Gordon Campbell On The Afghan Marital Rape Law

New Zealand has a special interest in the rape law that Hamid Karzai has reportedly sneaked into effect only days before the Afghan election on Thursday. The law will particularly affect the Hazara community that form the majority in Bamiyan province, where the bulk of New Zealand’s contribution to the war in Afghanistan has been focused. Frankly, the schools and roads we may be helping to build in Bamiyan seem pointless if the government concerned is also actively promoting the rape and starvation of any Shia women in the community who do not accede to their husbands’ sexual demands.

To retrace: as the Independent newspaper in Britain revealed some months ago, the Karzai government had been promoting a law pertaining to the Shia minority, that negated the need for consent within Shia marriage, required women to have sex with their husbands at least every four days, and enabled rapists to marry their victims and thus be absolved of their crime – amid a range of measures that imposed drastic resections on the freedom of movement of Shia women outside the home.

After an international outcry when these details leaked out, Karzai gave assurances that the draft law would be substantially reviewed and widely debated by the Afghan parliament. Now it appears the law has been quietly slipped into place, even though it has not gone through Parliament or been gazetted, The requirement that women must have sex with their husbands on a weekly basis has been dropped, but as The Times report makes clear the law is still appalling:

It allows a man to deny his wife food if she denies him conjugal sex, grants guardianship of children to fathers and grandfathers, lets rapists pay to avoid being prosecuted, and requires women to get permission from their husbands to work.

The Karzai government is making its sentiments clear on the subject, in order to woo votes from male voters.

Why is this of particular significance to New Zealand ? Because most of Afghanistan’s Shias are ethnic Hazaras. Bamiyan is one of the few – or only – provinces in Afghanistan where Hazaras are the largest ethnic grouping. The New Zealand taxpayer has spent $180 million in the last six years in the social reconstruction of Bamiyan. It should therefore be a priority for Foreign Minister Murray McCully to establish whether this noxious law has been passed – and if so, to express his horror and disgust that Hazara women within the province that we are defending are being treated in this fashion, in violation of the UN Conventions that we have sworn to uphold.

It is hard enough in Afghanistan to ensure that prisoners captured by our forces are being treated according to the norms of international law. It is even more intolerable for New Zealand military to be defending a government that sets out to rape and starve women, and to force rape victims to marry or be paid off by their abusers. Prime Minister John Key should be putting on hold the dispatch of our SAS until this law is withdrawn. We owe that much surely, to the women of Bamiyan.

If Karzai has pushed through the law – as the Independent is also now reporting – it shows the desperation he is feeling about his chances of a conclusive victory on Thursday. The latest polls still show him below the 50% needed to avoid a run-off against former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.. To make inroads among non-Pashtun voters, Karzai is wooing the Hazara with the draconian marital rape law, and taking the same unscrupulous route in seeking support from Uzbek voters, by welcoming back the notorious Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostom, who has been in exile in Turkey.

These actions make a mockery of this week’s election. Far from being an affirmation of a democratic alternative to the Taliban, the election campaign is showing the worst face of the Karzai government. Namely, the regime we are mililtarily supporting is exhibiting, a harsh social conservatism that is indistinguishable from the Taliban, and a reliance on murderous warlords who have long been involved in human rights abuses, and the drug trade. Does John Key really think it is worth risking the lives of New Zealand troops to defend this corrupt cabal of fundamentalists, drug dealers and rape enablers?

Makutu verdict

Domestically, the community sentences handed out in the makutu case in Wainuiomata have been criticized by Labour MP Trevor Mallard as evidence of a double standard. In this sorry saga, it can be accepted that the perpetrators did not intend to kill their niece, and that expert witness Amster Reedy is correct when he says that they did not know what they were doing. It can also be agreed that, for them personally, no useful deterrent would be served by a prison sentence.

However, Mallard is also correct in pointing to the fact that in the only recent precedent – a failed Christian exorcism that ended in a fatality – the perpetrator drew a six year prison sentence. A deterrent message still does need to be directed at anyone who might seek in future to apply what they think to be ’correct’ Maori protocol to cases of suspected demonic possession. Here, Maori party leader Tariana Turia has so far failed to take the lead. The lesson from this case is not, as she has suggested, that there is likely to be conflict between pakeha courts and aspects of Maori culture. It is that there should be no protocol whatsoever in pakeha or in Maori culture that permits a religious leader or group to assault and torture another person.

With that in mind, it would be helpful if Turia could remind Maoridom – and the wider community – that no assault on another human being in the course of a makutu ceremony is acceptable, or to be tolerated. Tolerance was not extended towards the Christian pastor who mistakenly killed the victim of his superstition. Compassion has been shown to the misguided, credulous perpetrators of the crime in Wainuiomata. A belief in makutu is a cultural and personal right. However, it is up to Maori leaders ( and others) to advise that such beliefs cannot ever condone violence, however well intentioned. So far, Tiuria has stopped short of offering that kind of advice. That’s unfortunate. Janet Moses surely, deserves better than a ‘mistakes will happen’ epitaph.


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