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Court would have been Lifeline for Afghan Women

If a gender-sensitive International Criminal Court had existed in the past, war crimes suffered committed against Afghan women by combatants during the former Soviet Union's occupation of their country and the violation of rights by the Taliban would not have been possible, Zieba Shorish-Shamley, director of the Women's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan said Monday.

Afghan women have borne a major burden of rights violations in the country in the last two decades of conflict, which means "there has not been a central government or a central system to monitor the human rights violations which have continued," she said in an interview with Terra Viva.

"Over the past 20 years of strife in Afghanistan, atrocities have been committed against the population, and women and kids have got the worst of it. Some 1.5 million are estimated to have died during the war," Shorish-Shamley added.

The widespread rape and torture of women during the years of the Soviet occupation after 1979 was well documented by Amnesty International and by UN reports, she added.

"The criminals, mainly Soviet soldiers but also Afghan soldiers supporting the Marxist-Leninist government at that time, went unpunished. Most women had lost a close male relative under Soviet occupation," said Shorish-Shamley, whose brother had been killed by the pro-Soviet regime.

She recalled how Afghan women in refugee camps in Pakistan told of how they were raped, and their children abused, by Pakistani troops. During the factional fighting that followed the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, many women were also raped, beaten, tortured and abused.

"And since 1995 to 1996, Afghan women have been living under the oppression of the Taliban, an un-Islamic amalgamation of tribal custom and tradition, with a misguided interpretation of Islam that is full of anti-women prejudices," said Shorish-Shamley.

The Taliban, whose control of Afghanistan is recognised only by a handful of countries, has come under fire for its harsh policies against women. "They operate a policy of gender apartheid. They have closed schools, stopped women working, denied them access to health-care and have imposed the burgah or veil. Women are prisoners in their homes and are intimidated if they venture out," Shorish-Shamely said.

Still, underground women's organisations operate in Kabul and communicate clandestinely with the Afghan women's network in Pakistan, made up of some 20 NGOs.

But daily life remains a struggle for Afghan women under the Taliban. Mental illness abounds and some women are committing suicide by taking caustic soda. "Women prefer a painful death to living under Taliban edicts and seeing their children starve before their eyes," Shorish-Shamley pointed out.

"I strongly believe in a woman-friendly ICC that is sensitive to the human rights abuses that women have undergone all over the world, such as violence and coercion into prostitution. In Afghanistan, there has not been a central government or a central system to monitor the human rights violations which have continued," Shorish-Shamley said. Alison Dickens.

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