Dramatic under reporting of cases of violence against Afghan women despite progress: UN report

11 December 2012 – A United Nations report released in Kabul today said despite some progress in implementing a three-year old law designed to protect Afghan women from violence, application of the landmark law continued to be hampered by “dramatic under reporting” and lack of investigations into most incidents of violence targeting women.

UNAMA Human Rights Director Georgette Gagnon told a news conference organized to release the report Still a Long Way to Go: Implementation of the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women in Afghanistan that the overall use of the law remained low indicating there was still a long way to go for women and girls in Afghanistan to be protected from violence.

The 42-page report, which covered 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces with detailed information on application of the EVAW law from 16 of the provinces, found an increase in the number of incidents registered by police and prosecutors compared with UNAMA’s findings in November 2011.

Ms. Gagnon linked the under reporting of cases of violence against women to “cultural restraints, social norms and taboos, customary practices and religious beliefs, discrimination against women”. “Also prevailing insecurity and weak rule of law have further hampered women’s access to formal justice institutions,” she said.

The release of the report was timed to mark the International Human Rights Day (10 December), which also marks the end of a 16-day global campaign against violence against women.

In his statement on the launch of the UNAMA report, UN Special Representative for Afghanistan and the head of UNAMA, Ján Kubiš, said progress in implementing the EVAW law can contribute to deterring harmful practices and violence against women in Afghanistan that had long prevented women from participating in public life and blocked their voices from being heard in decision-making and peace and reconciliation processes.

“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 peace-making and political life,” said Mr. Kubiš.

Enacted in August 2009, the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law criminalises child marriage, forced marriage, selling and buying women for the purpose or under the pretext of marriage, ba’ad (giving away a woman or girl to settle a dispute), forced self-immolation and 17 other acts of violence against women including rape and beating. It also specifies punishment for perpetrators.

Of the 470 reported cases of violence against women, prosecutors filed indictments in 163 cases of which resulted in conviction at trial in 100 cases with 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 the EVAW Law was more likely to result in justice for the women,” said Ms. Gagnon.

The report observed an example of how insecurity and growing activities of anti-Government elements are keeping women from reporting violence in eastern Laghman province.

“UNAMA was informed that, after an incident in which the Head of DoWA (Department of Women’s Affairs) was killed in Laghman (in July 2012), only two victims had visited the office in Mehterlam (the provincial capital) and submitted complaints since July 2012. This suggests that women victims were concerned about being associated with the office and feared becoming a target.”

Just yesterday, on the Human Rights Day, Najia Seddiqi, who had been the acting director for DoWA Laghman since the killing of its director Hanifa Safi in an IED explosion, was shot dead by assailants as she was travelling to work.

Speaking at the press conference in Kabul, the Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, said Ms Safi was “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.

UNAMA joined a ceremony held in the eastern regional hub of Jalalabad yesterday to mourn the killing of Ms. Seddiqi of condemn the act.

UNAMA's press event in Kabul was also addressed by a women’s rights activist, Selay Ghafa, and a representative from the Afghan Civil Society Forum, Zia Mobalegh.

Ms. Ghafa said the acts of violence against women in Afghanistan were actually “crimes against women”, calling on the international community to do more to protect Afghan women from increasing violence.

Mr. Mobalegh said a “family law”, as suggested by Article 54 of the Afghan Constitution, should be enacted to protect women from domestic violence.

The UNAMA Director of human rights said referring the cases of violence against women to traditional conflict resolution mechanisms such as jirgas (unofficial assemblies of local elders) and shuras (local councils), undermining implementation of the EVAW law and reinforced harmful practices.

“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,” said Ms. Gagnon.

The report has 29 recommendations to the Government of Afghanistan and its international partners urging them to ensure that protection of women’s rights are an integral part of peace and reconciliation efforts and the country’s political, economic and security strategies.

Human Rights Day marked in provinces

The Human Rights Day was marked in several provinces across Afghanistan, with Afghan poets reciting poems calling for an end to civilian casualties in northeastern Kunduz, and a radio and television round-table organized in southeastern Gardez.

In Jalalabad, the capital of eastern Nangarhar province, the Human Rights Day ceremony turned into a mourning event as its neighbouring Laghman province lost the head of its Department of Women’s Affairs, Najia Seddiqi, on the same morning.

Speaking at the ceremony which was attended by members of the civil society, women, youth, Government officials and representatives from UN agencies, Rafiullah Baidar of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said the number of cases of human rights violations increased by 20 per cent this year as compared to the previous year and the number of violence against women cases increased by 30 per cent.

During a meeting with UNAMA, female members of the Nangarhar Provincial Council said threats and intimidation had become their parts of life while calling on the Government and the international community to ensure their security.

In the Kunduz event, local poets recited their poems under the theme “Say No To Civilian Casualties” yesterday. UNAMA Head of Office for the north-eastern region, Simon Hermes, also recited a poem in English calling for joint efforts by all for a better future of Afghanistan.

Sayed Karim Talash of AIHRC said every group involved in conflict should be “pressured” to commit to protecting civilians.

“It is very important that the poets explain the pain of their people through the poem language and it is best way of criticism,” said Abdul Fatah Kaleem, a representative of the Kunduz Governor’s Office.

In Gardez and Khost, UNAMA helped organize a round-table with a human rights activist, a religious scholar and representatives from the AIHRC, the Provincial Council and the civil society to be aired by the local radio and television stations, yesterday.

“If we profess Islam, we admit the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Maulawi Sardar Mohammad, the religious scholar.

The participants pointed out that harmful traditional practices, illiteracy, poverty, lack of access to the justice and insecurity are the major factors contributing to the human rights violations in the region.

In Herat, over 300 people gathered at a ceremony organized to mark the International Human Rights Day. Besides speeches, the ceremony saw screening of a UNAMA documentary on violence against women and a performance by a local theatre group.

In his speech, Abdul Qadir Rahimi of the AIHRC said the Human Rights Day was the moment to remember all Afghan victims of war.

The Head of UNAMA’s Western Regional Office, Andrew MacGregor, said the Afghans wanted to be involved in the political life of the country.

At a ceremony in Bamyan province, the AIHRC Head of Bamyan, Abdul Ahad Farzam, highlighted the need for transitional justice in the peace process towards the attainment of sustainable peace. Governor Dr. Habiba Sarabi called on the international community to continue supporting Afghanistan.


(To read original article, visit this United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan link)

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