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Cablegate: Western Afghanistan Women Try Out Shuras

VZCZCXRO8996
OO RUEHPW
DE RUEHBUL #2796/01 2931457
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 191457Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5882
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 4428
RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 KABUL 002796

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A, DRL, GTIP, GWI, PRM, INL
NSC FOR JWOOD
OSD FOR MCGRAW

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPOL PREL PHUM AF
SUBJECT: WESTERN AFGHANISTAN WOMEN TRY OUT SHURAS

REF: KABUL 004140

1. (U) SUMMARY: Life in Western Afghanistan remains difficult
for women, particularly in rural and insecure areas. NGOs
and government agencies report that families continue to
force women and girls into marriages and to otherwise subject
them to physical and emotional abuse. Women and girls
continue to run away from home or resort to suicide in order
to escape from these situations. In addition, they face
discriminatory treatment by judicial and medical officials
when they try to seek protection or bring their abusers to
justice. Two promising developments, however, are increased
coordination between the police, the Department of Women's
Affairs (DOWA), and the Herat women's shelter, and women
lawyers successfully navigating the traditional and formal
justice systems.

Weak Economy and Insecurity Cause Increased Domestic Violence
--------------------------------------------
2. (SBU) The Director of the DOWA for Herat Province, Sima,
said that DOWA assisted 180 women and girls over the last six
months in cases involving forced marriages including bride
selling and child marriages, physical and emotional abuse,
and rape. In one recent case, a young woman's husband's
family beat her and only occasionally threw scraps of food on
the ground for her to eat. Another family cut off an 18
year-old woman's toes and beat her so badly that she was
partially paralyzed. Sima said that conditions for women in
Western Afghanistan worsened over the past year due to a
weakening economy and continuing insecurity in rural areas.
In Shindand District, for example, the government does not
enforce laws or provide protection because the area is under
the control of armed insurgents, she said. In the case of
the woman whose family cut off her toes, the husband is
reportedly linked with a Shindand insurgent group and the
government was unwilling to arrest him. Poor security
conditions also lead to a high unemployment rate, which also
contributes to domestic tensions and increased violence
towards women, Sima said.

3. (SBU) Suraya Pakzad, Executive Director of Voice of Women
Organization, which runs the only women's shelter for Herat,
Nimruz, Badghis, Farah, and Ghor Provinces (reftel) agreed
that poor economic and security conditions during the last
year were the primary factors behind the increased numbers of
women and girls fleeing domestic violence and forced
marriages referred to her shelter. Pakzad also said that she
was receiving more personal threats than in the past. For
example, a caller said, &it would be easier for me to kill
you than for me to prepare a cup of tea.8 She said that the
threatening callers refer to the shelter as a prostitution
center." Another recent caller claimed that he had kidnapped
Pakzad,s young son. Later, after she had discovered this
was not true, the man called back and said, &I was just
calling to let you know that I could easily have kidnapped
your son. This was just a warning.8

Burn Unit Still Busy
--------------------
4. (SBU) A Herat Hospital Burn Unit (reftel) surgeon said
that in the last six months the unit received 50
self-immolation patients, of whom 75% died within a week of
admission to the facility. This number was up from 35 cases
during the same six month period last year. The reasons
given by surviving self-immolation victims treated at the
burn unit (mostly women, but including four men in the last
12 months) for their suicide attempts were forced marriages,
family violence, bad relations with husbands and
mothers-in-law, and significant age differences between
spouses, the surgeon said. Eighty percent of the cases are
from outside of Herat City with a sizable number from Farah,
Badghis, and Ghor Provinces. Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
Information Counseling Legal Assistance Program Director,
Zamina Khalilova, noted that more women and girls were also
attempting suicide by swallowing pills or cutting themselves
with razor blades.

Increased Cooperation with Police
---------------------------------

KABUL 00002796 002 OF 003


5. (SBU) DOWA Director Sima referred to the recent graduation
of 26 women from the Herat Police Regional Training Center as
a very positive development. She said the female officers
are already investigating cases and have generally been
well-received by the community. She described cooperation
between DOWA, the Ministry of the Interior (MOI), and police
officers as excellent, with police regularly referring women
to DOWA. She said DOWA is working with UNICEF to draft a
proposal to have police stationed at the Iranian border
specifically to work with young deportees, which she
described as a particularly vulnerable population. Although
the police suffer from an ongoing lack of resources and
capacity, Sima says she sees a distinct improvement in their
treatment of women during the past year, a change she
attributed to closer coordination between DOWA and MOI, as
well as the presence of women police officers. Pakzad also
said that coordination between her shelter and the police in
terms of prompt referrals and open communication is good and
improving.

Pros and Cons of Courts and Shuras
----------------------------------
6. (SBU) The Herat NRC legal department is staffed by six
lawyers and several law student trainees and handles civil
legal disputes for female clients referred by DOWA and the
women's shelter. Many of the lawyers are graduates of the
University of Herat law school, which opened in 2004 and
where currently half the students are women. Two-thirds of
the lawyers on staff at NRC are women who claim they interact
successfully with village leaders and court officials, and
that the NRC has slowly gained the trust of the community.
The senior lawyer said that while formal courts were less
favorable to their clients than shuras, even these courts
were slowly but increasingly giving their clients a fair
hearing.

7. (SBU) When a new client arrives at NRC, a lawyer explains
the option of pursuing the case, typically through the formal
(courts) or traditional (shuras) justice system. According to
the senior NRC lawyer, 70% of these women choose to resolve
their case through a shura. A principal reason for choosing
this option is that shuras are much quicker than courts at
resolving disputes. Also, village leaders who administer
shuras are less susceptible to bribery and have more
accountability to the parties than the judges who administer
the courts. Furthermore, shuras can make more flexible
decisions or mediate a mutual agreement between parties. The
NRC senior lawyer said that she found shuras, decisions more
favorable to women than formal court verdicts. She noted,
however, that this trend is specific to Western Afghanistan,
claiming that shuras in Southern Afghanistan would be much
less likely to treat women fairly. If a client chooses a
shura, NRC lawyers prepare the case by contacting the village
and shura leaders and the defendant. During the shura
meeting the NRC lawyer explains her role, applicable
international human rights standards, and domestic laws
(secular and Islamic). The lawyer would then explain that
NRC's goal was to resolve the case, with the shura's help,
with a document that both parties to the dispute sign and
agree to. If that goal is reached, NRC submits these sealed
documents to the local court. In that way, violating the
agreement later becomes cause for police intervention.

8. (SBU) Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission
Regional Program Manager S.A. Qader Rahimi asserted that
formal justice system procedures often result in verdicts
unfavorable to women. He mentioned a case in June where a
girl claimed her father had raped her. A clinic on the
outskirts of Herat City examined her and confirmed she had
been assaulted. The case went to court, and the court
ordered another examination at the main Herat City Hospital,
where the examiner claimed that the girl was lying. The
court sentenced the girl and her mother to two years in
prison for making a false claim against the father based on
the second examination's failure to find evidence of rape.
Rahimi said hospital officials are frequently bribed to
announce certain examination results, and that hospital staff
regularly harass and insult rape victims. He said
prosecutors and judges investigate, try, and decide cases

KABUL 00002796 003 OF 003


based on culture and custom rather than law. Rahimi
mentioned that many Afghans customarily do not obtain legal
documents such as marriage and divorce certificates,
resulting in many women sitting in jail because they cannot
prove their civil status and thus, cannot defend themselves
against cases of adultery or other sexual offenses. Voice of
Women's Pakzad added that there were many other challenges to
obtaining a divorce. First, the court of the husband's
district has exclusive jurisdiction. If the court is in an
insecure area, such as Shindand, there is no recourse. If a
woman is able to get to court in a reasonably secure
district, she has to find three male witnesses to support her
case, and the witnesses often are unavailable, refuse to give
testimony, or only agree to give testimony if they are paid.


9. (SBU) COMMENT: While it is encouraging that female lawyers
successfully represent female clients in both shuras and
courts, it is evident that women in Western Afghanistan,
particularly women living outside of Herat City, continue to
face high levels of violence. According to NGO and
government officials, 12 year-old girls marrying is
commonplace in rural areas in the region, and the one women's
shelter is always full. The government's increased capacity
as evidenced by DOWA and MOI's improved relations with each
other and with the women's shelter is positive. However,
improving the lives of women and girls in the face of
challenges posed by insecurity, economic distress, and a
legacy of cultural discrimination is a difficult, long-term
endeavor.
WOOD

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