. If we are to regain their trust, there must be urgent action now to end the abuses they are suffering and to support them in building a future where they and their daughters can live freely and without fear.'

Forced and underage marriage is widespread with Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and girls said to be treated as an economic asset. 'Fariba' was given in marriage to a 48-year-old man when she was eight years old. Her father reportedly received a payment for her, while Fariba went on to suffer sexual abuse by the husband.

Day-to-day threats to Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights's basic physical integrity from their families, communities and armed groups are compounded by a criminal justice system in Afghanistan which completely fails to protect Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights. Rape is rarely investigated - there is no forensic capability to investigate allegations, and instead Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are often subject to virginity tests. The courts frequently send Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights back to violent spouses when they request divorces. Under the Penal Code a husband who murders his wife when she is found committing adultery is exempted from punishment (Article 398).

The only time Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights significantly appear in the criminal justice system is as criminals, prosecuted and imprisoned for 'zina' crimes - adultery, 'running away from your husband', and consensual sex before marriage. 'Jamila', aged 16, was given a three-year sentence for running away from home. She had been forced to marry an 85-year-old man at the age of nine, and had run away with a lover when her situation became intolerable. 'Ziba', aged only 14, was sentenced to three years for running away from home. She had been abused by the cousin she had been forced to marry when she was 13.

The continuing reliance on informal justice mechanisms makes the exchange of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and girls as 'compensation' common in local disputes. A Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights reported seeing an eight year old girl being given in exchange in this way - the young girl was carried off, crying, by the man to whom she was given, as if she was 'a prize in bozkashi' [a traditional Asian game played on horseback].

Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights reported violence against them in the home on a massive scale, and said it was a normal and acceptable thing. A woman doctor interviewed by Amnesty International said:

'Domestic and physical violence are normal practice - we have a lot of cases of broken arms, broken legs and other injuries. It is common practice in Afghanistan? most Afghan men are using violence.' This violence is said to be leading to female suicide on an untold scale ? one hospital in Herat reported seeing two cases a week of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights had burned themselves to death.

The criminal justice system includes few Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights - of 2,006 sitting judges, only approximately 27 are female. Many senior judges express outright opposition to increasing the number of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights judges.

Amnesty International is calling for the international community to pressure the interim government to:

  • ensure the new Constitution sets out clearly equality between men and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights
  • reform criminal law to clearly prohibit, rape, violence against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and the exchange of girls; and to end 'zina' prosecutions and mitigation for honour crimes
  • reform family law to permit divorce and forbid forced marriage
  • train Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and fast-track them into all areas of the criminal justice system - as lawyers, judges, police
  • train police/lawyers/judges on Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights's needs
  • end impunity for members of armed groups who assault Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights;
  • and for the international community to actively consider extending ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force) patrols outside Kabul.

Amnesty International recognises that building the capacity of the legal system to address issues of violence against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights is a long-term process. However the Bonn Agreement, signed 5 December 2001 at the end of the military action, pledged to establish a 'broad based, gender sensitive, multi ethnic and fully representative government.'

The report is available online at: http://www.web.amnesty.org/library/index/engasa110232003

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