By Robin Gomes
Despite a law to protect women from violence in Afghanistan, they continue to be victims under traditional forms of justice, says a United Nations report published on Tuesday.
The Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) law, passed in 2009, was a centerpiece of efforts to improve protection for Afghan women, who suffer widespread violence in one of the worst countries in the world to be born female.
However, it effectiveness has been undermined by authorities who continue to refer even serious cases of crime to traditional councils that fail to protect the victims.
Mediation violates rights
The report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), entitled, ‘Injustice and Impunity: Mediation of Criminal Offences of Violence against Women,’ documents 237 cases of violence against women and 280 cases of murder between August 2015 and December 2017, including murders within families sometimes called "honour killings".
The May 29 report describes how mediation deprives women of access to justice and hinders the realization of their fundamental rights.
"The wide use of mediation when a woman or girl has been beaten, mutilated or murdered, or when she has been the victim of that awful concept of 'honour killing', normalizes such violence and makes it much more likely to recur," Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement accompanying the report.
"To use mediation for such offences is at its core a human rights violation by the State," Al Hussein said.
According to him, such practices erode "the confidence of women - and the wider public - in the legal system."
Watering down crime
“Many of the women interviewed for this report said that they were pressured into withdrawing their official complaints and agreeing to mediation, as if no actual crime had occurred,” said Danielle Bell, head of UNAMA Human Rights.
She said the “mediation of incidents of brutal violence against women essentially transforms criminal acts into mere family disputes.” “Such mediation directly contradicts the spirit and letter of the EVAW Law.”
In many remote parts of Afghanistan, where the formal legal system has no sway, mediation is the only form of justice, but the U.N. report focused on cases reported to the authorities.
It found such crimes appeared to enjoy "de facto immunity", fostered by a reliance on mediation, with just 18 percent of cases ending in conviction and a prison sentence.
The report stressed that more than 17 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, many women continue to face dire situations in Afghanistan that ranks among the worst in the UN Development Programme's Gender Inequality Index.