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‘Impunity practice must end in Afghanistan’

AT-KABUL: At an event hosted by top UN officials, prominent women’s rights activists and civil society leaders spoke out against Afghanistan’s traditional mediation practices, stressing that serious crimes against women and girls continue to go unpunished in the country’s justice system, despite longstanding legal mechanisms set up to address them.

The event, hosted by UN envoy Tadamichi Yamamoto and UNAMA Human Rights Chief Danielle Bell, brought together a brain-trust of prominent Afghan women from civil society and activist groups to discuss practical measures to take forward the findings in UNAMA’s latest report about women’s access to justice mechanisms in Afghanistan.

The new report, ‘Injustice and Impunity: Mediation of Criminal Offences of Violence against Women,’ documents the individual experiences of Afghan women, survivors of violence across the country, between August 2015 and December 2017, and identifies the human rights implications of the widespread use of mediation in cases of violence against women. The report describes how mediation deprives women of access to justice and hinders the realization of their fundamental rights.

In opening the discussion, Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of UNAMA, said it is important for Afghanistan, along with the international community, to “do much more to mobilize everyone in society” to fight for women’s justice. “It is a matter of both changing minds and addressing how laws are implemented,” he said.

The 16 activists and civil society leaders who had gathered for the event discussed what they called a disturbing pattern of unpunished violence against women and girls in Afghanistan, and described the situation as worsening in some regions.

“In the north, there are a growing number of warlords committing rape and abduction, and then influencing the legal system to avoid prosecution,” said one of the activists, as the conversation moved to focus on strategies to improve the situation for Afghan women.

The group called on the United Nations to help counter what they described as diminishing support for women’s shelters, and discussed practical methods to improve the implementation of Afghanistan’s legislation on the elimination of violence against women.

The formal Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) Law, which came into force in 2009, led to EVAW prosecutors being put in place in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, with special EVAW courts established in key urban centers. Despite these developments, significant gaps remain in enabling women to access legal remedies when faced with violence.

UNAMA’s new report, released on 29 May, notes that the existing legal framework and court adjudication processes in Afghanistan do provide options for women facing violence. However, it emphasises that mediation cannot replace the judicial protections provided to women by the constitution and laws of Afghanistan.

“The use of mediation in criminal cases serves not only to normalise violence against women but also to undermine confidence in the criminal justice system as a whole,” said Yamamoto in a statement launching the report.

The UN officials listened closely to the Afghan women on the issues they highlighted and the recommendations they made, including plans to establish a working group to engage the government on the draft Mediation Law, and expressed full support for their efforts in ensuring the full implementation of Afghanistan’s EVAW Law and the related provisions in the country’s penal code.

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