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Friday, July 15, 2011

BIBI AISHA: Is a Reminder of What We Owe Afghanistan, and What It Owes to Itself!

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Posted by  Thursday, July 14, 2011 at 2:02 p /
Aisha Bibi, left, in Los Angeles, October 8, 2010 and on the cover of TIME Magazine, August 9, 2010. (Photo: Left; Arun Nevader - Getty Images: Jodi Bieber for TIME).

The revelation that the only man ever arrested in connection to the brutal maiming of Afghan teen Bibi Aisha has been set free a mere six months after being taken into custody should not come as a surprise. Dismay and frustration, to be sure. But given the current state of justice in Afghanistan, not to mention official disregard for women's rights (or human rights, for that matter), it's a wonder anyone was picked up in the first place.

Aisha's father-in-law, Suleiman, was accused of participating in the horrific act that saw Aisha's husband and brother-in-law cut off her nose and ears in retaliation for running away from her abusive in-laws.  After initially confessing his role to the local police, he has now recanted, according to the Uruzgan Provincial Attorney Ghulam Farouq, as reported Monday in theNew York Times. Farouq gave two reasons for the release, one that Suleiman did not cut off her nose himself (he just held her down, by her account) and that there was no one in Afghanistan to press the case, since Aisha is now in the United States awaiting reconstructive surgery.

Neither of these reasons bear any weight—Afghanistan is, after all, a signatory to international judicial conventions, and according to Esther Hyneman, New York based head of Women for Afghan Women, the NGO that is currently taking care of Aisha as she awaits surgery, Aisha could have easily have provided testimony in a deposition from New York.

More than anything it is an indication of the parlous state of the Afghan justice system. "It's a pattern,” Manizha Naderi, the Kabul-based director of Women for Afghan Women told my colleague in Kabul.  “Corruption is rife. Anyone can bribe their way out of prison. It happens very often and it sends a bad message, not just for women's rights but for the whole justice system."

For Hyneman, Suleiman's release symbolizes a “setback for women's rights in Afghanistan. Although we are making a lot of progress at the grassroots level—women are winning cases in courts, they come to shelters on their own steam, they know they can say no to abuse—these gains are fragile. And the government has proved again and again that women's rights are expendable when it comes to bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.”

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