Page last updated at 15:42 GMT, Saturday, 4 April 2009 16:42 UK

Karzai orders urgent law review

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a press conference in Kabul, 4 April 2009
Karzai rejected what he called the misinterpretation of the law

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered an urgent review of a controversial new law that critics say might tolerate rape within marriage.

At the same time, Mr Karzai rejected what he called the misinterpretation of the law by Western journalists.

His decision came after Nato chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the law went against the values of his troops.

US President Barack Obama said on Saturday he thought that the legislation was "abhorrent".

Mr Karzai said he had ordered the justice ministry to review the law, which is intended to regulate family life inside Afghanistan's minority Shia community.

If anything in the legislation contravened the country's constitution or Sharia law, he said, "measures will be taken".

"We understand the concerns of our allies in the international community," he said during a televised press conference in Kabul.

"Those concerns may be out of inappropriate or not-so-good translation of the law or a misinterpretation of it."

Aides to President Karzai had earlier insisted the law provided more protection for women.

Among its provisions are that

• wives are obliged to have sexual relations with their husbands at least once every four days

• women cannot leave home without their husband's permission

Critics say the law limits the rights of women from the Shia minority and authorises rape within marriage.


On Friday, Mr de Hoop Scheffer, who was presiding over the Nato summit in Strasbourg-Kehl, told the BBC's Mark Mardell: "We are there to defend universal values and when I see, at the moment, a law threatening to come into effect which fundamentally violates women's rights and human rights, that worries me."

Nato chief's Afghan law fears

He added: "I have a problem to explain and President Karzai knows this, because I discussed it with him. I have a problem to explain to a critical public audience in Europe, be it the UK or elsewhere, why I'm sending the guys to the Hindu Kush."

Speaking after the Nato summit on Saturday, Mr Obama said the views of his administration on the law had been communicated to Kabul.

The law, he added, had been it a key topic of conversation at the summit.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown held a 10-minute telephone conversation with Mr Karzai over the issue.

British officials said Mr Brown "registered his concern" about the law and was "reassured" by Mr Karzai that the matter was being referred back to the justice ministry.

France's Human Rights Minister Rama Yade also expressed her "sharp concern" at the law, saying it "recalls the darkest hours of Afghanistan's history".

The UN earlier said it was seriously concerned about the potential impact of the law.

Human rights activists say it reverses many of the freedoms won by Afghan women in the seven years since the Taleban were driven from power.

They say it removes the right of women to refuse their husbands sex, unless they are ill.

Women will also need to get permission from their husbands if they want to leave their homes, unless there is an emergency.

The law covers members of Afghanistan's Shia minority, who make up 10% of the population.

Women in Afghanistan
The law has been described as "oppressive" for women

It was rushed through parliament in February and was backed by influential Shia clerics and Shia political parties.

The law is reported to have been approved by President Karzai - who critics say is eager to win Shia votes in forthcoming elections - but the final version has not yet been made public because there are numerous amendments to it.

The president has not yet commented, but defenders of the law say it is an improvement on the customary laws which normally decide family matters.

A separate family law for the Sunni majority is now also being drawn up.

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