Kabul, 2 April— Recently several cases of “Honour Killings” in Afghanistan have been reported by the media and the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) recorded three cases of such killings across the country during the month of March.
These include a young girl buried alive by her brother and father in the Kishim district of Badakhshan Province. In Heart Province, a 14-year-old girl was killed when she refused to marry her fiancé and in another case a brother killed his married sister when she insisted on joining her husband in Iran. In Jawzjan Province, a husband beheaded his wife.
These reports come at the same time as the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern in the Security Council about the 20 per cent increase in civilian casualties among women and girls in Afghanistan in 2012.
“I welcome President Karzai’s speech on International Women’s Day — especially his focus on raising awareness of gender issues among men. But I remain deeply disturbed that despite some improvements in prosecuting cases of violence, there is still a pervasive climate of impunity in Afghanistan for abuses of women and girls. They have the inviolable right to live free of fear or attack, and women and girls are key to a better future for Afghanistan. Protecting them is central to peace, prosperity and stability for all people in the country,” said the Secretary-General.
Violence against women is pervasive and seems to be increasing. Over 4,000 cases of violence against women and girls were reported to the Ministry of Women Affairs (MoWA) from 33 provinces of the country in 2010-2012.
More than ever, Afghan women need protection from violence, the survivors of violence need support, and perpetrators have to be brought to justice.
“UN Women is deeply concerned of the number of cases of so-called “Honour Killings” in Afghanistan. In many parts of the country, government officials are implementing the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law, but we are concerned that it is only in a small percentage of cases involving violence against women. Most cases are neither registered nor investigated,” said Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir, Representative of UN Women in Afghanistan.
In her statement at the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) Dr. Hussn Banu Ghazanfar, Minister of Women Affairs, reaffirmed her Government’s commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment in Afghanistan while recognizing that in some rural areas women are still deprived of their legal rights and their rights are being violated.
Since 2002, UN Women Afghanistan has been working towards eliminating violence against women in close cooperation with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GoIRA) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). UN Women calls upon the GoIRA to take a clear stand and ensure that all “Honour Killings” cases are properly registered and investigated.
The Government must also ensure that the High Commission on Elimination of Violence Against Women improves its oversight of provincial commissions and strengthens their capacity. A long-term awareness-raising programme with participation and commitment from different ministries can be an important tool in highlighting the harmful effects of traditional practices that lead to violence against women and are against the tenets of Islam. brother and father in Kishim district of Badakhshan Province.
Skateistan is a skateboard NGO in Kabul, which maintains a facility for skateboarding and gets as many as 300 youth to attend as spectators at competitions.
The organization maintains that 40% of skateboarders in Kabul are girls and young women, and that it is one of few relatively gender-integrated sports.
Although in the 1990s under the Taliban, Afghan women were mostly forced to veil, secluded and attempts were made to deny them an education, the history of girls’ and young women’s lives in the country is far more varied in modern history. In the 1980s under the Communist government urban women had gained many rights and freedoms, and most girls were put in schools. In the late 1960s, young women from elite families in Kabul had participated in the miniskirt craze.
Since the dark days of 1999 and 2000, when the Taliban forbade girls’ schooling, there has been very substantial progress. Over 3.2 million girls are now in school, and via UNICEF programs the Afghanistan government expects a 20% increase in primary school enrollment in 2013. Since 2001, female literacy has tripled. But it still stands at only 13%, among the lowest in the world.
Despite the hatred for UN agencies among the US right wing, especially the Neoconservatives, UNICEF is among the main drivers of increased female education and literacy in Afghanistan, and deserves our support.
In much of Afghanistan, sadly, gender segregation and obstacles to women’s education and careers are still thrown up by traditionalist men, even many who despise the Taliban. Of the over 4 million school-age Afghan children not attending classes, about 60% are girls.
The official U.S. military death toll in Afghanistan has just passed the 2,000 mark. On Monday, a suicide bomber wearing an Afghan army uniform killed 14 people, including three U.S. soldiers, in the eastern province of Khost. Amidst a spate of attacks by Afghan troops on NATO forces, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has revealed Western forces may withdraw from Afghanistan sooner than expected. In addition, the New York Times reports the United States has all but written off hopes of working out a peace deal with the Taliban. We’re joined by Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of several books, including "Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer."
GUEST: Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of several books, including Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer.
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 28, 2012
CONTACT: Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Kabul - March 28 - 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 of women’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 Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"Two US troops have been shot to death and four more wounded by an Afghan soldier who turned his gun on his allies in apparent anger over the burning of Korans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan," an Afghan official tells CBS News.
"Senior ranking U.S. military leaders have so distorted the truth when communicating with the U.S. Congress and American people in regards to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that the truth has become unrecognizable." That’s the assessment of a damning new report by Army Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, who returned in October from his second year-long deployment in Afghanistan and says military officials have misled the American public about how poorly the decade-long war is going. He argues that local Afghan governments are unable to provide the basic needs of the people and that insurgents control virtually all parts of Afghanistan beyond eyeshot of a U.S. base. We speak with Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone, who obtained a copy of the full report and published it last week. "Lieutenant Colonel Davis is on the right side of history, and the fact [is] that he believes in this and is willing to risk [his career]," Hastings says.
Kabul – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has today signed a letter of agreement to support a new cash voucher project in partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled (MoLSAMD) in Kabul. The project is designed to help the urban poor cope with high food prices.
WFP will contribute US$3 million over a six-month period, which will enable food assistance through monthly cash vouchers to extremely vulnerable urban households in Kabul. In addition to offices space and project supervisory staff, MoLSAMD will provide four locations to be used as voucher distribution centres at a total cost of about US$40,000. The first distributions will start in mid January 2012.
“We are launching this project after the successful implementation of similar programmes in other Afghan cities where it has had a positive impact on household food security,” said WFP Deputy Country Director Bradley Guerrant. “We are very happy to be working in partnership with MoLSAMD to help contain the impact of high food prices on the Afghan urban poor.”
Some 18,900 households (about 113,000 individuals), consisting mainly of poor women and households headed by the disabled, will benefit from the project. Each monthly voucher is worth 1,250 Afghanis, or about US$25, and can be exchanged for food items in selected local shops.
WFP Afghanistan has increased the use of cash vouchers in its food assistance programmes in areas where food is widely available on local markets. In addition to Kabul, WFP is currently implementing voucher projects in Mazar, Hirat and Jalalabad cities.
For poor families, the vouchers mean guaranteed access to food every month. Beyond that, the project also gives them the chance to choose which foods will best meet their families’ needs.
For local merchants, the vouchers are creating thousands of new customers, most of whom previously had difficulties affording to buy food in their shops.
Traditionally, most of WFP’s work in Afghanistan has been in highly food-insecure rural areas. The voucher project is part of an urban safety net programme aimed at helping the urban poor, who are particularly vulnerable to high food prices.
SRINAGAR, Dec 30, 2011 (IPS) - Weaning Afghanistan’s poppy farmers away from growing the raw material for the bulk of the world’s illicit heroin has never been easy, but Kashmir’s saffron cultivators may have the answer.
A high-value crop, saffron has long been seen as a counternarcotics candidate, but the idea has a chance of coming to fruition with expertise from farmers in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state who produce the finest saffron anywhere.
An agreement signed in February between the agriculture ministries of the two countries paved the way for a 25-member delegation from Afghanistan to visit Jammu and Kashmir in November and see how the state’s success with saffron can be emulated.
After touring Pampore, the main centre for the saffron industry, located 14 km east of Srinagar, delegation chief Naseem Atai told IPS that he was hopeful of a "change of choice" in his country.
"Once our farmers grow saffron in the manner of their Kashmiri counterparts, they will certainly find it a profitable agricultural activity and they may ultimately give up growing poppy," Atai said.
"We have seen how Kashmiri farmers are earning good dividends by growing saffron. We can do the same for Afghanistan if we adopt the same methods and techniques."
Afghan farmers, said Atai, have already been growing saffron since 2000 in Heart province near Iran’s border, "but the yield and quality are not good since the farmers have no expertise or access to good technology."
Iran and Spain are the two other countries where saffron is grown, with Iran producing 85 percent of the world’s supply. But, the quality of Kashmiri saffron - essentially the dried stamen of the flower - is considered to be far superior to that grown elsewhere in the world.
Saffron is sought after for the aroma, colour and flavour it imparts to rice and other foodstuffs. It has also been used for centuries in traditional medicines and as a natural pigment.
S. A. Nahvi, who heads the central government’s saffron mission in Jammu and Kashmir, says that the state’s saffron production has been improving with the introduction of superior cultivation methods and technology.
"We have already modernised 355 hectares out of the 4,000 hectares under saffron," Nahvi said. "Over the last few years there was a decline in production, but that has been reversed.
"We showed the Afghan delegation what we are doing to improve our own saffron production. We took them to the saffron fields and on visits to families engaged in processing saffron at home."
One reason why saffron has high value is that the production involves much labour before and after harvesting. The blossoms need to be picked in the early mornings as they open and transported with care to the homes or factories where the stigmas are separated from the flowers.
Depending on the variety, some 400,000 or more stigmas may go into the making of one kilogram of saffron. The work must be done by hand and since it calls for nimbleness, the industry holds out employment prospects for large numbers of women.
Saffron is considered the world’s costliest spice, and Kashmiri varieties currently fetch 3,600 dollars per kg although prices in recent years have gone as high as 6,000 dollars per kg.
According Nahvi since the soil and climatic conditions in Afghanistan are similar to that in Kashmir, "they shouldn’t have any problems growing this crop if they adopt similar methods and techniques."
Kashmir’s agriculture minister Ghulam Hassan Mir told IPS that Afghan delegations will continue to visit Kashmir to learn about the cultivation of saffron as well as other horticultural products.
"The Afghan government has indicated that it is keen to wipe out poppy cultivation and we are very much interested in helping them achieve their objective," he told IPS.
Support from India to prop up various sectors of Afghanistan’s economy was formalised under a ‘strategic partnership agreement’ signed in New Delhi during a visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the first week of October.
That agreement came even as the United Nations Drug Control Agency released the report of a survey which showed land under poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increasing as a result of rising opium prices on the one hand and economic hardships faced by Afghans on the other.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, while Afghanistan's National Drug Control Strategy aims to eliminate illicit opium poppy cultivation by 2013, the U.N. survey found that poppy is now grown in 17 of the country’s provinces compared to 14 a year ago.
Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has defied efforts by the U.S. and its NATO allies to destroy poppy fields since opium and heroin are known to generate revenues for fundamentalist militant organisations starting with the Taliban.
"Cultivation of poppy has devastated our agriculture and reputation. Our country is now known more for poppy and conflict than for any positive activity. We want to change that," said Asadullah Aurakzai, a member of the delegation. (END)