Thursday, December 31, 2009
STATEMENT BY KAI EIDE, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR AFGHANISTAN
Saturday, December 19, 2009
New York) - Eight years after the fall of the Taliban, women and girls suffer high levels of violence and discrimination and have poor access to justice and education, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The Afghan government has also failed to bring killers of prominent women in public life to justice, creating an environment of impunity for those who target women.
The 96-page report, "We Have the Promises of the World: Women's Rights in Afghanistan," details emblematic cases of ongoing rights violations in five areas: attacks on women in public life; violence against women; child and forced marriage; access to justice; and girls' access to secondary education.
"The situation for Afghan women and girls is dire and could deteriorate," said Rachel Reid, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. "While the world focuses on the Obama administration's new security strategy, it's critical to make sure that women's and girls' rights don't just get lip service while being pushed to the bottom of the list by the government and donors."
While the plight of women and girls under the Taliban was used to help justify the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, women's rights have not been a consistent priority of the government or its international backers. With fundamentalist factions in government gathering strength, the insurgency gaining ground, and some form of reconciliation with Taliban factions firmly on the horizon, the gains made by Afghan women and girls since 2001 in areas such as education, work, and freedom of movement are under serious threat.
"Women are not a priority for our own government or the international community," Shinkai Karokhail, a member of Parliament, told Human Rights Watch. "We've been forgotten."
Women in public life are subject to routine threats and intimidation. Several high profile women have been assassinated, but their killers have not been brought to justice. When Sitara Achakzai, an outspoken and courageous human rights defender and politician, was murdered in April 2009, her death was another warning to all women who are active in public life.
High profile women interviewed for this report say that they feel they are not taken seriously when they report threats. One member of parliament who, like some others, spoke anonymously because of the danger they face, told Human Rights Watch:
"I've had so many threats. I report them sometimes, but the authorities tell me not to make enemies, to keep quiet. But how can I stop talking about women's rights and human rights?"
A woman police officer who has received death threats said:
"They told me that they will kill my daughters. Every minute I'm afraid. I can never go home - the government cannot protect me there. My old life is over."
One nationwide survey of levels of violence against Afghan women found that 52 percent of respondents experienced physical violence, and 17 percent reported sexual violence. Yet because of social and legal obstacles to accessing justice, few women and girls report violence to the authorities. These barriers are particularly formidable in rape cases. Although women activists and members of parliament pushed hard and succeeded in putting rape on the statute books this year for the first time, the government has shown little willingness to treat each case as a serious crime or to engage in a public education campaign to change attitudes.
The lack of justice compounds women's vulnerability. One woman who was gang raped by a well connected local commander found that after a long fight to bring her rapists to justice, they were freed by a presidential decree. Soon after in 2009, her husband was assassinated. The woman told Human Rights Watch that he was killed because he had battled for her rights:
"I have lost my son, my honor, and now my husband," she said. "But I am just a poor woman, so who will listen to me?"
Surveys suggest that in more than half of all marriages, the wives are under age 16, and 70 to 80 percent of marriages take place without the consent of the woman or girl. These practices underlie many of the problems faced by women and girls, as there is a strong correlation between domestic violence and early and forced marriage.
A 13-year-old girl who was forced into marriage explained to Human Rights Watch that after she dared to escape she was hunted by her husband's family: "They came and asked for me to come back. I said no; they kept coming. I always say no... I can't go back. They want to kill me." Women activists who gave the girl shelter were denounced in parliament. Years later, the young woman is still fighting for a legal separation from her illegal marriage.
This case is just one in the report that illustrates the fundamental problem faced by women and girls of lack of access to justice. Studies suggest that more than half the women and girls in detention are being held for "moral crimes," such as adultery or running away from home, despite the fact that running away from home is not a crime in Afghan law or Sharia. But whether it is a high-profile woman under threat, a young woman who wants to escape a child marriage, or a victim of rape who wants to see the perpetrator punished, the response from the police or courts is often hostile.
"Police and judges see violence against women as legitimate so they do not prosecute cases," Dr. Soraya Sobhrang of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission told Human Rights Watch.
Law reforms that protect women's rights are important, but leadership is also required to help shift attitudes and prevent abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
"The government needs to take its responsibility to protect women and girls seriously," Reid said. "President Hamid Karzai has a lot of work to do to restore his reputation as a moderate on women's rights."
After the destruction of many girls' schools by the Taliban, education for girls became the most symbolic element of the international donor effort in Afghanistan. Despite significant gains, stark gender disparities remain. The majority of girls still do not attend primary school. A dismal 11 percent of secondary-school-age girls are enrolled in grades seven through nine. Only 4 percent of girls make it to grades 10 through 12. While the number of both boys and girls attending school drops dramatically at the secondary school level, the decline is much more pronounced for girls.
The diminishing status of women's rights in Afghanistan was forced back onto the agenda in March when the discriminatory Shia Personal Status law was passed by parliament and signed by Karzai. Faced with national and international protests, Karzai allowed the law to be amended, but many egregious articles remain that impose drastic restrictions upon Shia women, including the requirement that wives seek their husbands' permission before leaving home except for unspecified "reasonable legal reasons," and granting child custody rights solely to fathers and grandfathers.
"We welcomed the international community's words on the Shia law - really - they said many beautiful things, as they did in 2001" said Wazhma Frogh, women's rights activist. "We have the promises of the world. But still we wait to see what more they will do."
Karzai should revise the law to protect women's rights fully and appoint women who have been active defenders of women's rights to positions of power, Human Rights Watch said.
"The Shia law provided a timely reminder of how vulnerable Afghan women are to political deals and broken promises," Reid said. "Karzai should begin his new presidency with a clear signal to women that his will be a government that wants to advance equality."
Key Recommendations of "We Have the Promises of the World: Women's rights in Afghanistan"
- The government and donors should make the promotion and protection of women's rights a main priority of the country's reconstruction and a central pillar of their political, economic, and security strategies.
- The government, with the support of donors, should embark on a large-scale awareness campaign to ensure that rape is understood to be a crime by law enforcement agencies, judges, parliament, civil servants, and the Afghan public. The campaign should also aim to reduce the stigmatization of victims of rape.
- The government should make marriage registration more widely available and compulsory.
- The president should order the release of, and offer an apology and compensation to, all women and girls wrongfully detained on the charge of "running away from home."
- The government, with the support of donors, should increase the number and geographic coverage of girls' secondary classes by building more girls' secondary schools, and ensure the recruitment and training of female teachers is accelerated.
- The government, with the support of the UN and other donors, should prioritize security for women candidates and voters in planning for the 2010 parliamentary elections.
- International donors and the United Nations, in conjunction with the Ministry of Women's Affairs, should conduct a full gender audit of all spending in Afghanistan.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
I’m a human like you!
By Zahra Sadat / Translated by Basir Bita
In a warm afternoon of fall, there were two guards talking with one another inside entrance of Human Rights Commission and, right in front of them there were a few men sunbathing. I straddled much faster to get the office, I’m working in, sooner. All of a sudden, a man wearing a threadbare, broken and scar in his forehead coming down his tears, making his face more emotional turned my eye-side and stopped me.
Scratching his stick on the street, walking by an invisible power, I, unintentionally, took some coins out of my pocket and handed him. He said nothing in response, starring innocently down, but he could no longer keep silence and blasted out.
“I’m sick.” He said in a very low tone.
“What happened to your forehead?” I asked while staring. He blasted out as if he found what he was in search during all his life.
“I went to Human Rights Commission.” He said, clearing streaming his tears. “I told them about the situation of my life and that I’m sick. They answered me, get away from our face. I told them, doctors believed I would recover as soon as I go abroad. Right after being recovered I would start working because I have six children. I would no longer let them be illiterate, prevent them to start begging. They said we can do nothing for you, why don’t you go Red Cross Office? This is out of our duty. I went there not only once but over again, but they answered as you do. Human Right Commission employee interrupted saying we do something else; that’s out of our responsibility. As leaving the commission, I felt down because my mind was bewildered, even I didn’t know what to do where to go.
Pity! Pity! “What do you do?” I asked him. “You can do nothing?” He notoriously answered, I can do anything if get a little better. Weekly, I have to spend more than 1500 Afs going to and coming back from Bagram if we don’t count the debts I have to pay. Nobody cares about us. I went to religious leaders, but nobody paid me attention. After waiting a long time to meet Mula Mohseni, a famous religious leader, he made me more depressed saying I, myself have to pay my debts. “God bless you”. He told me, “you’re used to beg”. “No, I’m not.” I told. “Only help me to become better. I would work then. Have you ever thought what would happen to my family if I was dead?” I showed him prescription and medical letters. He mocked me saying I would give you half of Afghanistan if you pay me only 20000 Afs. You are used to buy a cow’s entrails stinking, coming to Mula Mohseni. Oh, this made me regretful.
One day I got to Muhaqeq. He told, we would cure you through Red Cross. This was a momentary morale. But in other turns, meaning, for other times, they only gave me little money in order to make me oblivious. I went somewhere else, and I was replied, here is where we play political affairs not a charity. When I go a charity or places like these, I hope I would never come to exist. But when I think of my family I become confused. I have to bear and live as I’ve done so far when Human Rights Commission, Red Cross, my religious leader and others don’t care about me.
I told to my self, he’s right. How could our leaders stay against each other black propagandizing if they help people like me?
There is a great deal of people living as Faqir Ali, but no Afghan official worry about such cases in Afghanistan. We hope at least you, as a reader, could help one of our tortured and suffering Afghans.
Faqir Alis No: 0093 700239122
His Bank Account No: 100803100070921
Bank Name: Bakhtar Bank Afghanistan.
Friday, December 11, 2009
We all know what happens in Somalia, Afghanistan, Eritrea and many other countries devastated by war. At the heart of havoc, more victims are, as always unfortunately happens, children. They believe too often that when they reach Europe, the right to a peaceful life is guaranteed, because there are rules that expressly protect their rights. Unfortunately this is not true.
In Greece, a boy of only nine years old, too mature for his age, told us that when he had left Afghanistan he believed his troubles would be left behind; and only now he understands that the real problems are just beginning. This child still lives in the middle of a street in Athens, and his testimony was recorded during the course of an interview we conducted last August, when we went to Greece to conduct a journalistic investigation into the Afghan refugee situation.
There, we unfortunately saw the most serious violations of human rights experienced of all refugees, including Somalis, Eritreans, Iraqis, and Iranians, not just those from Afghanistan.
But here we want to dwell on the most intolerant part of the story: the situation of children. Sixty families are currently living on the streets of Athens, many of them in Athiki Park, and inside the sewers near the train station. Among them are babies who need healthcare. Sometimes you see them in the center when the market ends, picking up discarded fruit and vegetables from the asphalt, or rummaging through the garbage to find anything edible.
We had the opportunity to interview some of these families, who although a bit reluctant, granted us brief interviews. They tell of a continuous coming and going of European journalists who want to know what is happening in Greece. The information seems to fall on deaf ears, and the situation does not change; it only gets worse.
The repeated attacks in the park by armed groups of extreme right wingers against foreigners exposes these families daily to real physical danger, as real as what we had the misfortune to witness; the stabbing in the centre of Athiki of a young Afghan, and the beating of others (including one woman).
The question now is: Where are the Greek police in this? We discover the answer, noting the indifference and the support, of the "police," who in situations of physical, psychological and verbal attacks on refugees, suddenly forget their duties and international law. Another fact that emerges during the interview is that when families visit a hospital to request medical attention for their children, it will be only be granted after obtaining the fingerprints of the child; thereby limiting its refugee options to the hell of Greece.
But there’s more: at the time of our stay we discovered the fact that about thirty families with small children were in prison for trying to leave their miserable stopover in Greece, on ships heading to Italy. Is it legal to detain minors in prison? Given the situation, maybe yes, in Greece. Currently, nearly 350 people (number provided by the president of Nur, which provides support and advice to Afghan refugees) have returned to Patras to hide in a forest. Among them are also unaccompanied children, some just nine years old. This is because the Greek police pursue all refugees, and in Greece the right to asylum does not exist.
After interviewing members of Doctors Without Borders and members of the Greek humanitarian association, Kinisi, everyone seems to be very worried about the situation. In the last action taken on asylum by the Greek government, which is socialist in name only, entire families, men, elderly, women and children were deported en masse to Afghanistan, in deliberate defiance of international conventions and treaties. Many people have contacted us recently. They fear for their children and now that winter is upon them, the situation is becoming more grim. How can we respond to these people?
Many articles have been written about this situation, but always, too little attention is paid to these shameful human rights violations of adults and especially of the children. Conventions, declarations, and laws exist— the problem is that they are not observed.
We believe now that perhaps the only possibility is to unite our forces, because this must not be allowed to occur before our eyes—that Greece, which has the nerve to call itself “Europe” and attend “European Councils” acts in such an illegal and inhumane way. It is time to put pressure on the media and governments to change the situation. Now you also know. Don’t be a hidden accomplice of their deadly silences.
Tell the Greek government to honor international laws on fair and humane treatment of Afghan refugees who have landed in their country.
In the United States, contact The Embassy of Greece in Washington, D.C. Phone: (202) 939 1300, Fax: (202) 939 1324 and (202) 939 1562 E-mail at Greece@greekembassy.org