Karzai rejects criticism of women's law

6th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Karzai has come under heavy fire from his allies, including the United States, Canada and France, for signing a law that Western media reports say means Shiite women cannot refuse their husbands sex or leave the house without their spouses' permission.

Kabul -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai Saturday rejected Western criticism that a new law imposes Taliban-style restrictions on women but ordered a review and vowed to correct anything of concern.

Karzai has come under heavy fire from his allies, including the United States, Canada and France, for signing a law that Western media reports say means Shiite women cannot refuse their husbands sex or leave the house without their spouses' permission.

US President Barack Obama on Saturday criticised the new law and said it was a key topic of conversation at NATO's 60th anniversary summit in Strasbourg.

"I think this law is abhorrent," Obama said, adding that the views of his administration had been made clear to the Afghan government.

Earlier, Karzai told reporters concerns may have arisen because of mistranslation or misinterpretation.

"Issues that have been mentioned in the Western media, such things are not in our law," he said, pledging nonetheless to have the document reviewed.

"But the minister of justice will study the whole law, every item of it, very, very carefully."

The president said that if any cause for concern was found the ulema (religious clerics) would be consulted and the law sent back to the parliament.

He said anything found contrary to Afghanistan's post-Taliban constitution -- which enshrines gender equality -- would "no doubt" be corrected.

"This is something we are also serious about and should not allow," he added.

The Shiite Personal Status Law covers Afghanistan's Shiite minority, which makes up about 15 percent of the population, and was drafted on their request because of certain differences with Sunnis about Islamic Sharia law.

The UN human rights chief in Afghanistan, Navi Pillay, on Thursday urged the Afghan government to revoke new legislation, saying it was "reminiscent of the decrees made by the Taliban regime".

The ultraconservative 1996-2001 Taliban government stopped girls from going to school and women from working, and forced women to wear all-covering burkas and have a male relative as an escort when they left the house.

Under the new regulations, Shiite women would be forbidden from leaving their homes except for "legitimate purposes", Pillay's office said.

They are also banned from working or being educated without their husbands' permission, it said.

Italy could bring home its female soldiers in the NATO force in Afghanistan in protest at the new law, a senior Italian defence official said Saturday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Strasbourg, the official said the 30 female members of the 2,665-strong Italian contingent could be withdrawn. "We will decide by Easter (April 12) on this question," he added.

Canada has demanded an explanation for the "extremely alarming" legislation and France said it was "shocked".

But Afghan lawmakers told AFP the law signed by Karzai made key changes to the draft -- including the draft clause that a woman could not leave the house without her husband's permission except in cases of emergency.

The new version says she can leave the home for any lawful reasons or need, they said.

It also says a woman could refuse to have sex with her husband for "lawful and logical" reasons, parliamentarians said.

The final version of the law has yet to be published.

Karzai, who is expected to run for re-election in August, questioned the timing of British media reports on the issue, including one which said he was "legalising rape", as he met allies in The Hague last week.

The claim that the law legalises marital rape was included in a briefing document by the UN women's agency, or UNIFEM, and based on the draft law.

UNIFEM says it knows the version signed by Karzai includes several changes but it had not yet been able to study them.

Nonetheless it "remains seriously concerned about the potential impact of this law on the women of Afghanistan," it said in a statement last week.

AFP/Expatica

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