Afghanistan: Hundreds Of Women, Girls Jailed For ‘Moral Crimes’


Kabul – The Afghan government should release the approximately 400 women and girls imprisoned in Afghanistan for “moral crimes,” Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The United States and other donor countries should press the Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai to end the wrongful imprisonment of women and girls who are crime victims rather than criminals.

The 120-page report, “‘I Had to Run Away’: Women and Girls Imprisoned for ‘Moral Crimes’ in Afghanistan,” is based on 58 interviews conducted in three prisons and three juvenile detention facilities with women and girls accused of “moral crimes.” Almost all girls in juvenile detention in Afghanistan had been arrested for “moral crimes,” while about half of women in Afghan prisons were arrested on these charges. These “crimes” usually involve flight from unlawful forced marriage or domestic violence. Some women and girls have been convicted of zina, sex outside of marriage, after being raped or forced into prostitution.

“It is shocking that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “No one should be locked up for fleeing a dangerous situation even if it’s at home. President Karzai and Afghanistan’s allies should act decisively to end this abusive and discriminatory practice.”

The fall of the Taliban government in 2001 promised a new era ofwomen’s rights. Significant improvements have occurred in education, maternal mortality, employment, and the role of women in public life and governance. Yet the imprisonment of women and girls for “moral crimes” is just one sign of the difficult present and worrying future faced by Afghan women and girls as the international community moves to decrease substantially its commitments in Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch interviewed many girls who had been arrested after they fled a forced marriage and women who had fled abusive husbands and relatives. Some women interviewed by Human Rights Watch had gone to the police in dire need of help, only to be arrested instead.

“Running away,” or fleeing home without permission, is not a crime under the Afghan criminal code, but the Afghan Supreme Court has instructed its judges to treat women and girls who flee as criminals. Zina is a crime under Afghan law, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Women and girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch described abuses including forced and underage marriage, beatings, stabbings, burnings, rapes, forced prostitution, kidnapping, and murder threats. Virtually none of the cases had led even to an investigation of the abuse, let alone prosecution or punishment.

One woman, Parwana S. (not her real name), 19, told Human Rights Watch how she was convicted of “running away” after fleeing a husband and mother-in-law who beat her: “I will try to become independent and divorce him. I hate the word ‘husband.’ My liver is totally black from my husband… If I knew about prison and everything [that would happen to me] I would have just jumped into the river and committed suicide.”

Human Rights Watch said that women and girls accused of “moral crimes” face a justice system stacked against them at every stage. Police arrest them solely on a complaint of a husband or relative. Prosecutors ignore evidence that supports women’s assertions of innocence. Judges often convict solely on the basis of “confessions” given in the absence of lawyers and “signed” without having been read to women who cannot read or write. After conviction, women routinely face long prison sentences, in some cases more than 10 years.

Afghanistan’s 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women makes violence against women a criminal offense. But the same police, prosecutors, and judges who work zealously to lock up women accused of “moral crimes” often ignore evidence of abuse against the accused women, Human Rights Watch said.

“Courts send women to prison for dubious ‘crimes’ while the real criminals – their abusers –walk free,” Roth said. “Even the most horrific abuses suffered by women seem to elicit nothing more than a shrug from prosecutors, despite laws criminalizing violence against women.”

Abusive prosecution of “moral crimes” is important to far more than the approximately 400 women and girls in prison or pretrial detention, Human Rights Watch said. Every time a woman or girl flees a forced marriage or domestic violence only to end up behind bars, it sends a clear message to others enduring abuse that seeking help from the government is likely to result in punishment, not rescue.

The plight of women facing domestic violence is made still worse by archaic divorce laws that permit a man simply to declare himself divorced, while making it extremely difficult for a woman to obtain a divorce, Human Rights Watch said. The Afghan government made a commitment to reform these laws in 2007 under its National Action Plan for Women in Afghanistan, and a committee of experts drafted a new Family Law that would improve the rights of women. This new law, however, has been on hold with the government since 2010, with no sign of movement toward passage.

“It is long past time for Afghanistan to act on its promises to overhaul laws that make Afghan women second-class citizens,” Roth said. “Laws that force women to endure abuse by denying them the right to divorce are not only outdated but cruel.”

By maintaining discriminatory laws on the books, and by failing to address due process and fair trial violations in “moral crimes” cases, Afghanistan is in violation of its obligations under international human rights law. United Nations expert bodies and special rapporteurs have called for the repeal of Afghanistan’s “moral crimes” laws. The UN special rapporteur on violence against women has called on Afghanistan to “abolish laws, including those related to zina, that discriminate against women and girls and lead to their imprisonment and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment.” The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has urged Afghanistan to “[r]emove so-called moral offences as a crime and release children detained on this basis.”

“The Afghan government and its international partners should act urgently to protect women’s rights and to ensure there is no backsliding,” Roth said. “President Karzai, the United States, and others should finally make good on the bold promises they made to Afghan women a decade ago by ending imprisonment for ‘moral crimes,’ and actually implementing their stated commitment to support women’s rights.”

Human Rights Groups Blur Issues of Women Rights


English: 44th Munich Security Conference: The ...

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By Meredith Tax

(WOMENSENEWS)– Salafi mobs have caned women in Tunisian cafes and Egyptian shops; attacked churches in Egypt; taken over whole villages in Tunisia and shut down that country’s Manouba University for two months in an effort to exert social pressure on veiling.

And while “moderate Islamist” leaders say they will protect the rights of women (if not gays), they have done very little to bring these mobs under control.

In this context, the support given by Kenneth Roth, head of the major U.S. organization Human Rights Watch, to Islamist parties is disturbing to say the least and shows a wider problem in the attitude of the human rights movement toward political Islam.

In his group’s 2012 World Report, Roth wrote: “It is important to nurture the rights-respecting elements of political Islam while standing firm against repression in its name,” but he failed to call for the most basic guarantee of rights–the separation of religion from the state.

His essay only once mentions the rights of women, gays, and religious minorities, almost in passing: “Many Islamic parties have indeed embraced disturbing positions that would subjugate the rights of women and restrict religious, personal, and political freedoms. But so have many of the autocratic regimes that the West props up.”

Are we really going to set the bar that low? This is the voice of an apologist, not a senior human rights advocate.

Roth’s essay is just the latest example of a crisis within the human rights movement, some of whose leaders have treated political Islamists as partners and been willing to downplay systematic violence and discrimination against women, gays and religious minorities.

Marieme Helie-Lucas is founder of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, the 20-year advocacy group with headquarters in London, Dakar, Senegal and Lahore, Pakistan. She suggested a group response to Roth.
Over a period of three weeks, with several women writing and others offering suggestions, we produced an Open Letter to Roth, which serves as a critique of his essay, signed by 17 global women’s human rights groups. Our letter is accompanied by a petition.

Read more here

 

Open Letter to Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch


Separate  Between Religion and State

Having experienced the ways in which religious fundamentalists have used both armed violence and state power to attack fundamental freedoms, we want to express our alarm at the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and other representatives of political Islam. We believe that secularism is a minimum precondition for the freedom and equality of all citizens. It is intrinsic to democracy and the full realisation of human rights.

Rather than becoming complicit with religious fundamentalists in power, we call on Human Rights Watch to report violations and threats against those targeted by fundamentalists and to support the call for secularism, and the continuing struggle for social justice.

Dear Kenneth Roth,

In your Introduction to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2012, “Time to Abandon the Autocrats and Embrace Rights,” you urge support for the newly elected governments that have brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Tunisia and Egypt. In your desire to “constructively engage” with the new governments, you ask states to stop supporting autocrats. But you are not a state; you are the head of an international human rights organization whose role is to report on human rights violations, an honorable and necessary task which your essay largely neglects.

You say, “It is important to nurture the rights-respecting elements of political Islam while standing firm against repression in its name,” but you fail to call for the most basic guarantee of rights—the separation of religion from the state. Salafi mobs have caned women in Tunisian cafes and Egyptian shops; attacked churches in Egypt; taken over whole villages in Tunisia and shut down Manouba University for two months in an effort to exert social pressure on veiling. And while “moderate Islamist” leaders say they will protect the rights of women (if not gays), they have done very little to bring these mobs under control. You, however, are so unconcerned with the rights of women, gays, and religious minorities that you mention them only once, as follows: “Many Islamic parties have indeed embraced disturbing positions that would subjugate the rights of women and restrict religious, personal, and political freedoms. But so have many of the autocratic regimes that the West props up.” Are we really going to set the bar that low? This is the voice of an apologist, not a senior human rights advocate.

Nor do you point to the one of the clearest threats to rights—particularly to women and religious and sexual minorities—the threat to introduce so-called “shari’a law.” It is simply not good enough to say we do not know what kind of Islamic law, if any, will result, when it is already clear that freedom of expression and freedom of religion—not to mention the choice not to veil—are under threat. And while it is true that the Muslim Brotherhood has not been in power for very long, we can get some idea of what to expect by looking at their track record. In the UK, where they were in exile for decades, unfettered by political persecution, the exigencies of government, or the demands of popular pressure, the Muslim Brotherhood systematically promoted gender apartheid and parallel legal systems enshrining the most regressive version of “shari’a law”. Yusef al-Qaradawi, a leading scholar associated with them, publicly maintains that homosexuality should be punished by death. They supported deniers of the holocaust and the Bangladesh genocide of 1971, and shared platforms with salafi-jihadis, spreading their calls for militant jihad. But, rather than examine the record of Muslim fundamentalists in the West, you keep demanding that Western governments “engage.”

Western governments are engaged already; if support for autocrats was their Plan A, the Muslim Brotherhood has long been their Plan B. The CIA’s involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood goes back to the 1950s and was revived under the Bush administration, while support for both the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat e Islaami has been crucial to the “soft counter-terror” strategy of the British state. Have you heard the phrases “non-violent extremism” or “moderate Islamism?” This language is deployed to sanitize movements that may have substituted elections for bombs as a way of achieving power but still remain committed to systematic discrimination.

Like you, we support calls to dismantle the security state and to promote the rule of law. But we do not see that one set of autocratic structures should be replaced by another which claims divine sanction. And while the overthrow of repressive governments was a victory and free elections are, in principle, a step towards democracy, shouldn’t the leader of a prominent human rights organization be supporting popular calls to prevent backlash and safeguard fundamental rights? In other words, rather than advocating strategic support for parties who may use elections to halt the call for continuing change and attack basic rights, shouldn’t you support the voices for both liberty and equality that are arguing that the revolutions must continue?

Throughout your essay, you focus only on the traditional political aspects of the human rights agenda. You say, for instance, that “the Arab upheavals were inspired by a vision of freedom, a desire for a voice in one’s destiny, and a quest for governments that are accountable to the public rather than captured by a ruling elite.” While this is true as far as it goes, it completely leaves out the role that economic and social demands played in the uprisings. You seem able to hear only the voices of the right wing—the Islamist politicians— and not the voices of the people who initiated and sustained these revolutions: the unemployed and the poor of Tunisia, seeking ways to survive; the thousands of Egyptian women who mobilized against the security forces who tore off their clothes and subjected them to the sexual assaults known as “virginity tests.” These assaults are a form of state torture, usually a central issue to human rights organizations, yet you overlook them because they happen to women.

The way you ignore social and economic rights is of a piece with your neglect of women, sexual rights, and religious minorities. Your vision is still rooted in the period before the Vienna Conference and the great advances it made in holding non-state actors accountable and seeing women’s rights as human rights. Your essay makes it all too clear that while the researchers, campaigners, and country specialists who are the arms and legs and body of Human Rights Watch may defend the rights of women, minorities, and the poor, the head of their organization is mainly interested in relations between states.

Organizations:

Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW)

Centre for Secular Space (CSS), global

Marea, Italy

Nijera Kori, Bangladesh

One Law for All, UK

Organisation Against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, UK

Secularism Is a Women’s Issue (SIAWI), global

Southall Black Sisters, UK

Women’s Initiative for Citizenship and Universal Rights (WICUR), global

Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), global

Individuals (organizations listed for identification purposes only)

Dorothy Aken’Ova, Exercutive Director, INCRESE, Nigeria

Codou Bop, Coordinator, Research Group on Women and the Law, Senegal

Ariane Brunet, Co-Founder, Urgent Action Fund, Canada

Lalia Ducos, WICUR-Women’s Initiative for Citizenship and Universal Rights

Laura Giudetti, Marea, Italy

Asma Guenifi, President, Ni Putes Ni Soumises, France

Lilian Halls-French, Co-President, Initiative Féministe Européenne pour Une Autre Europe (IFE-EFI)

Anissa Helie, Assistant Professor, John Jay College, US

Marieme Helie Lucas, Secularism is a Women’s Issue

Alia Hogben, Canadian Council of Muslim Women

Hameeda Hossain, Bangladesh

Khushi Kabir, Nijera Kori, Bangladesh

Sultana Kamal, Executive Director, Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh

Frances Kissling, Visiting Scholar, University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics

Maryam Namazie, One Law for All and Equal Rights Now; Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, UK

Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters, UK

Gita Sahgal, Centre for Secular Space, UK

Fatou Sow, Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML)

Meredith Tax, Centre for Secular Space, USA

Faizun Zackariya, Cofounder, Muslim Women’s Research and Action Front (MWRAF), Sri Lanka

Afiya Zia, Journalist, Pakistan

PL SIGN AN ONLIEN PETITION TO HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

SIGN AND SHARE THE PETITION 

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