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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 5414


Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (3:28 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (Senator Evans) to a question without notice asked by Senator Bob Brown today relating to Afghanistan.

We have a loyal and committed contingent of Australian defence force personnel in Afghanistan, and our nation believes that that contingent is there to fight for freedom and democracy and the rule of law. It is important that, in honour of their duty to this nation, we in this parliament take note carefully of events in Afghanistan and keep re-evaluating the process leading towards that goal of democracy. That is why I asked the minister representing the Prime Minister in question time about Afghan President Karzai’s signing of a decree last week which cuts right across the rights of women. It not only represses women but breaches the Afghan constitution and, as reported, breaches international law.

I reiterate that some of the matters that will be permitted—by a very long, complicated decree which deals with other matters—when it comes to women would be these. First of all, a husband has the right under the law of this decree to repress his wife by refusing her food and sustenance if she does not accord his wish for sexual favours. He could starve her to death if he wants to. The husband has the absolute right of decreeing whether a wife can go to work or not—whether she can leave the house. Without any further argument being entered into, if there is a dispute over custody, the man gets the custody of children or, if he is not available, then his father does. The woman has no comeback in that situation. There is another provision which allows blood money to be paid for women who are hurt physically—I cannot see how otherwise it could be—in a rape, whereby the man can pay money to rectify that situation. These are barbaric, unforgivable and unacceptable components of a decree from the President of Afghanistan who, we are told, is in the position of being re-elected in tomorrow’s poll.

We have to look beyond that attitude towards fellow voters in Afghanistan to look at the poll itself. I quote from Ann Jones, writing in yesterday’s Nation under the heading ‘Ballots and Bullets for Afghanistan’. In her article she says this:

Even international bodies charged with facilitating the process—

that is, of the elections—

have given up the goal of “free and fair” elections. They aim instead for “credible” elections—which means results that look pretty good, even when they’re not.

She goes on to say:

A recent report places the number of voter registration cards distributed (not including fakes) at 17 million, almost twice the estimated number of eligible voters in the country. To guarantee victory in the last elections in 2004 and 2005, many candidates arranged to have ballot boxes stuffed while awaiting transport to central collection points. So this time the votes are to be tallied at the polling places. That should make it even easier for local big men to fix the results; they won’t even have to count.

There is much more in here about men having multiple voting cards, including those cards of the women who they are associated with, who do not even get to the polling booth. As the minister said, this is a country which has a terrible history when it comes to human rights and democratic freedoms. In a transition you can expect that it is going to be short of what we expect, but this Prime Minister in this country, knowing this, has said nothing about this decree from President Karzai. The silence is deafening. I would have thought that Prime Minister Rudd would have spoken up about this, and I expected I would hear what action the government has taken to express Australia’s disgust at that decree.

Question agreed to.