New Afghan law could curtails rights to education, gender equality – UNESCO head

17 April 2009

A new law that could be adopted by Afghanistan’s Parliament on the status of Shiites in the South Asian nation undermines the right to education, the principle of gender equality and the rights of the child, the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said today.

In a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai today, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura expressed concern that the draft legislation contravenes principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, calling on the country’s leader to prevent the law from entering into force.

UNESCO’s constitution promotes universal respect for rights and fundamental freedoms “without distinction of race, sex, language or religion,” and calls for education for all “without regard to race, sex or any distinctions, economic or social.”

Further, the agency ensures that the rights and specific needs of women are taken into consideration in all of its programmes, stressing the importance of unrestricted access to education by girls and women as a precondition to social and economic development, Mr. Matsuura said.

In his letter, Mr. Matsuura welcomed the strides Afghanistan’s Government has made in many areas, including education, which is recognized as a right in the country’s constitution.

Earlier this month, the top UN human rights official called for the repeal of another new law in the country which she said seriously curtails women’s rights, even explicitly permitting marital rape, and is a “huge step in the wrong direction.”

The law regulates the personal status of the country’s minority Shi’a community members, including relations between men and women, divorce and property rights.

It denies Afghan Shi’a women the right to leave their homes except for ‘legitimate’ purposes; forbids them from working or receiving education without their husbands’ express permission; weakens mothers’ rights in the event of a divorce; and makes it impossible for wives to inherit houses and land from their husbands, even if husbands can inherit property from their wives.

“This is another clear indication that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is getting worse, not better,” said Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Respect for women’s rights – and human rights in general – is of paramount importance to Afghanistan’s future security and development.”

 

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