UPDATE: In an interview for Bloomberg TV's "Political Capital with Al Hunt" today, Afghani Ambassador Said Jawad declared outright that the notorious "rape law" legislation is unconstitutional, and thus will not be passed into law. In Jawad's words, "Definitely not. "This is not the law yet, and it will not become the law, because it contradicts some important principles of the Afghan constitution."
Jawad is the first Afghan official to say unequivocally it won't become law.
Shias represent 10 percent of the population, and the legislation was originally intended to ensure additional protections for them as a minority group. Jawad said the draft law would have required a Shia wife to "satisfy the sexual desire of the husband" and allowed her to leave the house only for "work, education or other necessities."
The Ambassador's statements will come as a welcome announcement to the international community, which excoriated the Afghan government last week for even considering such a law. Notably, President Obama referred to the legislation as "abhorrent".
This episode of "Political Capital with Al Hunt" has not yet aired, but is scheduled for today. We'll have more on this breakthrough when it becomes available.
Following global public and political outcry, the Afghan government is now reviewing "Taliban-style" legislation from last month, which has not yet passed into law, that would essentially legalize marital rape. From the Times Online:
"The Justice Ministry is reviewing the law to make sure it is in line with the Afghan Government's commitment to human rights and women rights conventions," Sultan Ahmad Baheen, a spokesman for the ministry in Kabul, said.
The Afghan Government is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines equality in dignity and rights regardless of religion or sex. Article 22 of the Afghan Constitution also explicitly reiterates the equality of men and women before the law.
Human rights activists cited a large number of provisions in the law that appeared to disregard those commitments in a draft leaked to The Times.
One of the most controversial articles stipulates that the wife "is bound to preen for her husband as and when he desires".
Afghan President Karzai has been inundated with criticism for the past week, mostly from Western nations who see passage of the law as a thudding indication that no gains have been made for human rights in Afghanistan since the NATO invasion in 2001. Canada, in particular, has been especially vocal and generally represents a consensus among NATO members who have sacrificed blood and treasure. According to the Canadian Press:
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said he will use this week's NATO summit to put "direct" pressure on his Afghan counterparts to abandon the legislation.
"That's unacceptable -- period," he said Wednesday. "We're fighting for values that include equality and women's rights. This sort of legislation won't fly."
Canada has lost 116 soldiers and spent up to $10-billion fighting to support the Karzai government.
Canadian officials have contacted Mr. Karzai's office and also raised their concerns with senior Afghan cabinet ministers. They say it's not yet clear what's in the law, but they're trying to find out.
According to the AFP, Canada's spirited remonstration seems to have directly and immediately stymied the legislation for the time being while it is subjected to review by UN human rights standards:
The confirmation [to subject the law to review] came after Canada said Sunday it had received assurances from Afghan Foreign Minister Dadfar Spanta that the process of enforcing the law "has been halted."
"The law is not enacted yet," foreign ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen told AFP Monday.
However, it is prudent to note that the law has not in anyway been defenestrated altogether. Varying interpretations of different drafts of the legislation are circulating. According to Afghan officials who support the principles behind the legislation, the draft that has drawn such excoriation has since been replaced by a more lenient version that would allow a woman to refuse marital sex under certain circumstances. From the AFP:
A copy of the draft bill, seen by AFP, said: "It is the responsibility of the wife to prepare for sexual satisfaction of her husband and not leave the house without permission, unless there is the need or difficulty."
Critics interpreted this as making it illegal for a woman to refuse her husband sex and only in an emergency leave the house without permission.
But the version signed by Karzai says a wife can refuse sex on the basis of "lawful or logical excuses or with permission of her husband," influential Shiite parliamentarian Sayed Hussain Alimi Balkhi said last week.
The changes, which have been seen by AFP, also allow her to leave home without permission "for any lawful purpose within the boundaries accepted by custom," said Balkhi, who has been involved in drawing up the law.
As Tracy Clark-Flory writing for Salon notes, the change in the law's language tends to make it far more ambiguous, but not necessarily a vast improvement by Western critics' standards. Only with further elucidation on how "lawful or logical excuses" is to be interpreted will this legislative saga be resolved. From Salon:
Temporarily, at least, because my blind faith is fleeting. Karzai claims the fury boils down to a wee misunderstanding: You see, the version of the law he signed is different from the one that garnered all the bad press. It's unclear why, if it's all that simple, the law needs to be reviewed. (Not to mention, I'm not all that sure that a mere revision could fix a law that endorses rape.) In any case, the controversial draft holds that a wife cannot refuse sex unless she is ill, while the revised version allows a wife to refuse sex if she has "lawful or logical excuses or with permission of her husband," according to the Afghan administration. Neither version has been made public, so I'm left to wonder what exactly is meant by "lawful or logical excuses."