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Karzai rejects criticism of controversial bill allowing Shia family law

Article published on the 2009-04-04 Latest update 2009-04-04 14:39 TU

Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a news conference in Kabul, 4 April 2009(Photo: Reuters)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a news conference in Kabul, 4 April 2009
(Photo: Reuters)

Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai denied Saturday that a bill he recently signed into law would return Taliban-style restrictions on women. Some western powers and the United Nations have expressed concern about the Shiite Personal Status Law, and Italy said it would consider pulling its female troops from Afghanistan in protest. It is unclear what exactly is in the law, which as not yet been made public.

"Issues that have been mentioned in the Western media, such things are not in our law," said Karzai at a news conference Saturday. He said that everything in the law would be reviewed and that it would be sent back to Parliament if there was any cause for concern.

The Afghan constitution guarantees gender equality. The new bill would allow the country’s Shia-Moslems minority – some 10 to 15 per cent of the population – to have their own family law.

Some lawmakers say Karzai approved the bill to appeal to Shia voters ahead of August’s presidential polls, in which he will be running for re-election.

The bill has not yet been made public, so it is unclear what it really says, but according to some human rights groups and others who have seen parts, it would affect women’s movements outside their homes, child custody and inheritance rights, among other things.

Critics of the law say it will severely limit many aspects of women’s lives, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says it “explicitly permits marital rape”

“This is another clear indication that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is getting worse not better,” said Commissioner Navi Pillay in a statement. “For a new law in 2009 to target women in this way is extraordinary, reprehensible and reminiscent of the decrees made by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the 1990s.”

On the sidelines of the Nato summit in Strasbourg, France, a senior Italian defence official said that Italy would consider taking out the 30 women of the 2,665 Italian troops in Afghanistan, in protest of the law.