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Secretary Of State Clinton Criticizes Controversial Afghan Women Law

PRAGUE (RFE/RL) -- Answering questions from listeners of Radio Free Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her hope that a controversial new Afghan law, which critics say will restrict the rights of women, will be overturned.

During a visit to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Prague headquarters on April 5, where she answered Afghan listeners prerecorded questions, Clinton argued forcefully for the rights of Afghan women and stressed the administration's "enduring commitment to Afghanistan." 

The controversial law, which has not yet been published, was reportedly signed by President Hamid Karzai earlier this month. 

According to the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, the legislation says that Afghan Shi'ite women will not have the right to leave their homes except for "legitimate" purposes, and forbids women from working or receiving education without their husbands' express permission.

The legislation explicitly permits marital rape by saying that a wife is bound to satisfy the sexual desires of her husband.

The U.S. secretary of state expressed her surprise at the law's passage and said she hoped that after review, it would be overturned.

"I was deeply concerned because I do not think it reflects the values of the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan. This was a law, as I understand it, that was aimed at a minority of a minority, and it does impose harsh restrictions on women and children," Clinton said.

"I've expressed my concerns and objections about this law directly to President [Hamid] Karzai, and our president, President [Barack]Obama, has spoken about the fact [that] it truly is not in keeping with the direction that Afghanistan has been following."

Concerns Over Civilian Deaths

Radio Free Afghanistan received more than 1,000 listener questions for Hillary Clinton. A recurring concern was the continuing harm being caused to civilians, especially women and children, by American and NATO air raids.

One listener from Kabul noted that these civilian casualties were "damaging the international community but strengthening the opposition."

Clinton said she deeply regretted all loss of life and said that "if those who are perpetrating this violence in the first instance were to stop -- that is what we are seeking -- then there would be an end to military action by the United States, our allies, and the Afghan National Army."

"We hope with this new strategy that President Obama has outlined, we will be more successful in convincing members of the Taliban, other extremists that might not be 100 percent committed to the cause, to rejoin society, to be part of building a new, strong, secure Afghanistan, and to isolate those who are irreconcilable to defeat them," Clinton said.

Corruption was another topic addressed by many listeners. One woman listener from Kabul told Clinton that if she wanted to solve the Afghan conflict, she should talk to ordinary people, especially women, claiming that "80 percent of the government is made up of murderers, irresponsible people, smugglers, drug dealers, and dishonest people."

Clinton said the new U.S. administration was well aware of the issue and had made its concerns clear.

"I have spoken out about it, President Obama has spoken out about it, our special representation [to Afghanistan and Pakistan], Richard Holbrooke, has spoken out about it. And we're going to do all we can to take steps to try to prevent and eliminate corruption," Clinton said.

"It's a cancer. It eats away at the confidence and the trust of the people in their government. And we've said that to the government representatives, and we will continue to do everything we can to try to work with the people of Afghanistan to eliminate corruption."

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan broadcasts in Pashto and Dari to millions of listeners inside Afghanistan and along the Pakistani border.

(Read the full transcript of the interview.)

Copyright (c) 2009 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

... Payvand News - 04/06/09 ... --

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