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HRW: Justice System Failing Women in Afghanistan


An August 2021 report by Human Rights Watch titled; “Afghanistan: Justice System Failing Women” cite the Afghan government’s failure to provide accountability for violence against women and girls has undermined progress to protect women’s rights.

HRW concludes, full implementation of the law remains elusive, with police, prosecutors, and judges often deterring women from filing complaints and pressing them to seek mediation within their family instead. For women who experience abuse, family pressure, financial dependence, stigma associated with filing a complaint, and fear of reprisals, including losing their children, have also created formidable obstacles to registering cases.

Excerpts from the HRW report below outlines the prevalent corruption as the root causes for the decline of women rights in Afghanistan.  

Women and Justice in Afghanistan

Humaira Rasuli, an attorney and head of the Women for Justice Organization in Kabul, said: “Powerful offenders walk away with impunity, especially in the cases of rape and sexual assault, in Afghanistan because they have the power to conceal or destroy evidence, corrupt officials, and intimidate or pay off witnesses.”

Failure to make an arrest is one of the main reasons cases are not prosecuted. 

Sitara (pseudonym), a woman who had fled her husband after he injured her with a knife and threw acid on her face, had tried to file a case, and was told her husband could not be found.

She said; “It has been two-and-a-half years and they even have not found my husband. They don’t care for my case. I have gone to the police and the [EVAW office] many times—they say that they can’t find my husband. I won’t get peace until he is arrested. If I see him even from a distance, still I will be afraid of him.”

Najla (pseudonym), a woman in Herat whose husband frequently beat her, said that when she complained to his parents, they responded that “a husband has such rights.” After she sought help from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, she escaped to a shelter. Her husband fled and her in-laws have threatened her for shaming the family: “My parent’s family had warned me that when I get out of the shelter, they will kill me. My husband’s family threatened me, and the worse thing is that I don’t have anyone to support me.”

In rape cases, police are often pressured not to make an arrest, while the girl or woman may face charges of zina (sex outside marriage). Sohela (pseudonym), a 17-year-old girl in Bamiyan, was detained in a women’s shelter after reporting that she had been raped. The boy she accused was the son of a prominent family in the district. He was briefly detained and then released. 

Sohela said; “My friends advised me to go to the Directorate of the Women Affairs. I did and they sent me to this shelter while my case was in process. They registered my case with the police and detained that boy. After a few days, they released him. But the court sentenced me to one year of imprisonment for committing zina. I became pregnant and now have a two-and-a-half-month-old daughter.”

The boy’s family tried to pressure the girl to marry him, since she was pregnant, but she refused and remained in the shelter for the rest of her sentence.[47] Human Rights Watch was unable to find out where she went after the sentence was completed.

A Kabul-based lawyer said that lack of evidence and witnesses is another reason that women do not register a complaint because if they cannot prove their case, they would have to withdraw it and possibly face charges for filing a false complaint.

Because women often lack knowledge of their rights, they do not know that they are entitled to a lawyer. Even though prosecutors and police are mandated to brief them on their right to counsel, this frequently does not happen.

The Kabul-based lawyer said; “Most of these victims do not have access to lawyers. The Ministry of Justice legal aid department only provides lawyers when a victim requests one. But in EVAW cases the victims do not know their rights, they do not know that they can hire a lawyer, or that they should have one—the system does not inform them.”

Women almost inevitably face family and social pressure not to file cases. A lawyer in Kabul said she had “witnessed cases in which the police have allowed a girl to go back home even though they knew that her family would harm her.” Compounding this is the general perception that, as a prosecutor explained with frustration, “A good woman is someone who can tolerate problems and does not ask for her rights.” 

Taliban courts

Taliban courts offer very limited options for women seeking justice in cases of family violence. While women in Taliban-controlled areas have access to Taliban courts, they may not always represent themselves. In Helmand, for example, while some women have appeared in Taliban courts, others do not do so because of family opposition to appearing in public and rely on male relatives to represent them.

Taliban courts hear a small number of domestic violence cases, and generally pressure the parties to resolve such disputes at home. This approach mirrors the deficiencies of government courts that press women to pursue mediation within the family, but with no option for criminal prosecution, it is an approach that leaves women and girls with no recourse but to “forgive” their abusers and continue to live in the same household and, often, continue suffering violence.

Taliban courts have also imposed harsh punishments for “moral crimes,” including zina. In such cases, the Taliban have sentenced the accused to cruel punishments that include lashing and, in some cases, execution. In an interview with The Guardian, a Taliban judge in Obe district, Herat, spoke of an adultery case over which he had presided in April 2021: “I recently ordered the flogging of a woman inside her home. Relatives and neighbors came to us and said there were witnesses to this man and woman being together. We lashed her 20 times.”

The Taliban oppose shelters for women fleeing abuse at home, and none exist in areas under their control. Taliban officials have told Human Rights Watch that in a case where a woman could not return home, local Taliban authorities would arrange accommodation for her in the community by rehousing her with another family—not necessarily with her consent.

Corruption is rampant. 

Lawyers said that one difficulty they face is that the men implicated in such cases, unlike most Afghan women, have the financial resources to bribe officials not to pursue the case or to rule in their favor.

The influence of powerful politicians, local strongmen, or criminal gangs on behalf of perpetrators is also a factor. A prosecutor in Bamiyan said that, in some cases, local powerbrokers have called her to try to stop a prosecution. In January 2020, for example, local police arrested the father-in-law of Lal Bibi, a 17-year-old girl in Faryab, on charges that he and her husband had beaten her and burned her with boiling water. The husband eluded arrest by going into hiding. Within a month, local strongmen exerted pressure and secured the father-in-law’s release. In other cases, the police may have ties to the accused.

Corruption has long been a major problem in Afghanistan. In 2016, Afghanistan was ranked 169 out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, a ranking that was actually an improvement on previous years.

The reports in Details can be viewed in the links below. 


Article Source: ALAMEENPOST