Human Rights... Anyone?
CHRIS MACLEAN
© 2009 FrontLine Defence (Vol 6, No 5)

Some of the most basic of human rights do not exist for women and ­children in Afghanistan. Knowing this, should Canadians continue to risk their lives to help protect a country whose government refuses to enshrine, in law, the protection of its most ­vulnerable citizens – women and children?

Worse than refusing to protect, the Afghan Government seems to have taken one giant step backwards, reportedly passing a law that effectively legalizes marital rape for the Shia population. Despite fierce criticism from NATO allies – Prime ­Minister Harper, President Obama, German Chancellor Merkel, and French President Sarkozy, among many others – the Afghan government ­quietly passed legislation that clearly denies women’s rights.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters he had expressed “grave concern” ­to President Karzai, and said the law “risks putting Afghanistan back to its past rather than towards its democratic future where men and women are treated equally.” President Karzai promised to “review” the legislation, yet the offending ­articles remain intact and global attention has turned elsewhere.

The Canadian mission and the people of Afghanistan are part of a complex and contradictory mixture of agendas. Brigadier-General Vance recently chided Afghan elders for wanting our protection, yet not stepping up to warn our ­soldiers when new IEDs are planted.

Allegations that children are being sexually abused by Afghan Army and Police are a most pressing example of why Canadians must quickly take a stand. We have chosen to help that country’s elected government establish security and governance for its people, however, while it’s true that change must come from within, it’s almost impossible for human rights challenges to succeed when the women trying to make change are killed. We must seize this opportunity to push for reciprocal commitments to protect the rights of children not to be sexually abused, and the rights of women to say “no,” on occasion, to their husband. Unfortunately, “change from within” won’t happen without outside pressure.

Why are we not relentlessly exposing this situation? Surely human rights trumps, well, everything else. Why is NATO not being decisive on this issue? A robust response is required, and the proper Canadian role is to push NATO in the right direction.
 
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© FrontLine September 2009

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