UN report urges greater implementation of law protecting women’s rights in Afghanistan

UNAMA Human Rights Director Georgette Gagnon addressing a news conference in the Afghan capital of Kabul. Photo: UNAMA/Fardin Waezi

11 December 2012 – Afghan women continue to be targeted by acts of gender-based violence despite specific laws designed to protect them, a new report released by the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has warned.

Enacted in 2009, Afghanistan’s Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law criminalized numerous forms of violence, including child marriage, forced marriage, the selling and buying of women for the purpose or under the pretext of marriage, the traditional practice of ba’ad which requires the giving away of a woman or a girl to settle a dispute, forced self-immolation and 17 other acts of violence including rape and physical abuse, while also specifying punishment for the perpetrators.

Nevertheless, according to the new UN study, entitled Still a Long Way to Go: Implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence again Women in Afghanistan, the use of the three-year old law continues to remain low and is frequently hampered by “dramatic” under-reporting of violence as well as a lack of investigations into most reported incidents.

Addressing a news conference in the Afghan capital of Kabul, UNAMA’s Human Rights Director, Georgette Gagnon, suggested that the under-reporting of incidences of violence against women was not only due to cultural restraints, social norms, and taboos.

“Prevailing insecurity and weak rule of law have further hampered women’s access to formal justice institutions,” Ms. Gagnon said.

She added, however, that of the 470 reported cases of violence against women, prosecutors had filed indictments on 163 resulting in the conviction at trial of 100 cases – a 61 per cent success rate.

“This shows that in the small number of cases of violence against women that were investigated and prosecuted, use of EVAW law was more likely to result in justice for the women,” continued Ms. Gagnon.

In a statement on the launch of the report, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Ján Kubiš, agreed. “If the advances identified in implementing the EVAW law are expanded and built upon, Afghan women can be empowered to take a more active part in peacekeeping and political life,” said Mr. Kubiš.

The 42-page report, which covered 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, found an increase in the number of incidents registered by police and prosecutors compared with UNAMA findings from a year ago. At the same time, it noted that insecurity and growing anti-Government activities were also dissuading women from reporting violence in volatile areas such as eastern Laghman province.

While the increase in reports of violence against women represented a positive turn of events in the Central Asian country, Ms. Gagnon told the news briefing that much work remained to be done.

“Those incidents that reach law enforcement, that actually get to the court, or receive public attention due to their egregious nature represent only the tip of the iceberg of incidents of violence against women throughout the country,” she added.

On Monday, the acting Director of the Women's Affairs Department in Laghman, Nadia Sidiqi, was shot and killed by two unidentified gunmen while on her way to work on a motorised rickshaw.

The assassination drew condemnation from the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, and the Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), Michelle Bachelet.

Addressing today’s news briefing in Kabul, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, said that women officials like Ms. Sidiqi were “targeted specifically for her high profile advocacy on issues of violence against women and promoting human rights.”

“UNAMA extends its condolences to the family of Najia Seddiqi and condemns such targeted killings of civilians,” said Mr. Haysom.


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