So, to begin with, it seems no one is 100% certain what the controversial Shia Family Law actually says. There’s a lot of speculation, some of it probably well-founded. It’s unclear whether UNAMA has the final text, and apparently no one in the press does. Or maybe they do by now. It’s not clear. The phrase “reportedly” is being thrown around in about half the news stories coming out on this issue.
In any case, Hillary Clinton and a host of other diplomats made it very clear at the Afghanistan summit in the Hague that they’re exceedingly displeased at Karzai’s support for the law.
Take this report from Canadian Press:
Outrage grows over Afghan rape law
OTTAWA — Canada isn’t sacrificing the lives of its soldiers and spending billions of dollars in Afghanistan so that men can rape their wives, say angry government and opposition MPs.
There’s growing outrage in Canada and abroad over controversial legislation in Afghanistan that would restrict the rights of minority Shia women, making it illegal for them to refuse sex to their husbands or even leave the house without permission.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said he will use this week’s NATO summit to put “direct” pressure on his Afghan counterparts to abandon the legislation.
“That’s unacceptable – period,” he said Wednesday. “We’re fighting for values that include equality and women’s rights. This sort of legislation won’t fly.”
The proposed Shia family law has cast a shadow over an international conference in Europe on Afghanistan’s future […]
Or this one from the Sydney Morning Herald:
Pressure on Karzai to drop sexist law
Julian Borger in The Hague
April 2, 2009
The President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has come under intense pressure to scrap a new law that the United Nations said legalised rape within marriage and severely limited the rights of women.
At a conference on Afghanistan in The Hague on Tuesday, Scandinavian foreign ministers challenged him to respond to questions raised over the law.
The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was reported to have confronted Mr Karzai on the issue in a private meeting.
“This is an area of absolute concern for the United States. My message is very clear. Women’s rights are a central part of the foreign policy of the Obama Administration,” she said […]
From the Globe and Mail:
“If these prove to be true, this will create serious problems for the government of Canada, for the people of Canada,” [ Trade Minister Stockwell Day] said. “The onus is upon the government of Afghanistan to live up to its human-rights responsibilities, absolutely including the rights of women. If there is any wavering on this point … this will create serious difficulties, serious problems for the government of Canada.“
A few points:
1) It’s great that women’s rights are being raised as a sincere concern here, and not an afterthought or window-dressing for realpolitik. (I imagine this also has something to do with the many angry emails that have been landing in various foreign ministers’ inboxes over the past 24 hours.)
2) Why doesn’t anyone have the full, final text of this law yet? 24 hours in the news cycle is an eternity, and I can’t fathom why –even if leaking the law was not allowed– that it has (seemingly) not been leaked by someone yet. I mean, seriously, what is going on?
3) That, in the midst of this maelstrom of outrage, the Afghan Government has not released an official statement on this along with the text of the law, leads me to think it’s probably as bad as it’s being reported and there is frantic behind-the-scenes scrambling to do damage control. Government silence usually means either panic or apathy. I’ll wager the former in this case.
4) Via the Sydney Morning Herald:
Mr Karzai signed the law last month. Although the text has not been published, the UN, human rights activists and some Afghan MPs said it included clauses stipulating that women cannot refuse to have sex with their husbands and can only seek work, education or visit the doctor with their husbands’ permission.
That was written a few hours ago. Why wasn’t this brought up a month ago, when Karzai signed the law? Why was this story delayed until the day the summit began in the Hague? Very weird. Very, very weird.
International aid officials say the law violates UN conventions and the Afghan constitution.
If the law stipulates what we’re being told it does, then yes, it absolutely violates both international human rights law and the Afghan Constitution.
5) What was Karzai THINKING? Did he not believe this would become the aid-endangering shitstorm it has?
6) Moreover, how was this supposed to win Karzai the Shia vote? That doesn’t make political sense.
Maybe I’m way off base (I don’t think I am, but, then again, I’m not in Afghanistan), but family law is not remotely the biggest issue Shia care about. Given that Shia communities have so far not received an equitable share of reconstruction resources, I would think better infrastructure (say, in West Kabul, or the very poor Bamiyan or Daikundi provinces) and the promise of more say in state affairs would be the way to win over the Shia.
The way the news articles are being worded makes it seem like all it would take to send Shia voters flocking to the polls for Karzai would be some good, old-fashioned misogyny.
Color me skeptical. And confused.
In the comments on my previous post, Asiyah wrote:
I don’t know about the bill itself but generally, the Meshrano and Wolesi Jirgas have to approve it before it gets to the President. Also, the Ministry of Justice has to review and make sure the law is in line with the Constitution and international treaties signed.
Also, from what I understand, Islamic law comes into play when there is a gap in the national law. Also, the national laws should be in line with Islamic law (this phrase in the Constitution is still debated or ignored, depending on the person).
I plan to discuss the process of law-making in Afghanistan on my-so-far-inert blog…
I’m looking forward to Asiyah’s new blog.
Thank you for the welcome. Hopefully I’ll get something up this weekend. I’ve been dithering over my post on transitional justice in Afghanistan for entirely too long.
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