Afghanistan: Access to Justice for Afghan Women—A New Chief Justice

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Action Number: 
21.4
IMPORTANT: This archived action campaign has been completed or discontinued, and the information contained in it may not be current. Please see Take Action for current and ongoing campaigns.
Date: 
1 Dec 2006

In December 2004 Equality Now issued Women’s Action 21.3 to highlight issues affecting Afghan women’s access to justice. In particular, Equality Now called for the replacement of Supreme Court Chief Justice Fazul Hadi Shinwari, whose public statements contradicted Afghanistan’s constitutionally enshrined provisions of equality between women and men and prohibition of all forms of discrimination.  Equality Now called for the removal of any judge not prepared to uphold the provisions of Afghanistan’s Constitution and the international human rights obligations to which Afghanistan is a party.  In May 2006, the Afghan parliament rejected the re-appointment of Chief Justice Shinwari and six other judges, whom President Karzai had proposed in his list of nominees for the Supreme Court.  A new Supreme Court comprising nine judges was sworn in on 5 August 2006, headed by Chief Justice Abdul Salam Azimi.  This court faces the challenge of enforcing the constitutionally protected human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.  Several teachers have recently been murdered for educating girls, and violence against women and girls remains rampant in Afghanistan.  A May 2006 report by UNIFEM describes unprecedented levels of rape, forced marriage and child marriage, honor killings, kidnappings, and domestic violence, among other crimes against women, which remain pervasive and unpunished throughout the country.

Following her visit to Afghanistan in 2005, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women noted that one of the principal causes of pervasive gender-based discrimination and violence against women in Afghanistan is the lack of enforcement of the rule of law.  The Special Rapporteur particularly noted that the “diverse and contradictory interpretations” of Sharia Law tended to “undermine the establishment of any universal code of conduct” and worked to legitimize the violation of women’s rights in Afghanistan.  The Special Rapporteur also reported that the discriminatory interpretation of tradition and the law, discriminatory laws and the flawed administration of justice combined to severely inhibit access to justice for Afghan women.  

Despite constitutional provisions for equality (Article 22) and Afghanistan’s international obligations, for example, under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which requires all states parties to “establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men” (Article 2), the legal rights of women have not been upheld.  There are many reports of girls and women seeking to escape forced marriages but unable to secure effective legal protection.  A recent typical news report tells of a girl named Mujahida who was betrothed at age 4 and later murdered by her family for running away from the man she was supposed to marry.  The enforcement of legal protections for women by the judiciary would play a pivotal role in showing that Afghanistan considers discrimination and violence against women unacceptable and will not tolerate these violations of women’s rights.

While Equality Now welcomes the removal of Chief Justice Shinwari, the merit of the newly elected Supreme Court remains to be seen.  New Chief Justice Azimi was recently reported to have said that "if a woman comes to court, we will protect her under the law".  Chief Justice Azimi and other Supreme Court judges must fulfill this promise and act to ensure that women’s rights in Afghanistan are protected and upheld in accordance with Afghanistan’s Constitution and its international human rights obligations. 

What You Can Do: 

Please write to Chief Justice Azimi congratulating him on his appointment as Chief Justice, and urging him, together with the other Supreme Court judges, to take a leadership role in promoting and protecting the rights of women in accordance with Afghanistan’s Constitution and the international human rights standards, including CEDAW, to which Afghanistan is a party.  Reinforce the critical role they can play in enforcing equal protection of the law for women and sending a strong signal that violence against women in Afghanistan will not be tolerated.  Letters should be addressed to:

Chief Justice Abdul Salam Azimi
Afghan Supreme Court
Charai Seahat Hama
Microyana
Kabul, Afghanistan

with a copy to: 

Mr. Ghulam Sarwar Danish
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
Pashtunistan Watt
Kabul, Afghanistan
Email: info@moj.gov.af