Afghan Parliament should reject proposed criminal law revision: HRW

Kabul, July 16 (ANI): Afghanistan's lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, should reject a proposed criminal law revision that would effectively deny women legal protection from domestic violence, Human Rights Watch said today.

A new draft of the criminal procedure code, seen by Human Rights Watch, is currently being considered by Afghanistan's parliament.

The proposed language would prohibit the relatives of a criminal defendant from being questioned as a witness against the accused.

Should this provision become law, victims and other family members who have been witnesses to abuse will be silenced in domestic violence cases, making successful prosecutions unlikely.

"Afghanistan's lower house is proposing to protect the batterers of women and girls from criminal punishment," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

He further said: "Legislative approval of this criminal law revision would effectively stop prosecutions of people who beat, forcibly marry, and even sell their female relatives."

Article 26 of the draft law, entitled "Forbiddance of Questioning an Individual as a Witness," states that "The following people cannot be questioned as a witness: ... 4) Relatives of the accused person."

The amended procedure code would pose a serious threat to critical protections for women and girls embodied in Afghanistan's groundbreaking Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (the EVAW Law), passed by presidential decree in 2009.

The EVAW law provides criminal penalties for various abuses, including rape, child marriage, forced marriage, domestic violence, sale of women and girls, and baad, the giving of girls to resolve disputes between families.

The proposed ban on testifying against relatives follows several other efforts by the Wolesi Jirga to further weaken the inadequate legal protections for women's rights, Human Rights Watch said.

Members of parliament opposed to women's rights have increasingly sought to repeal or weaken the EVAW Law.

A Wolesi Jirga debate over the EVAW Law in May 2013 was halted after 15 minutes when parliamentarians called for revisions that would have eliminated the minimum marriage age for girls, abolished shelters, and ended criminal penalties for rape and domestic violence.

Although the EVAW law has been slowly and unevenly enforced, it has been a crucial tool for fighting violence against women.

In May, the Wolesi Jirga passed a revision of Afghanistan's Electoral Law that deleted an existing guarantee reserving at least 25 percent of seats in each of Afghanistan's 34 provincial councils for female candidates.

The new version of the law provided no set-aside provincial council seats for women. The upper house of parliament, the Meshrano Jirga, subsequently reinstated the set-aside for women on provincial councils.

On July 15, Afghanistan's Tolo News reported that the two houses had agreed upon a version of the law that reduces the set-aside to 20 percent.

"It's perverse that Afghanistan's parliament is devoting its time and energies to attacking women's hard-fought legal protections," Adams said.

He added: "The international donors who bankroll the Afghan government should serve notice that they will not underwrite legislative initiatives to victimize women." (ANI)


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