There is a long way to go before the rights of Afghan women are fully protected, says a United Nations report released today, noting that the Government has not yet succeeded in applying a two-year-old landmark law to the vast majority of cases of violence against women.
The 2009 Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law criminalises child marriage, forced marriage, selling and buying women for the purpose or under the pretext of marriage, baad (giving away a woman or girl to settle a dispute), forced self-immolation and 17 other acts of violence against women, including rape and beating. It also specifies punishment for perpetrators.
“Judges, prosecutors and police in many parts of Afghanistan have begun to use the new law, which is a positive development, but unfortunately only in a small percentage of violence against women cases,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
“Although the law’s implementation is clearly growing, there is a very long way to go before Afghan women are fully protected from violence and their equality is properly upheld through this important law,” she added.
The report released by the UN human rights office (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), entitled A Long Way to Go: Implementation of the Elimination of Violence against Women law in Afghanistan, found both progress and gaps in the implementation of the law from March 2010 to September this year.
Comprehensive official statistics on the number of cases of violence against women in Afghanistan are not available and most incidents are unreported, according to the report, which was released ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which is observed annually on 25 November.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission registered 2,299 incidents of violence against women that could be defined as crimes under the EVAW law between March 2010 and March this year.
UN human rights officials found that prosecutors in 28 provinces opened cases in 26 per cent of the 2,299 incidents, or 594 cases. They filed indictments in seven per cent, or 155 cases, and primary courts relied on the EVAW law as the basis of their judgments in only four per cent of total incidents, or 101 cases.
“The justice sector in some provinces has applied the EVAW law which is encouraging. But the low number of cases prosecuted and tried shows that a much more active collective effort by justice system actors, Government decision-makers and others is needed to urge judicial and local authorities to apply the law to all cases of violence against women,” said Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of UNAMA.
He added that progress on the status of Afghan women over the last 10 years is undermined by uneven implementation of the EVAW law.
The report determined that many cases of violence against Afghan women were withdrawn or mediated, including serious crimes that would require prosecution. Some murder cases and other serious crimes criminalised under the EVAW law were instead prosecuted under the Penal Code or Sharia law.
This sometimes resulted in acquittal of perpetrators, reduction of charges to less serious crimes, convictions with lighter sentences and women victims themselves being accused of “moral crimes.”
“As long as women and girls are subject to violence with impunity that violates their human rights, little meaningful and sustainable progress for women’s rights can be achieved in Afghanistan,” said Georgette Gagnon, Director of Human Rights for UNAMA.
“Ensuring rights for Afghan women – such as their participation in public life, including in the peace and reconciliation process and equal opportunities in education and employment – requires not only legal safeguards on paper, but speedy and full enforcement of the EVAW law,” she stated.
To improve implementation of the EVAW law, the report makes 32 recommendations to the Government and its international partners, including raising greater awareness of the law among Afghan women and men and within all levels of the Government, and having the Supreme Court, Ministry of Interior and Attorney General’s Office instruct all officials to apply the law consistently, rapidly and efficiently.