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Cablegate: Shia Personal Status Law: Gazetted As Amended

VZCZCXRO3473
OO RUEHDBU RUEHPW RUEHSL
DE RUEHBUL #2365/01 2271407
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 151407Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0833
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 002365

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL AF
SUBJECT: SHIA PERSONAL STATUS LAW: GAZETTED AS AMENDED

REF: A. KABUL 1860
B. KABUL 2106

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Shia Personal Status Law (SPSL) was
published in the official gazette on July 27, after having
been signed into force by presidential decree on July 19 by
President Karzai along with the Elimination of Violence
Against Women Law (EVAW). The published version of the SPSL
includes the amendments the Embassy had translated and
analyzed in early July, and does not appear to include any
additional changes. The reaction from civil society has not
changed since July 13 (ref. A). The majority of Afghan civil
society representatives maintain that the published version
of the SPSL is the best possible version of the law at this
time. According to Hazara leaders in Bamyan, Shias are
showing their approval of the law by supporting Karzai in the
presidential elections. We continue to monitor progress of
the EVAW law, which most of our Afghan interlocutors support.
END SUMMARY.

------------------------------
SPSL: Signed, Sealed, Gazetted
------------------------------

2. (SBU) President Karzai signed the SPSL and EVAW on July
19 in the presence of the Minister of Justice, the Minister
of Women's Affairs, Member of Parliament Shinkai Karokhel,
and Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission Chair Sima
Samar and Commissioner Soraya Sobrangh. Karokhel told
President Karzai that the SPSL was still problematic and
needed further revisions. President Karzai suggested he
could hold off signing the law for a few days, and said he
was considering asking the Ulema Council for their input on
the law before signing. Samar then reportedly told President
Karzai that consulting the Ulema Council was a bad idea, and
pressed him to sign the law that afternoon. (Comment: Some
interlocutors have expressed concern to us that further
review of the SPSL could draw increased criticism from
conservatives, and possibly lead to the reversal of some of
the amendments. Samar pushed for Karzai's signature on July
19 for fear of otherwise losing ground on the progress civil
society has made with the SPSL).

3. (SBU) On August 13, we obtained a copy of the July 27
official gazette with the published SPSL. The Afghan
government, in particular the Ministry of Justice, appears to
have purposefully kept a low profile on the publication of
the law. UNAMA's human rights specialists and the Afghan
Independent Human Rights Commission have compared the
published version of the SPSL with the final version (which
the Embassy translated and transmitted to State in early
July) and found no differences.

4. (SBU) Neither the SPSL nor the EVAW law as signed by
Karzai has been reviewed by Parliament. According to Article
79 of the Afghan Constitution, Parliament should review laws
signed by Presidential decree within "30 days of convening
its first session," although it remains unclear how
Parliament calculates this 30-day period. Member of
Parliament Sabrina Saqeb told us August 15 she does not think
Parliament will review the revised SPSL, while Speaker of
Parliament Qanooni told us in late July that he intended to
allow the July 19 SPSL presidential decree to go through
Parliament without changes (Ref B).

-------------------------
SPSL: Good Enough for Now
-------------------------

5. (SBU) Key civil society representatives have reiterated to
us that the SPSL was greatly improved from the original
version, but still contains some problematic articles (Ref.
A). AIHRC Chair Sima Samar told the Deputy Ambassador on
August 15 that no further improvements could be accomplished
at this time. MP Sabrina Saqib noted "there is still room
for improvement" in the SPSL, but said the changes in the law
are a "positive step for women's rights" in Afghanistan. She
was also skeptical of authorities' ability to implement all
articles of the law anyway. Global Rights Director Wazhma
Frogh agreed that despite insufficiencies in the law, civil
society had made good strides with the changes that President
Karzai and the MOJ made to the law.

------------------------
Attracting the Shia Vote
------------------------

6. (SBU) A female Bamyan Provincial Council member told us in
a meeting with visiting Embassy officials that the Shia
Hazaras would overwhelmingly support President Karzai in the
August 20 elections because he "recognized the importance of
the Shias" with the SPSL. The Bamyan Director of Women's

KABUL 00002365 002 OF 002


Affairs concurred, but added that they supported the changes
Karzai made to the most controversial elements of the law.
Bamyan Ulema Shura leader Baba Musini told us Karzai had
"raised the importance of the historically disenfranchised
Shia Hazara" with the SPSL, noting that he told his followers
to support Karzai due to this reason, and for his
accomplishments in bringing peace to the Hazarajaat by ending
ethnic violence there. (Note: the Shia Hazaras comprise
about 80% of the population in Bamyan, and historically the
Hazara vote is one of the strongest, most cohesive voting
blocs; the total Hazara vote represents about 10-13% of the
total vote in Afghanistan. End Note.)

--------------------------------
EVAW: What a Good Law Looks Like
---------------------------------

7. (SBU) Civil society and the Afghan government contacts
have expressed satisfaction with the EVAW law. Deputy
Minister of Women's Affairs Mojgan Mostafavi said that the
law was "good and protects women's rights". AIHRC
Commissioner for Women's Issues Soraya Sobrangh agreed that
the EVAW was "unequivocally" good. MP Saqib said she would
like Parliament to review the law, as it would give women MPs
a good opportunity to discuss and debate an important law.
She and others said the law would likely remain intact. Some
interlocutors tell us that as a criminal law, the EVAW law
carries more weight than the SPSL, which is a civil law of
limited scope, as it pertains to a small subset of the
population. According to Afzal Nooristani, Executive
Director of the Legal Aid Organization of Afghanistan, the
EVAW law will serve to protect women's rights and allow for
the criminal prosecution of people violating women's
religious and legal rights. We continue to track progress of
the EVAW law, which some Afghan civil society contacts expect
will be sent to Parliament soon.

-----------------
SPSL in the Press
-----------------

8. (SBU) As of August 15 the Afghan press had not reported on
the publication of the SPSL. It is possible the Afghan media
could pick up on the international media reaction in the
coming days, but the Presidential elections may overshadow
the issue. Based on civil society's tempered reaction to the
revised SPSL here, it unlikely the Afghan media will have the
same coverage of the law that the Human Rights Watch press
release (which did not quote any Afghan sources) sparked in
the United States and the United Kingdom.
EIKENBERRY

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