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Afghanistan: Rights Group Questions Women's Bill

A US-based rights watchdog said Friday an Afghan bill that "formalises discrimination" against Shiite women had become law and accused President Hamid Karzai of using it to win votes.

Human Rights Watch said it had learned that the bill had been published in the official Gazette on July 27, giving it the force of law.

"Afghanistan?s influential international supporters should insist that President Hamid Karzai act to amend the notorious law that formalises discrimination against Shia women," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

There was no official announcement and government officials could not be immediately reached to confirm the legislation's publication.

Karzai in April ordered the justice ministry to review the legislation, which he had already signed in March, after an outcry from Afghan and international groups which said it legalised Taliban-era restrictions on women.

Karzai, who is expected to win a second term at an election on August 20, said that any article which violated women's rights would be removed.

But Human Rights Watch said it had seen a final copy of the law and it contained "many regressive articles" while not being as severe as a draft version.

These include giving a husband the right to withdraw basic maintenance from his wife, including food, if she refuses his sexual demands and that guardianship of children is granted only to fathers and grandfathers.

It also requires women to get permission from their husbands to work and effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying "blood money" to the affected girl, the New York-based group said.

It accused Karzai of an "unthinkable" election deal with hardline Shiite leaders who wanted special legislation to cover family matters for their minority, in return for the support of fundamentalists at the ballot box.

The justice ministry has not announced the results of its review.

Shiites make up around 15 percent of Afghanistan's population.

Karzai, who has effectively ruled Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was ousted in the 2001 US-led invasion, is seen as the frontrunner for the elections, having secured the backing of various ethnic and religious leaders.

14 August 2009

Article License: Copyright - Article License Holder: AFP

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