Afghanistan: President Rejects Law That Shields Perpetrators of Domestic Violence From Prosecution

On February 17, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered parliament to amend a provision that prevents family members from testifying against their relatives in Afghan courts.  The provision, Article 26 of a new criminal code approved by the Afghan Parliament in January of 2014, would have made it almost impossible to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence given the inadequacy of forensic evidence in the country and the lack of any clear definition of who qualifies as a “relative”. Much of the violence against women in Afghanistan occurs within the family, with family members regularly witnessing and committing acts of violence, including domestic abuse and forced marriage. As written, Article 26 would bar most victim-survivors of domestic violence from acting as witnesses in their own court cases, and would not allow other family members of the accused such as mothers, brothers, sisters, or even more distant relatives to testify to violence even if they were willing and able to do so.
 
The changes to the criminal code included in Article 26 sparked widespread domestic and international protest, as many government and human rights organizations were concerned that Article 26 would reverse the limited gains achieved by Afghan women in recent years, including the 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women Act (EVAW) that criminalized many forms of violence and abuse of women. President Karzai has called for Article 26 to be changed, but it is not yet clear whether an updated version of the Article will be strong enough to hold perpetrators of violence accountable, particularly if the definition of relative remains vague and family witnesses cannot be compelled to testify on behalf of victims.
 
Compiled from:  Afghanistan:  President Karzai blocks law protecting perpetrators of domestic violence, Amnesty International (February 17, 2014);  Afghan domestic violence law draws international outcry, CBS News (February 11, 2014);  Graham-Harrison, Emma, Hamid Karzai orders changes to draft law amid fears for Afghan women, The Guardian (February 17, 2014)