Case Raises Questions About Afghanistan’s Response To Sex Crimes

Case Raises Questions About Afghanistan’s Response To Sex Crimes

By Ali M. Latifi and Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — A case stemming from rapes that generated national outrage and brought swift convictions for seven assailants might seem like a milestone in Afghanistan, where such crimes often result in punishment for the women, if there is any punishment at all.
Yet the story of four women raped late last month in Paghman, a lake district 20 minutes outside Kabul, illustrates the complications that still surround sex crimes five years after President Hamid Karzai, at the urging of Western allies, enacted a landmark law prohibiting violence against women.
The women were traveling with male family members in two cars on their way home from a wedding August 23 when they were stopped by armed men, some dressed in police uniforms. The assailants forced everyone out of the cars, robbed them of money and jewelry and raped the women, one of whom was pregnant, by the roadside, reportedly within earshot of their male relatives.
Despite his opposition to capital punishment, President Hamid Karzai assured an angry nation that the perpetrators would be put to death. On Sunday, less than a week after arrests were made, a primary court in Kabul condemned the seven men to death. The men still have the right to appeal.
To many experts, however, Karzai’s forceful reaction and the swift justice meted out by an often uninterested legal system are not signs of progress. For one thing, the defendants weren’t convicted of rape, but of banditry and adultery. The latter charge also implicates the victims though there has been no sign that in this incident that the women will face prosecution.
The case shocked the nation, the experts say, in large part because the women were under the protection of male family members who were overpowered and humiliated so that the men are widely seen as victims as well.
Wazhma Frogh, a Kabul-based women’s rights activist, said the case was an affront to cultural norms that measure a man’s honor by that of the women in his family. “Men in the society who see women as part of their own honor saw this case as an attack on a man’s dignity,” she said.
Human rights activists say the convictions were unlikely to speed up the many other rape cases languishing in Afghan courts and that the death sentences — though they calmed public anger — raised fresh questions about the justice system’s commitment to due process.
Human Rights Watch criticized Afghan authorities, who said the men were not police officers, for allegedly coercing their confessions and offering them little time to prepare a defense. The group also said statements from Karzai’s office demanding the men be executed “further undermined their fair trial rights and the independence of the court.”
“The government’s history of providing justice for rape victims has been so dismal that it is tempting to cheer at any sign of action, including this case,” Heather Barr, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, said in an interview. “But really, this case does more to illustrate the obstacles women seeking justice face than to signal a solution to those problems.”
In Afghanistan, most rape cases occur far from the relatively cosmopolitan capital and usually involve people the victim knows: fathers, cousins, suitors, even religious teachers.
The Paghman case shocked the nation partly because it was perpetrated by strangers and occurred in a district known to most Kabul families as the site of Friday picnics and Persian New Year celebrations.
“It makes me hate my watan,” or fatherland, said Abdol Haq Mansori, a 27-year-old shop owner from Paghman. Of the convicted men, he said: “I would hang them all in public for everyone to see.”
Qamaruddin Shinwari, chairman of the nongovernmental Social Council of Eastern Provinces, said the details of the case appalled the Afghan public. “Rape is always a barbaric act, but this was particularly inhumane,” Shinwari said.
Saeeq Shajjan, a Kabul-based lawyer, said despite problems with the case, the fact that families cooperated with the investigation was a bright spot. “In the past, victims were keeping quiet to protect their family’s sense of pride and honor,” Shajjan said.
Despite questions about the speedy convictions and the lack of rape charges, some Afghans find the verdict to be a long-delayed step toward the implementation of the Elimination of Violence Against Women law, which makes rape a crime. The 2009 law has not been properly enforced, activists say, and last year was the subject of a contentious debate in parliament, with some lawmakers calling unsuccessfully for its protections to be repealed or rolled back.
“This spectacle can’t change the fact that in the vast majority of rape cases — where there is usually a single victim, and often a rapist the woman or girl knows — the government’s response is complete disinterest or, even worse, prosecution of the victim for adultery,” Barr said.

AFP Photo/Raveendran

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Afghanistan Election Talks Stall As Abdullah Rejects Outcome Of Audit

Afghanistan Election Talks Stall As Abdullah Rejects Outcome Of Audit

By Ali M. Latifi and Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah said Monday that he would not accept the outcome of an internationally backed audit of a disputed election runoff and that talks over sharing power with his opponent are deadlocked.

The announcement by an emotional and weary-looking Abdullah left in doubt the viability of a national unity government that U.S. officials have said is necessary to preserve political stability in Afghanistan. Abdullah and his rival, former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, have been unable to agree on the details of a power-sharing arrangement despite intensifying pressure from the White House.

President Barack Obama spoke to both candidates Saturday and stressed the need to complete negotiations on the government “as soon as possible in the interest of shoring up international support for Afghanistan and preserving Afghan stability,” according to a White House statement.

Abdullah has long maintained that the June runoff — which came after Abdullah won the most votes in the first round of balloting — was marred by extensive fraud in Ahmadzai’s favor.
Addressing reporters at his residence in Kabul, Abdullah said he “was and is the winner of the election based upon clean votes.”

His announcement came hours after a meeting between the candidates at which Ahmadzai rejected Abdullah’s demand that the results of the audit of all 8 million votes cast in the June vote not be announced.

“That was a red line in the sand for Dr. Ghani,” said Muslim Saadat, an Abdullah campaign spokesman.

The audit was completed Friday, election officials said, and results are expected to be announced within days.

Abdullah, who pulled out of Afghanistan’s last election, in 2009, citing fraud in favor of then-President Hamid Karzai, did not comment on the future of a unity government, saying that he would “consult with the Afghan people in order to reach a decision.”

Saadat said Abdullah and his running mates would meet with political allies from all 34 Afghan provinces over the next week.

“We value the majority decision,” Saadat said. “What the people decide, we will abide by.”

U.S. officials worry that Abdullah’s supporters will renew calls to form a parallel government, which reached such intensity in July that Secretary of State John F. Kerry made an unannounced visit to Kabul to head off such a plan. That visit led to the agreement by both candidates to audit all 8 million votes and share power in a new government, but the recount has been marred by major delays and repeated threats by Abdullah to withdraw from the process.

Abdullah’s announcement Monday came a day before a national holiday marking the assassination of militia commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, a hero among many Afghan northerners for his role in the anti-Soviet resistance. Abdullah, a former close adviser to Massoud, urged his supporters to remain calm, but many Afghans worried that tensions could escalate on the holiday.

Los Angeles Times special correspondent Latifi reported from Kabul. Times staff writer Bengali reported from Mumbai, India.

AFP Photo/Shah Marai

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