Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday withheld his signature and instead asked for revisions to a new law that rights activists had widely denounced as an obstacle to prosecuting crimes of violence against women.
The draft code, passed by the Afghan parliament last month, included a provision that would have barred relatives from testifying against each other in court making prosecution of domestic violence cases nearly impossible.
The law also would have threatened prosecutions of other crimes that often involve testimony by relatives of the accused, including rape, child marriage and forced marriage, Amnesty International, one of the many rights groups to oppose the law, said in a statement.
In a statement, Karzai spokesperson Aimal Faizi said the new “Afghan criminal prosecution code won't come into force unless new amendments are made.” He also told the Associated Press, “This law will not bar any relative or any family member to testify against each other or another member of their family.”
Referring to Karzai's decision to call for a revision of the law, Amnesty International's Horia Mosadiq said, “This is an important step against retrograde legislation that would have let rapists and perpetrators of domestic violence off the hook.”
In an email, Manizha Naderi, executive director of Women for Afghan Women, which had lobbied hard against the law, declared Karzai's action a victory for the advocacy of rights groups.
However, the amended law must be sent back to the parliament, where hardliners already have resisted previous efforts to water down the law, according to a report in the Guardian.
Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch, advised caution. She told the Guardian, "We are cautiously optimistic after hearing statements from the palace. We need to see the exact language before we can know whether it will really fix the problem. Unfortunately, there are two major problems with this law, and the government has only shown interest in fixing one."
Barr noted that the law does not define relatives, which in some villages could potentially include dozens of people linked by blood or marriage.