Afghanistan - Hamid Karzai orders changes to draft law amid fears for Afghan women

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President's move comes after west and human rights groups warn ban on relatives testifying would shield domestic abusers.

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has ordered changes to a draft of new criminal legislation in response to an international outcry warning it would severely limit justice for victims of domestic abuse.

Afghanistan's parliament had passed a criminal procedure code that would ban relatives from testifying against alleged abusers.

While the legislation awaited signature from Karzai, human rights organisations and several of Afghanistan's western allies – including the US and EU – voiced strong concerns that it would effectively curb prosecutions involving violence against women, where relatives are often the only witnesses.

Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said the president was "well aware" of the critiques and reports, and had decided at a cabinet meeting on Monday that the legislation must be changed.

"We are not going to allow any such law to come into force unless the necessary amendments are made," Faizi said, suggesting there may have been issues with how the area in question – article 26 – had been translated into English.

While the ministry of justice will decide how to amend the text, Faizi stressed the resulting legislation would be clear.

"This law will not bar any relative or any family member to testify against each other or another member of [the] family," he said. "It will be up to them. They will have the freedom."

Women in Afghanistan have won back many of the rights they lost during Taliban rule, from 1996 to 2001, when the Islamic movement was ousted from power by a US invasion after the September 11 attacks.

Under the Taliban, girls were barred from attending school and women were forced to stay indoors and cover their heads and faces with burqas.

There are fears that those regained freedoms may shrink as foreign forces depart by the end of this year, and much of the international aid and assistance they brought to Afghanistan goes with them.

SOURCE: The Guardian, February 17th 2014: