We, along with other international partners, made our concerns about the Shi’a Personal Status Law clear to the Afghan Government at a senior level. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised the issue with President Karzai. We welcomed President Karzai’s announcement on 27 April 2009 that the law would be changed to bring it in line with the Afghan Constitution, which guarantees equal rights for women, and the international treaties to which Afghanistan is a party.
On 20 June 2009, the Minister of Justice met with female representatives of the Afghan Parliament and civil society and told them that his Ministry has now amended the Law. The amendments were made following written recommendations by Afghan civil society (the Afghan Women’s Network), Katib university and moderate Ulema (religious scholars).
We understand the amendments made by the Afghan Ministry of Justice have added around 60 articles and removed around 10 from the Law. Language was also added to clarify the meaning of certain articles. The amended draft was viewed by the above female representatives as broadly ‘pro women’, and contentious articles, including the provision appearing to legalise rape, had been removed. The Law is also being reviewed by the Supreme Court.
President Karzai has indicated that the Law will next be sent back to the Afghan Parliament for approval (in time for the new session of Parliament, beginning 20 July 2009).
The Law continues to cause controversy on both sides—some religiously conservative Ulema are still lobbying the President to pass the original draft, parts of which the international community and many Afghans deemed unacceptable. The outcome is still uncertain, therefore we, along with our international partners and Afghan civil society, will continue to follow the passage of the Law closely. We will lobby the Afghan Government whenever appropriate, to help ensure the final Law respects women’s rights and does not undo progress made since 2001.