By Kimberly Motley, The Washington Post, January 2
The immorality of Afghanistan’s ‘moral crimes’
I submitted a pardon application for Gulnaz, accompanied by a petition with more than 6,000 signatures. She had no family willing to take up her cause, but the world, as we discovered, supported her release.
Standing up for the rights of women like Gulnaz was part of the reason the United States went to Afghanistan in the first place. In 2001, one of the key political arguments that President George W. Bush’s administration used to support the military deployment was stopping the terrorists, for whom “the brutal oppression of women” was “a central goal.” In November 2001, Congress passed a bill noting Taliban oppression of women and stressing the need for Afghan women and children to have better access to health care and education.
International attention to the fate of women in Afghanistan has been an issue throughout the war. In 2009, the Afghan government focused on violence and human rights when it passed the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law. Though this measure garnered substantial support worldwide, oversight has been limited. The law is largely ignored in Afghanistan’s justice system, and abused women are routinely imprisoned as a result. While Gulnaz’s case brought international media attention to the plight of Afghan rape victims, inside Afghanistan, gross violations of basic human rights are often business as usual.
Although her case has a suitable ending, it took agitating for attention at the highest levels in the country to get a rape victim out of prison. The laws intended to protect her, and the international initiatives meant to do the same, did nothing.
Clearly most of the responsibility should lie with the Afghan government. Prosecutors and judges perpetuate human rights abuses on women, especially in cases involving domestic abuse, with little to no accountability. Because the justice system has failed to deter people within the government from committing human rights abuses, more than half of the women imprisoned in Afghanistan continue to be prosecuted for moral crimes.
The government should establish a standing committee within the attorney general’s office and the judiciary to ensure that cases of women charged with moral crimes never make it to court — or at the very least, that women are not prosecuted for being victims of violence. From one “misjudgment” could come a real chance to save other women from similar suffering.
I realize that it may take years, if not generations, for significant improvements on women’s rights in Afghanistan. I am optimistic, however, that Gulnaz’s case can serve as a turning point to encourage changes that can protect other women enduring her same plight.
One pardon, one release, one woman, is not good enough.