2 April 2009A new law in Afghanistan seriously curtailing women’s rights, even explicitly permitting marital rape, is a “huge step in the wrong direction,” the United Nations human rights chief said today, calling for its repeal. A new law in Afghanistan seriously curtailing women’s rights, even explicitly permitting marital rape, is a “huge step in the wrong direction,” the United Nations human rights chief said today, calling for its repeal. Not yet published, the law, which was passed by the two houses of Afghanistan’s parliament before being reportedly signed by President Hamid Karzai earlier this month, regulates the personal status of the country’s minority Shi’a community members, including relations between men and women, divorce and property rights. It denies Afghan Shi’a women the right to leave their homes except for ‘legitimate’ purposes; forbids them from working or receiving education without their husbands’ express permission; weakens mothers’ rights in the event of a divorce; and makes it impossible for wives to inherit houses and land from their husbands, even if husbands can inherit property from their wives. “This is another clear indication that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is getting worse, not better,” said Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Respect for women’s rights – and human rights in general – is of paramount importance to Afghanistan’s future security and development.” That such a law has been passed in 2009 targeting women in this manner is “extraordinary, reprehensible and reminiscent of the decrees made by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the 1990s,” she stressed. Afghanistan’s Shi’a community, composed mainly of the Hazara minority, comprises some 10 per cent of the country’s total population, and the new law has the strong support of the Hazaras’ male leadership, even though it has been vigorously opposed by others in the group as well as Afghan human rights campaigners. There are concerns that the law will set precedents adversely affecting all Afghan women. In addition to women’s rights, there have been other setbacks to the country that have been undermining efforts to consolidate the rule of law in Afghanistan, such as both freedom of expression by the media and civil society activists being increasingly threatened, Ms. Pillay said.