Afghan women fear onerous new rape law in works

OTTAWA - A new marital rape law broader than one that sparked international outrage may be in the works in Afghanistan and Canadians must focus on the plight of women, a House of Commons committee was warned on Tuesday.

OTTAWA - A new marital rape law broader than one that sparked international outrage may be in the works in Afghanistan and Canadians must focus on the plight of women, a House of Commons committee was warned on Tuesday.

Testifying by video conference from Kabul, an Afghan human-rights campaigner pleaded for international attention and suggested backroom political deals in the Afghan parliament could further set back women's rights in the country.

"This situation is (a) very, very bad situation ... (people) are losing their hope for the future," said Soraya Sobharang, a prominent member of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

"We need your support. Please don't forget us."

She said she fears draft legislation now before the Afghan parliament will be modelled after a separate law for the country's Shiite minority which effectively legalized rape within marriage.

President Hamid Karzai signed a law in March that gave Shiite men sweeping rights over their wives, including the right to demand sex and restrictions on when women could leave their homes.

The measures outraged the international community and prompted the Afghan government to promise to review the law.

But Sobharang said she fears the male-dominated parliament will force through similar measures for the majority Sunni population and water down proposed legislation that cracks down on domestic violence.

"We are going back to a (time) like the Taliban situation in Afghanistan," said Sobharang, who noted her human-rights group had been warned months before the Shiite law was passed, but failed to persuade legislators to make significant changes.

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan and the European Union were also warned ahead of time about the legislation, but she described their reaction as "passive."

The NDP's foreign affairs critic said he's concerned that the international community - particularly Canada - have been placated by Karzai's promise to review the existing law.

Paul Dewar said the issue has not been resolved.

"We dropped the ball once and are we going to drop the ball again?" said Dewar, who noted Afghanistan is entering a presidential election campaign.

Afghanistan's constitution recognizes equal rights for men and women, but Sobharang questioned the reliability of the country's courts, which are composed entirely of men who have been accused of favouring husbands in divorce cases.

The security situation in Kandahar, where Canada has 2,850 troops battling Taliban militants, is "very dark," Sobharang said.

Women are often afraid of going out of their homes and concern escalated sharply in the aftermath of a vicious attack last November where terrorists sprayed acid into the faces of 15 girls outside their school.

Sobhrang said: "There is really no security in Kandahar."

The dramatic slide in security has been acknowledged by the Canadian military, which has over the last year been facing a more brutal breed of Taliban fighters, who have few ties to the community and no qualms about killing innocent civilians.

The United States is pouring more than 21,000 fresh troops and trainers for the Afghan army into the country this year. It's hoped the extra soldiers will restore order.

 
 
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