Afghanistan to review law that discriminates against women


London : Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered an urgent review of a controversial new law that critics say might tolerate rape within marriage, BBC reported Saturday.

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At the same time, Karzai rejected what he called the misinterpretation of the law by Western journalists.

His decision follows expressions of disquiet from NATO’s secretary general.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he could not justify foreign troops dying in defence of universal values in Afghanistan, if those values were violated by its laws.

Karzai said he had ordered the Justice Ministry to review the law, which is intended to regulate family life inside Afghanistan’s minority Shia community.

If anything in the legislation contravened the country’s constitution or Sharia law, he said, “measures will be taken”.

“We understand the concerns of our allies in the international community,” he said during a televised press conference in Kabul. “Those concerns may be out of inappropriate or not-so-good translation of the law or a misinterpretation of it.”

Aides to President Karzai had earlier insisted the law provided more protection for women.

Among its provisions – wives are obliged to have sexual relations with their husbands at least once every four days and women can’t leave home without their husband’s permission.

Critics say the law limits the rights of women from the Shia minority and authorises rape within marriage.

On Friday, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told the BBC’s Mark Mardell: “We are there to defend universal values and when I see, at the moment, a law threatening to come into effect which fundamentally violates women’s rights and human rights, that worries me.”

He added: “I have a problem to explain and President Karzai knows this, because I discussed it with him. I have a problem to explain to a critical public audience in Europe, be it Britain or elsewhere, why I’m sending the guys to the Hindu Kush.”

France’s Human Rights Minister Rama Yade also expressed her “sharp concern” at the law, saying it “recalls the darkest hours of Afghanistan’s history”.

The UN earlier said it was seriously concerned about the potential impact of the law.

Human rights activists say it reverses many of the freedoms won by Afghan women in the seven years since the Taliban were driven from power.

They say it removes the right of women to refuse their husbands sex, unless they are ill.

Women will also need to get permission from their husbands if they want to leave their homes, unless there is an emergency. The law covers members of Afghanistan’s Shia minority, who make up 10 percent of the population.

It was rushed through parliament in February and was backed by influential Shia clerics and Shia political parties.

The law is reported to have been approved by President Karzai – who critics say is eager to win Shia votes in forthcoming elections – but the final version has not yet been made public because there are numerous amendments to it.

The president has not yet commented, but defenders of the law say it is an improvement on the customary laws, which normally decide family matters.

A separate family law for the Sunni majority is now also being drawn up.