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Early in July, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human
Rights and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan published a
joint report, entitled "Silence is Violence," which found that in
Afghanistan, "violence against women is being ignored in a culture of
impunity that neither challenges nor condemns this violence."
The report notes that there is no explicit provision in the 1976 Afghan Penal
Code criminalizing rape, and a survey of convicted rapists in an Afghan prison
indicated that they did not know that rape was a criminal offense.
Nonetheless, on August 6th, Afghan President Hamid Karzai opened a window of
opportunity for improving the lives of women by signing into law a bill that
would punish those who perpetrate violence against women. Based on articles of
the Afghan constitution which dictate that the state respect and protect the
"inviolable liberty and dignity of all of its citizens, . . . . as well as
ensure physical and psychological well-being of the family, especially of child
and mother," the new law would punish by imprisonment, men who bar women
from getting an education, working, or obtaining healthcare.
It's a good start, but the new law means little absent proper enforcement. The
government, law enforcement and the courts of Afghanistan must overcome the
culture of impunity and prosecute those who perpetrate crimes against women.
Because, to quote Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton: " human
rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights."