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Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Page: 3294

Ms BRODTMANN (Canberra) (19:49): Since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001 we have witnessed significant advances in human rights across Afghanistan. Millions of Afghan girls and boys are now going to school. Many women now have access to education, employment, basic health care and other essential services that previously were off limits to them. A vibrant civil society has emerged and media have been freer to voice the concerns of the Afghan people. As we all know, Afghanistan now has a higher percentage of women in parliament than Australia.

Of course things are not all that rosy—not even close. Poverty remains rife in Afghanistan, as does insecurity, corruption and violence—including violence against women. Both the rule of law and the system of justice are weaker than they should be. There is still a great deal of work to be done in this area.

As Australia and our ISAF partners withdraw, Afghanistan faces an uncertain future. Perhaps—and I hope—it will continue down the path of progress and reform, furthering these advances in human rights to improve quality of life and economic prosperity. However, there is also a real threat to Afghanistan: that it will regress, and that the many and significant human rights advances that have been made over the last 12 years will be degraded or even entirely lost. There is evidence that this regression is already occurring. In the context of the ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the rights of women and girls in particular are at risk.

In just nine days time, on 5 April, Afghanistan will hold a presidential election. The result of this election will be fundamental in determining the future for the people of Afghanistan. My very great fear is that the newly-elected president will not uphold the rights of women and girls as his predecessor has, and that it will be the rights of women and girls that are lost.

President Karzai has recently blocked attempts by Afghan authorities to repeal protection for women and introduce laws which would, firstly, introduce stoning for adultery and amputation of hands and feet for theft, and, secondly, prevent effective investigation and prosecution of gender-based violence. President Karzai's intervention—supported by international and domestic pressure—was fundamental in protecting the rights of women in this instance. His successor must be prepared to make the same interventions.

Already, Afghan civil society groups have sounded the alarm to Amnesty International and others about a newly deteriorating women's human rights situation in the country. In areas currently under Taliban control, the human rights of women and girls are severely restricted, including their freedom of movement and political participation. Meanwhile, Afghan women, including female human rights defenders, remain sidelined from key national and international deliberations on ways to advance peace, security, development and human rights in Afghanistan, despite the requirement of Security Council Resolution 1325 and others that require women's participation in peacemaking and peace building.

The nine women appointed to the 70-member High Peace Council, set up to negotiate with elements of the Taliban, are largely excluded from key discussions, and some of the small steps that have been taken to ensure the protection of women have been undermined. In May 2013, after some conservative members of parliament attempted to weaken the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women, its parliamentary endorsement was deferred. A new criminal procedure code passed by both houses of the Afghan parliament in January 2014 introduced a provision prohibiting relatives of the accused from testifying in criminal cases, which would effectively make impossible prosecuting cases of domestic violence.

As the presidential election approaches, the international community—including Australia—must make it clear to presidential candidates that the rights of women and girls cannot be traded away or degraded. They are hard-fought-for and highly valued. As the pen holder for Afghanistan at the UN Security Council, Australia has, to date, played a significant role in driving the adoption of strong language in support of human rights and women's rights in Afghanistan. This role cannot end now.

The Australian government should: call on the incoming Afghan president to commit to implementing in full the elimination of violence against women law, support the meaningful participation of Afghan women in peace talks, support Afghanistan to develop its own 1325 action plan, and address the low conviction rate of perpetrators of gender based violence.

We cannot let this election be the end of rights for women and girls in Afghanistan. They now enjoy the right to travel alone and freedoms only dreamed of 12 years ago. I urge the Abbott government and the international community to remain vigilant to ensure women in Afghanistan have a meaningful role around the negotiation table and do not just end up being dinner.