Secretary-General calls on Afghanistan’s president to “abolish” controversial law

8 Apr 2009

Secretary-General calls on Afghanistan’s president to “abolish” controversial law

8 April 2009 - The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon has urged President Hamid Karzai to abolish a controversial family law which applies to Afghanistan’s minority Shi’a community members.


“I want to take this opportunity again, the laws which were taken in Afghanistan, I would urge again that the President of Afghanistan should abolish these laws which severely infringe on the basic human rights of women,” said Mr Ban after an informal session of the UN’s General Assembly.

Last week the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay called for the law’s repeal and described it as “extraordinary, reprehensible and reminiscent of the decrees made by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the 1990s.”

Not yet published, the law, which was passed by the two houses of Afghanistan’s parliament before being reportedly signed by President Karzai last month, regulates the personal status of the country’s minority Shi’a community members, including relations between men and women, divorce and property rights.

It reportedly denies Afghan Shi’a women the right to leave their homes except for ‘legitimate’ purposes; forbids them from working or receiving education without their husbands’ express permission; weakens mothers’ rights in the event of a divorce; and makes it impossible for wives to inherit houses and land from their husbands, even if husbands can inherit property from their wives.

Speaking today at news conference in Kabul with the President of Poland, President Karzai said: “We have already initiated procedures to correct, if there is anything that is of concern that should be changed. I had a meeting the day before yesterday with our senior most clergy and the Minister of Justice. This was raised in the cabinet as well and yesterday I issued a decree, an instruction rather, to see if there is any clause, any article in the law that is not in-keeping with the Afghan Constitution that it should be corrected in consultation with our clergy in accordance with the Constitution and our Islamic Sharia. So this has already been done.”

Afghanistan’s Shi’a community, composed mainly of the Hazara minority, comprises some 10 per cent of the country’s total population, and the new law has the strong support of the Hazaras’ male leadership, even though it has been vigorously opposed by others in the group as well as Afghan human rights campaigners.

There are concerns that the law will set precedents adversely affecting all Afghan women.

Addressing a question on a recent video showing a woman being flogged by the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat Valley Mr Ban said: “I read that article, and even though I didn’t see the video itself, just by reading this article about this flogging, this is just unacceptable, and I am glad that the Chief Justice of Pakistan has taken the right decision. While I appreciate different systems and traditions in many different countries, respecting and upholding basic human rights - this is most important. These are universally accepted and upheld principles which we must respect. Therefore, I would urge any Government leaders that they should fully respect human rights and humanitarian rights.”