Hamid Karzai
Afghan President Hamid Karzai.


Credit: NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

(WOMENSENEWS)–Activists and advocacy groups are welcoming Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s decision earlier this week to withhold his signature from the draft of new criminal legislation, which contains an article banning relatives from testifying against each other that would have shielded perpetrators of domestic violence, forced marriage and child abuse.

“This is a big win for the Afghan civil society and it is a testimony that they have come a long way during the past 12 years,” Hamid Arsalan, Afghan analyst at the National Endowment for Democracy, based in Washington, D.C., told Women’s eNews in an email interview.

He said that by not signing article 26 of the new criminal prosecution code, Karzai has given women’s activists a second chance to press their demands in parliament.

“The key change that the civil society demands for article 26 is that relatives of the victims of domestic violence be able to testify as witness in domestic violence cases,” said Arsalan.

Article 26 also bars doctors and psychiatrists from providing evidence, which activists say would make it virtually impossible to get a conviction in most domestic cases of abuses.

Karzai yielded to pressure from activists and western governments and ordered changes to the brief section of the law that had caused the outcry, The Guardian reported Feb. 17.

Manizha Naderi, executive director of Women for Afghan Women, a human rights organization based in Queens, N.Y., said she is “thrilled” to see the text go back to the Ministry of Justice for revision.

“Now we are going to be very attentive to what is going to happen and we are going to work with the Ministry of Justice to give them our recommendations on what should be in that article,” Naderi told Women’s eNews in a phone interview.

Naderi said that family members should be able to testify against each other and “say something.”

Aimal Faizi, Karzai’s spokesperson, said in a Feb.17 post on Twitter that the new “Afghan criminal prosecution code won’t come into force unless new amendments are made.”

“This law will not bar any relative or any family member to testify against each other or another member of their family,” Faizi told the Associated Press. “It will be up to them. They will have the freedom.”

Decision Applauded

Karzai’s decision set off a torrent of plaudits on Twitter from groups including Women Living Under Muslim Laws and Fariba Nawa, an Afghan journalist and also a contributor for Women’s eNews.

Reports of violence against women increased by 28 percent from October 2012 through September 2013, found a December report released by the United Nations.

In a few months, Karzai will be leaving office as he won’t be able to run for reelection in April 2014.

“I hope in the remaining months of his term, the president will live up to the precedent he first set in 2009 when he approved the Elimination of Violence Against Women law and take action to fully and effectively implement the law and block any additional attempts to weaken it,” Julia Drost, policy and advocacy associate for Amnesty International USA’s women’s human rights program, said in an email interview.

She also urges the country’s Ministry of Justice, which is in charge of making the revisions, to “take measurable steps to eradicate discrimination against women and ensure that survivors of domestic violence, rape and other violent crimes have a clear path to justice.”

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