Karzai Pledges Changes to Shia Personal Status Law
Friday, May 15, 2009 11:39 AM

President Hamid Karzai has stated the Afghan Justice Ministry will amend a controversial law that imposes harsh restrictions on the rights of Shia women in Afghanistan.  “I assure you that the laws of Afghanistan will be in complete harmony with the constitution of Afghanistan, and the human rights that we have adhered to in our constitution and in the principles of the international treaties," he said, speaking at a news conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  

The law, passed in February, applies to the minority population of Shia Muslims and was part of a 270-page piece of legislation written to grant them a separate family law based on traditional Shia jurisprudence.  The law contained rules forbidding women to leave their house, seek work, education or medical care without permission from a male relative.  It also stipulates a married Shia man has the right to have sex with his wife every fourth night, essentially legalizing marital rape.  

The provisions of the Shia Personal Status Law contradict the Afghan constitution, which guarantees equal rights for women.  It also contravenes the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to which Afghanistan is a state party.  Karzai explained he was unaware of the contentious articles when he signed the measure into law, and that he would try to have the amendments in place before Afghans go to the polls in August.

Human Rights Watch, however, has expressed concern that the promised review by the Afghan Justice Ministry will not be independent, since the reviewers are themselves from a conservative Shia background.

The law has provoked unprecedented marches and demonstrations by Afghan women, and has drawn sharp international criticism from governments, human rights organizations, women’s groups and the UN.

Compiled from:   “Afghanistan to amend controversial women’s law:  Karzai”,  CBCnews, 27 April 2009;  “Afghanistan to change controversial ‘rape’ law",  CNN.com/, 16 April 2009;  “Afghanistan:  New Law Threatens Women’s Freedom”Human Rights Watch, 14 April 2009;  “Afghan Women Secure Presidential Pledge to Amend ‘Marital Rape’ Law",  AdvocacyNet News Bulletin 184, 5 May 2009.