- - Tuesday, October 19, 2010

IRAQ

U.N. envoy escapes bombing unharmed

BAGHDAD | The chief U.N. envoy to Iraq escaped unharmed from a bombing that hit his convoy Tuesday after a meeting with the nation’s top cleric about how to unsnarl Iraq’s stalemated government.

Officials have long worried the political impasse that has gripped Iraq for more than seven months may lead to violence, and the attack on U.N. Special Representative Ad Melkert underscored those fears.

The U.N. briefly pulled out of Iraq after a 2003 bombing of its Baghdad headquarters killed then-envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 employees. But it has since stepped up its presence as violence ebbs across Iraq and as the U.S. military begins to leave.

U.N. spokeswoman Randa Jamal said Mr. Melkert had finished meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and was leaving the Shiite holy city of Najaf when his convoy struck a roadside bomb. Nobody in the delegation was injured and Mr. Melkert was safely back in Baghdad by Tuesday evening, Ms. Jamal said.

SAUDI ARABIA

Group: Courts limit women’s rights

CAIRO | A leading human rights watchdog said courts in Saudi Arabia empower men to abuse their positions as guardians of female relatives — sometimes jailing adult women for “disobedience” when they seek control of their personal lives.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report that Saudi court rulings have enabled male family members to prevent, end or force the marriages of adult women and seize custody of their children.

Saudi state law is based on Islamic Sharia law, which governs many personal status issues like marriage, child custody and inheritance in the context of the wider family structure.

Under Saudi law, women must obtain permission from a male guardian — a father, husband, brother or son — to travel abroad, access certain government services or marry. Some hospitals require a guardian’s permission before they or their children can undergo certain medical procedures.

The HRW report cited the case of one woman, over the age of 30, whose father placed her in a mental institution then locked her in the house because she wanted to marry a man whose tribe her father considered inferior. The woman escaped to a shelter for abused women and sued her father for preventing her marriage — a crime in Saudi Arabia.

She won the case — which canceled her father’s guardianship status — but he has appealed three times, HRW said. The last time, the court referred the case to the public prosecutor to charge the woman for “illegal seclusion” with her fiance.

The case is still open, the report said, but the woman remains in the shelter, which she can’t leave without written permission from her father.

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