Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered a review of a new law for Afghanistan's Shiite minority after Western nations raised concerns over its impact on women's rights, Western officials said on Saturday.
Speaking at a NATO summit at which Britain and other countries agreed to send more troops to Afghanistan to step up security during August presidential elections, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he voiced grave concern over the Shiite Personal Status Law to Karzai Saturday and had "demanded assurances" that the law would not infringe women's rights.
"People will not accept that British soldiers are working in Afghanistan to make Afghanistan safe if the rights of women are not being properly upheld in the country," Brown said.
A controversial law
The law, which has not been publicly released, is believed to state women can only seek work, education or doctor's appointments with their husband's permission.
Only fathers and grandfathers are granted custody of children under the law, according to the United Nations Development Fund for Women.
Opponents of the legislation governing the personal lives of Afghanistan's Shiite minority have said it is "worse than during the Taliban."
Karzai has been accused of electioneering at the expense of women's rights by signing the law to appeal to crucial Shiite swing voters in this year's presidential poll.
While the Afghan constitution guarantees equal rights for women, it also allows the Shiite community, thought to represent 10 per cent of the population, the right to settle family law cases according to Shiite law.
People will not accept that British soldiers are working in Afghanistan to make Afghanistan safe if the rights of women are not being properly upheld in the country
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Disapproval from the West
A British official said Karzai had told Brown he had asked Afghanistan's Justice Ministry to look at every aspect of the law, consult with the Shiite community and if necessary bring a revised draft back to parliament.
The United States, NATO, Canada and the United Nations have spoken out against the law, saying it legalizes marital rape.
Karzai said on Saturday such criticisms were based on a wrong translation or misinterpretation of the law, which has not yet come into force.
He said a copy of the law he had seen did not reflect the criticisms and concerns of Afghanistan's Western backers.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Friday the law might make it harder for member states to send more troops to battle Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
"We are there to defend universal values and when I see ... a law threatening to come into effect which fundamentally violates women's rights and human rights that worries me" he said.
We are there to defend universal values and when I see ... a law threatening to come into effect which fundamentally violates women's rights and human rights that worries me
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer