Tuesday, April 28, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed Monday to change a law critics say legalizes marital rape to remove concerns that it violates human rights.

The law, which sparked an international outcry after it was signed last month, says a husband can demand sex with his wife every four days unless she is ill or would be harmed by intercourse. It also regulates when and for what reasons a wife may leave her home alone.

Numerous countries condemned the law and President Obama called it “abhorrent,” prompting Mr. Karzai to suspend the legislation for a judicial review. He said previously the law will be changed, but his comments Monday were his strongest yet against the controversial measure.

“Amendments will take place,” and the law “will not have any concerns on any account of human rights and especially the rights of the Afghan people,” Mr. Karzai told reporters at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Mr. Brown said he discussed the law with Mr. Karzai.

The statement appeared to put to rest speculation that Mr. Karzai signed the law to pander to conservatives ahead of this summer’s presidential election.

Though the law would apply only to the country’s Shi’ites, who make up less than 20 percent of Afghanistan’s 30 million people, many fear its passage marks a return to Taliban-style oppression of women. The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, required women to wear all-covering burqas and banned them from leaving home unless accompanied by a close male relative.

The issue of how to interpret Afghanistan’s Constitution has been at the heart of the debate about the law. Afghanistan is an Islamic state, and the law’s supporters point to a part of the constitution that says the Koran is the ultimate authority.

They say the legislation in question simply formalizes rules from the Muslim holy book.

Critics say the law uses an outdated interpretation of the Koran to justify oppressing women. Afghanistan’s Constitution also guarantees equal rights for men and women.

“I assure you that the laws of Afghanistan will be in complete harmony with the Constitution of Afghanistan and the human rights that we have adhered to in our constitution and in the principles of the international treaties,” Mr. Karzai said Monday.

Mr. Karzai told a group of lawmakers Sunday that he had not read the law before signing it and his Cabinet advisers read a version that did not include the contentious articles, said Sabrina Saqib, a lawmaker from Kabul who was in the meeting.

She said Mr. Karzai told them the first phase of the review was finished and they were now starting to meet with clerics about the proposed changes. He pledged to complete the process before his term ends May 21, Ms. Saqib said.

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