Violence against women in Afghanistan, including so-called "honour killings", too often goes unpunished, despite concrete efforts by the Government to criminalise these practices, with victims often pressured into agreeing to mediation, instead of the alleged perpetrator being brought to trial, a UN report published on Tuesday has said.
The report by the UN Human Rights Office and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Injustice and Impunity: Mediation of Criminal Offences against Women, examines the wide use of mediation by community leaders, Shuras, Ulemas and Jirgas, as well as Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) institutions to resolve criminal offences against women.
It is based on 237 documented cases of violence against women between 1 August 2015 and 31 December 2017, 280 cases of murder and "honour killings" in 2016 and 2017 and focus group discussions with 1,826 mediators. It also details the experience of survivors who underwent mediation after initially having registered a complaint with the authorities.
"The wide use of mediation when a woman or girl has been beaten, mutilated or murdered, or when she has been the victim of that awful concept of 'honour killing', normalizes such violence and makes it much more likely to recur. It also erodes the confidence of women – and the wider public – in the legal system," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.
"To use mediation for such offences is at its core a human rights violation by the State, which has an obligation under international law to ensure the effective prevention of such crimes and the protection of women, and to provide an effective remedy where such violence occurs," he added.
Women interviewed for the report said they often faced intense pressure from family, community members and EVAW Law institutions that mediation was the only acceptable choice for the resolution of violent crime as it would preserve family unity.
Others expressed a preference for mediation, given the perceived deficiencies in the criminal justice system, including allegations of corruption, fear of economic and other repercussions if the offender were jailed, as well as cultural and family pressures. They also stressed the value of mediation as a swift way to have their complaint addressed.
"The report's findings, including details indicating unchecked impunity in 'honour killings' and the murder of women, signals that justice for Afghan women victims of violence remains severely inadequate," said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan.
"The government has taken concrete steps to establish measures for accountability, and our report recognizes this, but the reality is that brutal violence against women continues to take place," said Yamamoto, who is also head of UNAMA. "It is our expectation that the insights presented in this new report will trigger the reforms needed to protect Afghan women and to improve their access to justice."
Among its recommendations, the report calls for the authorities' obligation to investigate and prosecute criminal offences of violence against women to be expanded, particularly to include forced marriages and harmful traditional practices, irrespective of whether the victim filed or withdrew a complaint. It also recommends that Afghanistan develops robust mechanisms for non-custodial alternatives for less serious crimes of violence against women, the vast majority of which are currently mediated. The capacity of the criminal justice system to protect victims should also be strengthened.