Measure Urges Afghan Leaders to Respect Women's Rights
Today, U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced a concurrent resolution in the Senate and House of Representatives calling on Afghanistan's leaders to repudiate a new Afghan law that includes provisions legalizing marital rape and imposing other Taliban-era restrictions on Shiite women in Afghanistan.
The resolution urges Afghan President Hamid Karzai to declare the widely criticized provisions unconstitutional and clearly state that they violate the basic rights of women. In a recent interview with CNN, President Karzai indicated that the Afghan government plans to revise the 270-page law.
The resolution is cosponsored in the Senate by Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Susan Collins (R-ME).
Senator Boxer said, "We stand with the hundreds of Afghan women who were pelted with stones and verbally abused last week as they marched to protest this abhorrent law. This law is a direct attack on individual freedom and a license to commit despicable acts against women in their homes."
"Afghanistan's full potential as a nation will be fully realized when the women of Afghanistan are freed from their sentence of silence'," said Senator Snowe. "This resolution sends a strong message to the women of Afghanistan that the United States is committed to paving the way for a new generation of Afghani women, actively participating and contributing to the all aspects of rebuilding their society."
"I am proud to stand united with my Senate colleagues today to show our steadfast commitment to support the women of Afghanistan," said Senator Mikulski, Dean of the Senate Women and member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Aid. "The Shiite Personal Status Law violates the basic human rights of women. American soldiers fight every day to help the Afghans create a stable and free nation that can protect and provide for its people. This is not the Afghanistan our brave men and women are fighting for. This law is an affront to the sacrifices they make every day. It cannot stand. The United States should do everything it can to encourage Afghanistan to respect the basic rights and welfare of women and children."
"We have stood by the women of Afghanistan as they fought the harsh rule of the Taliban, and we must stand by them now in the face of this law's fundamental violation of their human rights. All of Afghanistan will be better when women are given the protections and rights they deserve," said Senator Murray. "I join my colleagues in Congress and President Obama in condemning this law, and I call on President Karzai and the parliament of Afghanistan to repeal it immediately."
Congresswoman Maloney said, "We must stand with the women of Afghanistan in fierce opposition to any effort to limit the rights guaranteed to them in the Afghan constitution, or worse, relegate them to second-class status. I strongly urge President Karzai and the Afghan government to take every action necessary to ensure that this law never takes effect."
Congresswoman Biggert said, "This law exposes women to cruel and demeaning treatment. It has no place in any society. The women of Afghanistan deserve to know that their daughters will grow up in a culture of dignity, security, and basic freedoms."
"This resolution adds our voices to the worldwide outcry condemning a law that reduces women to property and subjects them to abuse. We stand firmly with Afghan women against such archaic tyranny," said Congresswoman Baldwin.
Under the law passed by the Afghan Parliament and signed by President Karzai last month, a Shiite woman would only be allowed to leave home for a "legitimate purpose" as defined by her husband. The law also says, "Unless the wife is ill, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of the husband," a provision that the United Nations and many human rights groups say legalizes marital rape.
On April 10, Senator Boxer along with her colleagues Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), wrote to Karzai urging him to reverse the law.
Following is the text of the concurrent House and Senate Resolution:
Expressing the sense of Congress that the Shi'ite Personal Status Law in Afghanistan violates the fundamental human rights of women and should be repealed;
Whereas in March 2009, the Shi'ite Personal Status Law was approved by the parliament of Afghanistan and signed by President Hamid Karzai;
Whereas according to the United Nations, the law legalizes marital rape by mandating that a wife cannot refuse sex to her husband unless she is ill;
Whereas the law also weakens mothers' rights in the event of a divorce and prohibits a woman from leaving her home unless her husband determines it is for a "legitimate purpose";
Whereas U.S. President Barack Obama has called the law "abhorrent" and stated that "there are certain basic principles that all nations should uphold, and respect for women and respect for their freedom and integrity is an important principle."
Whereas the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that the law represents a "huge step in the wrong direction" and is "extraordinary, reprehensible and reminiscent of the decrees made by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the 1990s."
Whereas, the Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has asserted that passage of the law could discourage European countries from contributing additional troops to help combat terrorism in the region;
Whereas President Karzai has instructed that the government and members of the clergy review the law and change any articles that are not in keeping with Afghanistan's Constitution and Islamic Sharia, yet has not made a concrete declaration that the provision legalizing marital rape and other provisions curtailing women's rights will be removed completely;
Whereas the law includes provisions that are fundamentally incompatible with Afghanistan's obligations under the various international instruments which it has ratified, as well as under its own Constitution;
Whereas Afghanistan is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which establishes the principle of nondiscrimination, including on the basis of sex, and states that men and women are entitled to equal rights to marriage, during marriage, and at its dissolution;
Whereas Afghanistan became a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which emphasizes the principle of self-determination, in that men and women may freely determine their political status as well as their economic, social, and cultural development;
Whereas Afghanistan acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which condemns discrimination against women in all its forms and reaffirms the equal rights and responsibilities of men and women during marriage and at its dissolution;
Whereas, notwithstanding any declarations or reservations made upon ratification of these various international conventions, Afghanistan is under an obligation not to act in any way which might defeat the object and purpose of these conventions, pursuant to the Vienna Convention of Treaties, which is widely recognized as embodying customary international law;
Whereas Article 22 of the Constitution of Afghanistan (2003) prohibits any kind of discrimination between and privilege among the citizens of Afghanistan and establishes the equal rights of all citizens before the law;
Whereas Article 54 of the Constitution of Afghanistan obligates the government to ensure the physical and psychological well-being of the family, especially of mothers and children;
Whereas the international community and the United States have a long-standing commitment to and interest in working with the Afghan people and government to re-establish respect for fundamental human rights and protect women's rights in Afghanistan;
Whereas the provisions in the Shi'ite Personal Status Law which restrict women's rights are diametrically opposed to those goals: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress -
1. Urges the Government of Afghanistan and President Hamid Karzai to declare the provision on marital rape and restrictions on women's freedom of movement unconstitutional and an erosion of Afghanistan's growth and development;
2. Supports President Karzai's decision to analyze the draft law and strongly urges him not to publish it on the grounds that it violates the Constitution of Afghanistan and the basic human rights of women.
3. Encourages the Secretary of State, the Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Ambassador-at-Large for International Women's Issues and the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan to consider and address the status of women's rights and security in Afghanistan to ensure that these rights are not being eroded through unjust laws, policies, or institutions;
4. Encourages the Government of Afghanistan to solicit information and advice from the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry for Women's Affairs, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and women-led NGOs to ensure that current and future legislation and official policies protect and uphold the equal rights of women, including through national campaigns to lead public discourse on the importance of women's status and rights to the overall stability of Afghanistan.