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Afghanistan: President Proposes Changes to Draft Criminal Procedure Law

(Feb. 27, 2014) On February 17, 2014, it was reported that Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, ordered that a controversial draft law on criminal procedure be changed. The provision under discussion is contained in article 26 of the proposed legislation, which would establish that relatives could not testify against each other in criminal cases. This would in effect prevent victims of domestic abuse from testifying against their abusers in court. The draft did not contain a definition of “relatives,” leaving it open to very broad interpretation. (Benjamin Minegar, Afghanistan President Orders Changes to Controversial Law Impacting Women’s Rights, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Feb. 17, 2014).)

According to Adela Raz, a spokesperson for Karzai, the provision was discussed at a Cabinet meeting and “[a]t the meeting his excellency the president, and the cabinet, decided that article 26 needs to be amended.” (Emma Graham-Harrison, Hamid Karzai Orders Changes to Draft Law Amid Fears for Afghan Women, THE GUARDIAN (Feb. 17, 2014).) No details on how the article was to be revised were given. It has been noted that because the use forensic evidence is underdeveloped in Afghanistan, the original provision would have made prosecution of domestic violence cases very difficult. (Id.) Raz responded to criticism of Karzai as being slow to revise the law, arguing that he is a supporter of women’s issues and stating that “[i]n the past you have seen that the president is someone who has made sure women’s rights are protected according to the laws of the country.” (Id.)

Manizha Naderi, director of the advocacy group Women for Afghan Women, was among the critics of article 26 as drafted. She denounced it as “a travesty” and added that the law would “make it impossible to prosecute cases of violence against women. … The most vulnerable people won’t get justice now.” (Emma Graham-Harrison, New Afghanistan Law to Silence Victims of Violence Against Women, THE GUARDIAN (Feb. 4, 2014).) Women for Afghan Women, which was founded in April 2001 and is based in both Kabul and New York, describes itself as “a women’s human rights organization.” (Videos About Our Work, Women for Afghan Women website (last visited Feb. 18, 2014).)

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, also criticized the law as originally written, calling it a backward step. She added, “I am very concerned that this new law would restrict prosecutions for domestic violence and child abuse in Afghanistan.” (Emma Graham-Harrison, European Union Condemns Afghan Law that Would Silence Battered Women, THE GUARDIAN (Feb. 10, 2014).

Afghanistan has been the subject of international attention for its treatment of the issue of violence against women. In December 2013, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), together with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, released a report on the subject. (A WAY TO GO: AN UPDATE ON IMPLEMENTATION OF THE LAW ON ELIMINATION OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN AFGHANISTAN (Dec. 2013), UNAMA website.)

The report examines the implementation from October 2012 to September 2013 of Afghanistan’s 2009 Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW law) (text as of Jan. 15, 2011) SAARC Gender Info Base [click on link to see full text].) According to the report, there was a 28% increase in reported incidents of violence against women but only a 2% increase in indictments under the EVAW law. The report expressed the further concern that “the overall number of criminal indictments filed by prosecutors in violence against women cases under all applicable laws decreased this year despite the rise in reported and registered incidents.” (A WAY TO GO, supra, at 3.)