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Early in July, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan published a joint report, entitled "Silence is Violence," which found that in Afghanistan, "violence against women is being ignored in a culture of impunity that neither challenges nor condemns this violence."
The report notes that there is no explicit provision in the 1976 Afghan Penal Code criminalizing rape, and a survey of convicted rapists in an Afghan prison indicated that they did not know that rape was a criminal offense.
Nonetheless, on August 6th, Afghan President Hamid Karzai opened a window of opportunity for improving the lives of women by signing into law a bill that would punish those who perpetrate violence against women.
Based on articles of the Afghan constitution which dictate that the state respect and protect the "inviolable liberty and dignity of all of its citizens, ... as well as ensure physical and psychological well-being of the family, especially of child and mother," the new law would punish by imprisonment, men who bar women from getting an education, working, or obtaining healthcare.
It's a good start, but the new law means little absent proper enforcement. The government, law enforcement and the courts of Afghanistan must overcome the culture of impunity and prosecute those who perpetrate crimes against women.
Because, to quote Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton: "human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights."