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AFGHANISTAN: Call for tougher laws on rape

KABUL, 8 July 2009 (IRIN) - Rapists in Afghanistan too often get away with their crime, whilst rape victims lack access to justice and experience stigma and shame, according to a report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“In some areas, alleged or convicted rapists are, or have links to, powerful commanders, members of illegal armed groups, or criminal gangs, as well as powerful individuals whose influence protects them from arrest and prosecution,” said the report entitled Silence is Violence, launched in Kabul on 8 July.

“Women and girls are at risk of rape in their homes, their communities and in detention facilities,” it said.

Norah Niland, the OHCHR representative in Afghanistan, said shame and stigma were attached to rape victims rather than to the perpetrators.

Rapists have often managed to evade prosecution and punishment because Afghan law, the penal code and other civil laws lack clarity on the crime.

“There is an urgent need to criminalize rape in Afghan laws,” said Niland who also heads the human rights unit of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

Harmful practices

Some traditional practices also serve to blur rape as a crime. Inter-clan or inter-family disputes are sometimes eased or resolved by a suspected rapist being married off to his victim as a form of social cover-up.

`Baad’, the practice of handing over a girl from one’s own family to placate an aggrieved party, could provide cover for rapists: The suspected rapist or his family clears his alleged crime by giving a girl to one of the sons of the victim’s family.

More importantly, the justice system appears to be inadequate.

“When a victim of rape goes to the police for justice, the police rape her again and say ‘she is a whore’ but they never say `whore’ to a rapist,” said Sima Samar, chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

Women in Afghanistan are subject to numerous other forms of physical and psychological violence apart from rape or sexual violence, and are frequently deprived of their basic human rights, according to the OHCHR report, which also said attitudes to rape need to change.

“There is a dramatic and urgent need for the government of Afghanistan and society to question attitudes to rape, the larger problem of violence against women, and their complicity in a crime that destroys the life of numerous victims,” said the report.

Shabana Azmi, an Indian actress and social activist who attended the report’s launch in Kabul, said Afghanistan’s high maternal mortality rate, female illiteracy and endemic violence against women were unacceptable and inexcusable.

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Theme (s): Gender Issues, Governance, Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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