Afghanistan + 1 more

Human rights: Women in Afghanistan, situation in Camp Ashraf, Special Court of Sierra Leone

(Extract)

In three resolutions adopted at the end of this week's Strasbourg plenary sessions, the European Parliament strongly condemns discrimination and violence against women in Afghanistan, voices concern at the possible closure of Camp Ashraf, Iraq, and expresses support for the Special Court of Sierra Leone.

Revise laws that discriminate against women in Afghanistan

In a resolution adopted by 388 votes to 4, with 7 abstentions, the EP calls for the revision of a draft law in Afghanistan on the personal status of Shiite women, which places severe restrictions on women's freedom of movement and legitimises 'marital rape'. It also urges the repeal of "all laws which give rise to discrimination against women and which breach the international treaties to which Afghanistan is a party".

According to the 2004 constitution of Afghanistan, "men and women have equal rights and duties before the law." In addition, "Afghanistan is a party to a number of international agreements on human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child", points out the EP.

However, the rights of women are being threatened by the draft law, which would affect around 15-20% of the Afghan population. Although it has not yet come into force as it has not been published in the Government Official Journal, it has been signed by the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai. Following criticism both within Afghanistan and from abroad, the law has been sent back to the Afghan Ministry of Justice so that its compatibility with Afghan law and with the international agreements signed by Afghanistan can be verified.

EU backing for Afghan women

The EU's strategy document on Afghanistan for 2007 - 2013 recognised gender equality and women's rights in particular as being vital to the development of Afghani society. The EP wants to encourage women in Afghanistan not only to participate in the August Presidential election but also to stand as candidates. In order to further support the promotion of women's rights, the EP is calling on the Commission to provide direct funding and assistance to the Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs.

Protection of human rights campaigners

Finally, the EP strongly condemns the deaths of a number of prominent women's rights activists, including Sitara Achakzai, Malai Kakar, Gul Pecha, and Abdul Aziz. MEPs are also appalled that the Afghan Supreme Court has upheld the 20-year prison sentence of journalist, Perwiz Kambakhsh, who wrote an article concerning women's rights under Islam, and are calling for his release. In light of these cases, the EP wants Afghan authorities to make all possible efforts to protect women "against sexual violence and other forms of gender related violence", and to ensure that the perpetrators of such acts are brought to justice.

Backing needed for the Special Court of Sierra Leone

MEPs want to ensure that anyone convicted of human rights abuses by the Special Court of Sierra Leone actually serves their sentence. There is currently a risk that this will not happen, which would defeat the purpose of the court. Other international tribunals face similar problems, thereby jeopardising the very idea of international justice.

The Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL) was established by the UN in 2000, in order to bring to justice those who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity. The mandate of the Court is due to end in 2010, but the Government of Sierra Leone has indicated that it will not be able to enforce the sentences of those convicted.

Today's EP resolution on the SCSL was adopted by 381 votes to 4, with 7 abstentions. It urges the Council and the EU Member States to find a solution together with the SCSL "in order to ensure that the persons convicted serve their sentences, without which the effort of the SCSL and the credibility of the international community, including the EU, will be severely undermined".

The SCSL has concluded an agreement with states including UK, Sweden and Austria to ensure that some of the convicted persons serve their sentences in these countries. The European Parliament believes that "more agreements are needed to ensure that all persons already convicted, and those that are standing trial and may face convictions, actually serve their sentences".

Supporting international courts

The Court has set a number of significant precedents for international courts, as it is the first to indict a sitting African head of state for war crimes and is the first to be established in the country where the alleged crimes occurred.

The EP welcomes the progress made by international courts and tribunals, but recognises that a lack of assistance will put this process at great risk. It therefore calls on Member States and other international institutions to provide the necessary financial support to the SCSL and other international courts.

REF. : 20090422IPR54262

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