Today, December 10, is International Human Rights Day. Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan are calling for assurances from the Government of Canada to ensure that accountability measures are taken to prevent any Canadian funding to the Government of Afghanistan from inadvertently contributing to legal or judicial changes in Afghanistan that will be a setback for human rights, writes Madeliene Tarasick, President of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.
In November, a working group on sharia law within the Ministry of Justice of Afghanistan proposed draft revisions for punishments for “moral crimes” in its new penal code, including stoning to death. The draft provisions specified that married women and men who engage in sexual intercourse outside of marriage would be stoned to death in a public location, and whipping of 100 lashes would be proscribed for those unmarried men and women who engage in sexual intercourse.
Fortunately, in response to international media coverage and outrage from human rights and women’s organizations, President Hamid Karzai quickly announced that stoning to death would not be included in the new penal code.
Nevertheless, it is great cause for concern that elements within the Afghan Government were advocating for the return of a barbaric practice that clearly represents an egregious and blatant violation of human rights. Officially sanctioned and routine stonings to death were emblematic of the pariah Taliban’s infamously crude and brutal “justice” system, the end of which was celebrated by the people of Afghanistan.
It hardly needs to be said that stoning to death is an inherently cruel practice that no human being should be subjected to under any circumstances, for any crime. It is unacceptable that in the 21st century this practice continues to occur in several countries, an affront to the spirit and intent of international human rights law and the establishment of an enlightened community of nations committed to valuing and protecting human life, in the aftermath of the Second World War.
However, it is even more atrocious that stoning to death could be proposed in a country where the government is financed almost entirely by members of that community of nations, including Canada.
The Government of Afghanistan has been on the receiving end of billions of dollars of aid, one of the most ambitious and broad-based efforts of international cooperation ever mounted. Yet, the Karzai-led administration has frequently and flagrantly violated its own international legal commitments, domestic criminal and civil law, and human rights policy objectives. The country’s own Constitution (Article 7) stipulates that “the State shall observe the United Nations Charter, inter-state agreements, as well as international treaties to which Afghanistan has joined, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Afghanistan is also a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention Against Torture, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among others.
In response to these violations, donor countries have often raised objections through diplomatic means, but have failed to enforce any robust accountability measures upon the Afghan Government.
In particular, Canada and other donor governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on legal and judicial reform in Afghanistan. The Afghan Ministry of Justice is almost entirely financed by international donors, and yet a working group within that ministry advocated for a return to the punishment of stoning to death.
Women are particularly at risk in the face of laws that target “moral crimes” and seek to regulate and repress the sexual behaviour of citizens. The justice sector is systematically failing to protect the rights, dignity, and lives of women and girls in Afghanistan, and this most recent example demonstrates that the current Afghan administration is not serious about its promises to improve the dismal status of women, to protect human rights, and to reform the justice sector.
While Afghanistan is indeed a sovereign country and must gain the capacity to legislate its own laws, its Government, including its legal system, is financed by the taxpayers of foreign nations. Donor governments must ensure that their funds are not used to support legal and judicial practices that violate international human rights law. Norway has now cut its aid to Afghanistan on the grounds that it failed to meet its commitments to protect women’s rights and fight corruption. Indeed, Human Rights Watch is calling for donors to withhold funds if the proposed provisions in the penal code are passed. The Government of Canada should consider the same.
Our organization is committed to promoting and protecting the basic human rights of Afghan women and girls. We will continue working towards this task regardless of what 2014 brings, and we urge the Government of Canada to continue its support for gender equality and human rights objectives in Afghanistan. To this end, Canada must insist that the government of Afghanistan uphold its international legal commitments to human rights protection, and should make all existing and future funding commitments that flow through the Afghan government contingent on strict accountability measures to this end.
It is essential that Canada stand by the people of Afghanistan to ensure that their government works to reform and progress its legal system, rather than regress it. We owe nothing less to both Afghans and Canadians.