New Law in Afghanistan Aims to Silence Victims of Abuse

New Law in Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s parliament has passed a law prohibiting family members of an accused from testifying against him/her. This change is in a section of the criminal code, titled "Prohibition of Questioning an Individual as a Witness". The bill awaits President Hamid Karzai’s final approval before coming into force. In many countries, there are legal provisions that excuse individuals from incriminating their spouses. However, this law seeks to impose an outright ban on all testimony against family members.

Afghanistan is a country that is plagued by ‘honour killings’, marital rape and other atrocities against women. Its society is often criticised for being tolerant towards such domestic abuse. This development has drawn flak from many human rights groups, who say that most cases of violence against women are perpetrated by members of their family. The law will effectively silence all such victims as well as their most obvious witnesses. Should the law come into force, prosecution of crimes such as ‘honour killings’- the murder of women by their fathers or brothers for inappropriate behaviour, forced marriage and trading of daughters for feuds and debts, will become almost impossible.

Manizha Naderi, director of ‘Women for Afghan Women’, described it as a ‘travesty’, adding that "It will make it impossible to prosecute cases of violence against women… The most vulnerable people won't get justice now." Human Rights Watch said the law will "let batterers of women and girls off the hook". Campaigns against the law are now focussing on shaming President Karzai, and pressuring him to suspend the bill. Selay Ghaffar, director of the advocacy group Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan, said "We will ask the president not to sign until the article is changed, we will put a lot of pressure on him," hoping to repeat the success of a campaign to dilute a law that aimed to establish marital rape as a husband’s right.

The law, in its original form, sought to allow family members of an accused to be excused from testifying if they didn’t want to. However, both houses of Afghanistan’s parliament eventually passed an amended version of the bill, which bans all testimony.

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