Rights groups say a proposed law in Afghanistan will allow perpetrators of domestic violence to escape prosecution, and are calling for international pressure to prevent President Hamid Karzai from signing it into law.
Afghanistan’s parliament, a two-chamber house dominated by conservative Muslim leaders and former warlords, passed a “criminal procedure law” last year, which experts say contains articles that deny women legal protections.
To go into force, it needs Karzai’s signature.
“Afghan President Hamid Karzai should refuse to sign a new criminal procedure code that would effectively deny women protection from domestic violence and forced or child marriage,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement published on its website on Wednesday.
With this ban, the Sitara of Hirat, whose nose and lips were cut off by her husband and only her family were present, cannot seek justice.
The draft document contains an article that according to HRW states: “The following people can not be questioned as witnesses… relatives of the accused.”
That language, according to HRW, would effectively protect women’s abusers.
Most victims are abused by family members inside the home, meaning that only relatives would witness the crime in the majority of cases.
“A woman who is the victim of domestic violence won’t be able to testify against her husband, a girl who has been forced into a marriage against her will won’t be able to testify against her father,” Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera’s Jane Ferguson.
“Laws that make domestic violence, make forced marriage, make child marriage illegal will become meaningless if this law is passed.”
Saeeq Shajjan, a lawyer with his own firm in Afghanistan, told Al Jazeera that the full bill had not been made public.
“The bill could be very problematic. The prosecution will have a difficult time to bring cases against offenders, particularly in cases of domestic abuse,” he said.
“If this is passed it could ruin the good work we have been doing over the past 13 years for human rights, especially for women.”
A spokesperson for Karzai said he could not comment on the president’s intentions and was not aware if the draft of the new law had yet reached him.
The politics of women’s rights
Debate about the new bill comes at the same time as Afghan leaders aspiring to be the nation’s next president take the stage in televised presidential debates and the same year the United States withdraws from the country.
In a statement posted on the organisation’s Facebook page, Parnian Nazary, Advocacy Manager for Women for Afghan Women (WAW) asked President Karzi not to sign the law.
“WAW urges the presidential candidates to take a position on the issue as an indication of their commitment to Afghan women’s rights. Above all, we ask people and governments in the developed world who value justice, and especially the US government, which has promised not to abandon the women of Afghanistan, to shout out loud and clear their refusal to accept this assault on women’s rights.”
The proposed legislation would run counter to a groundbreaking law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) passed in 2009.
In an email to Al Jazeera, Wazhma Frogh, Co-founder and Executive Director of the Research Institute for Women Peace and Security – Afghanistan said: “This article is a blow to Evaw law as well because the Evaw law cannot be implemented if a woman doesn’t have any witness.
“In Afghanistan almost all cases of violence against women is inside homes and if relatives can’t testify then no woman can seek legal protection from violence.
“With this ban, the Sitara of Hirat, whose nose and lips were cut off by her husband and only her family were present, cannot seek justice.”