Human Rights Watch , July 17, 2006
Afghanistan: Vice and Virtue Department Could Return
Women and Girls Again at Risk
President Hamid Karzai's cabinet has approved the proposal to reestablish the department
(New York, July 18, 2006) - A proposal to reestablish the Department for
the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Afghanistan raises
serious concerns about potential abuse of the rights of women and
vulnerable groups, Human Rights Watch said today.
A UN human rights investigator called for the dismantling of the ruling Taliban's religious police because of systematic discrimination against women in Afghanistan. Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Rapporteur for violence against women, said on return from Afghanistan.
She says "the ministry of vice and virtue is the most misogynist department in the whole world".
AFP, September 13, 1999
President Hamid Karzai's cabinet has approved the proposal to reestablish
the department, and it will go to Afghanistan's parliament when it
reconvenes later this summer. It is not clear what the department's
enforcement power would be. Nematullah Shahrani, the minister of Haj
and religious affairs, who would oversee the department, has stated that it
would focus on alcohol, drugs, crime and corruption. Afghanistan's
criminal laws already address these issues.
"Afghan women and girls face increasing insecurity, and it's more
important for the government to address how to improve their access to
public life rather than limit it further," said Zama Coursen-Neff, senior
researcher for Human Rights Watch. "Reinstatement of this controversial
department risks moving the discussion away from the vital security and
human rights problems now engulfing the country."
In a recently released report, "Lesson in Terror: Attacks on Education in
Afghanistan," Human Rights Watch identified the lack of access to
education, especially for girls, as jeopardizing the country's future
development and security. Human Rights Watch pointed out that the
proposed vice and virtue department does not address the real problems of
increasing insecurity in the south and southeast, particularly attacks on
schools, teachers and students that are preventing children from attending
"The proposed vice and virtue department's vague standards for upholding
morality could be used to silence critical voices, and further limit women's
and girls' access to work, health care and education," Coursen-Neff said.
"Most Afghans are against this.... the warlords, the conservatives and the jihadis want to show how strong they are," said Malalai Joya
, 27, a female parliamentarian from the province of Farah. Although she has faced death threats, Ms. Joya has repeatedly spoken out against corruption and warlords.
"Our first priority is peace and stability and improving the economy and reconstruction of Afghanistan, not to introduce a vice-and-virtue department to force people to go to the mosque," she added.
The Globe and Mail, July 28, 2006
A female member of parliament told Human Rights Watch that the
proposal was "a symbolic decision from the government but I'm worried
about it, maybe as always there will be some extremist violence against
freedom of speech on women's issues. The only hope is the Parliament."
Under the Taliban, the vice and virtue department became a notorious
symbol of arbitrary abuses, particularly against Afghan women and girls.
The department ruthlessly enforced restrictions on women and men
through public beatings and imprisonment. The department beat women
publicly for, among other things, wearing socks that were not sufficiently
opaque; showing their wrists, hands, or ankles; and not being accompanied
by a close male relative. They stopped women from educating girls in
home-based schools, working, and begging. They also beat men for
trimming their beards.
President Karzai came under pressure from conservative political figures
two months ago to reestablish the department in order to counter anti-
Western propaganda by opposition groups. The president then appointed a
panel with representatives from the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Haj
and Religious Affairs, and the Supreme Court, which drafted a proposal
and presented it to the cabinet. The cabinet approved the draft and plans to
submit it for parliamentary approval when the Afghan National Assembly
reconvenes later this summer.
Human Rights Watch called on the international community to make clear
a commitment to Afghanistan's long-term security and reconstruction, and
to avoid a return to repressive past practices.
[RAWA Homepage] [More reports from Afghanistan] [RAWA Photo Gallery]