Karzai orders abuse bill to be rewritten

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered amendments to a proposed law criticised for eroding women’s rights.

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The law, which was awaiting Karzai’s signature after being passed by parliament, will now be amended after an international campaign backed by the European Union, Canada and several rights groups.

One article would have banned family members from testifying against male relatives in cases where women were abused.

“The law is sent back to the MoJ (ministry of justice) for amendment,” Adela Raz, a presidential spokeswoman, told AFP on Monday.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch group said it was “cautiously optimistic” after the news but added that major changes were necessary to prevent the law being a setback for women’s rights.

“The government appears to be considering allowing voluntary testimony by family members, but we will have to see the language to judge,” HRW researcher Heather Barr said.

She added that the law may still prohibit family members from being compelled to give testimony, and the broad definition of “family” could cover a whole village community.

Barr said that unless the definition was changed, the legislation would damage the 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women law — the centrepiece of women’s rights since the austere Taliban regime was toppled in 2001.

Under the Taliban, girls were banned from school and women were forced to wear burqas and prevented from taking part in any form of public activity.

Improved women’s rights are seen as a key achievement of the 13-year international intervention in Afghanistan, and donor nations are pushing to cement progress before NATO troops withdraw by the end of this year.

The proposed law had already been passed by both houses of parliament, which are dominated by conservatives and tribal chiefs.

Several horrific cases of abuse have hit the headlines in recent years including teenager Sahar Gul, who was beaten and locked up in a toilet for five months after she defied her in-laws who tried to force her into prostitution.