Afghan constitutional council embroiled in controversy, marred by angry sparring

Associated Press
, Dec 17, 2003
A woman delegate to Afghanistan's landmark constitutional council issued a stinging rebuke of powerful armed faction leaders at the gathering Wednesday, calling them "criminals" and sparking arguments and an attempt to throw her out.

The incident came at the start of stormy day at the Kabul session. Supporters of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, meanwhile, accused the government of trying to force them to accept a presidential system, which they say would put too much power in the hands of U.S.-backed Afghan leader Hamid Karzai.

"Women are half of men"

Mr. Sighbatullah Mojadeddi, Chairperson of the Afghan Constitutional Loya Jirga, in regards to the human rights and civil rights:

"We all have to respect the vote. Women are free to vote for men. Men are free to vote for women. We cannot make this separation... Do not try to put yourself on a level with men. Even God has not given you equal rights because under his decision two women are counted as equal to one man."

The New York Times, December 16, 2003
By Amy Waldman

Many in the assembly are calling for the creation of a powerful prime minister's post to blunt the president's influence. Karzai has rejected any move to curb his power.

In the morning session, Malalai Joya - one of abut 100 female delegates to the 500-member council, launched a verbal attack on faction leaders such as Rabbani.

"Why have you again selected as committee chairmen those criminals who have brought these disasters for the Afghan people? In my opinion they should be taken to the world court," said Joya.

Many of the commanders who fought the Soviet Union in the 1980s still control provincial fiefdoms and have been accused of human rights abuses and corruption. After ousting the Soviets, the militias turned on each other in a brutal civil war that destroyed most of the capital, Kabul.

Some faction leaders, like former president Rabbani and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a deeply conservative Islamist, have been elected to the jirga, and others - like northern strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum were appointed by Karzai.

Human rights groups and others have warned that Karzai will bargain away too much to the men in return for their support for a presidential system.

Joya's comments, which stopped only after her microphone was turned off, sparked outrage among the hard-liners and their supporters, who denounced her as a communist and demanded she be removed from the session amid shouts of "God is Great!"

Council chairman Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, a Karzai ally, ordered Joya thrown out of the session, saying she had "disturbed this jirga and been very rude."

As Joya resisted security guards that had come to take her away, Rabbani called for tolerance, and she was allowed to remain.

In the debate over the powers of a prime minister, several delegates have threatened a walk-out. Others signed a petition Wednesday saying the issue of divvying up power should be decided before the council takes up other hot-button issues like women's rights and the role of Islam in a future state.

"A large group of delegates stood and shouted that they would walk out if the jirga continues in this manner (without a decision on the prime minister)," delegate Mohammed Daoud told The Associated Press. The session was closed to reporters.

About 200 of the 500 loya jirga delegates signed a petition calling for a quick decision on whether to create a prime minister, said delegate Hafiz Mansour, a Rabbani supporter and editor of a Northern Alliance weekly newspaper.

The alliance was the key U.S. ally in ousting the Taliban regime in Afghanistan which was playing host to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida organization.

Outspoken Joya in Defiant Mood

The Institute for War & Peace Reporting
, No. 91, December 23, 2003

Loya Jirga delegate Malalai Joya, who caused a furor with her criticisms of jihadi leaders, says even the threat of death won't keep her from speaking the truth.

In telephone interviews with IWPR Monday night and Tuesday [yesterday], 25-year-old Joya said she's been told by the Loya Jirga authorities that if she repeats her remarks she'll be expelled.

On Tuesday morning when she attempted to speak to a group of reporters, Joya was stopped by Qayamuddin Kashaf, deputy chairman of the grand assembly, who told her she doesn't have permission to speak to reporters any more.

But Joya has no regrets about her words and says she'll continue to speak out.

"I said the facts; I defend it and I reckon that this is my proven right," she said. "Even if it costs my life I will defend my speech."

Worse still, the meeting now underway has been dominated by the warlords. Those with the guts to stand up to the gunmen have faced severe pressures. One woman delegate, Malalai Joya stood up and complained about the warlord dominance last week, but was almost thrown out of the convention and now requires full-time security guards. Needless to add, women's rights issues haven't been robustly debated at the meeting.

Human Rights Watch, December 24, 2003
By John Sifton

Joya, who represents Farah province in western Afghanistan, is one of the youngest of the 502 delegates to the Loya Jirga. After she made a speech last week calling jihadi leaders "criminals" who "destroyed the country" and said they should be put on trial, she was accused of being a communist and was nearly expelled from the gathering

Joya said she considers herself "a Muslim, a person who has suffered, and the delegate of a distressed nation".

She was born and raised in Farah, and graduated from high school. She says she chose not to go to university because she wanted to help other Afghans with their primary and secondary education. But she has studied literature, political science and history in her free time, and hopes some day to study literature at university.

During the Taleban regime, Joya, who is unmarried, worked for four years in Herat and Peshawar refugee camps, helping Afghans who had fled fighting and drought. In the past year, she has continued to do social work, distributing food and medicine, and setting up literacy courses in Farah province. She now works for a charity there, and runs literacy courses, a health clinic and a day care centre for children.

Her father had studied medicine and became mujahed, losing a leg in the fighting against the Soviet Union. Her mother, who is uneducated, suffers from depression due to the severity of her life, said Joya. She has three brothers and seven sisters.

She told IWPR that she was trying to make three points in her speech, "First, these warlords should have been tried, and if found innocent then they could come to the Jirga. Second, the composition of the Loya Jirga is not appropriate - all jihadi and powerful people have come. And third, the environment is not democratic."

Although Joya spoke for less than two minutes, her speech caused some jihadi delegates to leap to their feet, shouting "Death to communism" and "Alloa Akbar [God is great]". Loya Jirga chairman Sibghatullah Mujadidi at first tried to remove Joya from the assembly, but backed down when other delegates objected. Joya was then asked to apologise, but she stood her ground and would not retract her accusations.

She says that inside the Loya Jirga hall many women had the same ideas as she did, and they wanted to leave in support of her, but they did not because "fear, power and [men who control] guns were dominant".

Joya said the draft constitution is unclear and much too vague about women's rights, and that it doesn't directly address their problems.

She is also advocating that higher education should remain free, and that the national anthem should be rewritten to include many languages in a kind of poem promoting national unity.

She was originally assigned to the committee headed by Burharudin Rabbani, former president in the mujahedin era, but asked to be reassigned to one with a "democratic person who believes in equal rights" as the chair.

In this group, she said, she has been able to speak freely.

She denied the claims that she has been a member of a radical women's organisation or any political party.

It's not only radical or political groups that are brave or want to accuse former jihadi leaders of crimes, she said. "Not one Afghan woman has gone without suffering," she said.

Joya is one of the two female delegates from Farah province. She got 48 out of 135 women's votes, coming first among eight candidates.

She wants to write books about her people and society. She's been keeping notes about her experiences and the stories of ordinary Afghans she has met.

Some think so highly of Joya that they want to call her the "Second Malalai". Malalai is a famous 19th century Afghan woman who is credited with turning the tide in the battle of Maiwand, against the British. When the morning of the battle began with numerous Afghan casualties and many surrendering or running away, Malalai took up a sword to fight the British herself, singing an Afghan song, and inspired her countrymen to keep fighting.

The title makes Joya happy. "All of my family is proud of me and agrees with me - but my mother is worried about me," she told IWPR.

She says that other Malalais in Afghanistan want to speak out, but they've been stopped by threats. Joya hopes that hearing her words will encourage others to raise their voices.

Joya's foes, however, believe that her remarks were an offense to Islam and jihad. Some have called her an atheist for saying anything bad about jihadis.

Joya had been staying in the women's dorm at the Polytechnic, but she's now staying in the city in an undisclosed location with extra protection from private security and Afghan forces.

She thanked Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai, Interior Minister Ali Jalali and US ambassador Zalmi Khalil Zad for taking steps to ensure her security.

All three men, she said, told her that they admired her courage. And all three assured her that the freedom of speech is the right of all Afghans.

By Rahimullah Samander who is an IWPR editor/reporter in Kabul.

Woman delegate almost expelled from Afghan assembly

, Dec 17, 2003

KABUL, Dec. 17 (Xinhuanet) -- A woman delegate was almost expelledon Wednesday from the ongoing Afghan constitutional assembly aftershe criticized Mujahidin leaders for their past involvement in thecivil war.

In her speech, Malalai Joya from the western Farah province accused Mujahidin factions, who fought the former Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, of triggering a four-year civil war and destroying the country.

"Those Mujahidin leaders who were responsible for the country'sdestruction should be tried," she told a plenary assembly session broadcast live by Kabul Television.

Joya's argument provoked many fellow delegates, including former Jihadi leader Abdurab Rasoul Sayyaf, who asked the assemblyto take action against her.

Assembly chairman Sibghatullah Mujadadi, also a former Jihadi leader, then ordered the expulsion of Joya from the session, telling security personnel to take her away from the floor.

The outspoken woman delegate could stay at the session only after other woman delegates intervened by asking the chairman to forgive her.

However, Joya, a doctor, refused to apologize for her harsh speech to the session.

Over 100 women are among the 502 delegates at the gathering, opened on Sunday, to discuss and adopt Afghanistan's new constitution after the hard-line ruling Taliban was ousted two years ago.

The fundamentalist Taliban regime confined women to their houses and barred girls from going to school during its six-year rule.

However, critics said that the draft constitution under discussions at the assembly guarantees no sufficient rights for Afghan women.

Infighting between various Mujahidin groups for power since 1992, after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, destroyed much of the country, including the capital city Kabul. Enditem

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