Photo: Afghan women students at Kabul University, 1995
Speaking to his fellow members of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights last week at a meeting which heard that the situation for Afghan women has considerably worsened over the last two years, Lib MP Mario Silva recounted his own conversations with women’s groups in Afghanistan this past June:
“They told us when they were young, they had full freedom in terms of education, they didn’t have to wear the head scarf, they could go out in public without any problem. It was more restricted with the Taliban but they did have more progressive attitudes towards women some time ago. So I think when we in the West say we have to be culturally sensitive to them and it takes time — I think that is a false argument.”
He stated that that all the womens groups told him that concessions to the Taliban were won on the backs of women, that they strongly opposed the Karzai government, and that continued Canadian presence in Afghanistan was important to them.
The only witness Tuesday was Reverend Majed El Shafie of the Christian Toronto-based human rights group, One Free World International. He testified that while working in Afghanistan four years ago, he was able to connect with local human rights orgs and individuals through their networks. In the last four years, however, and specifically in the last two, reports indicated the human rights situation is much deteriorated, so in June he returned with a delegation that included Silva.
El Shafie outlined three main issues.
Number one – the severe abuse and shocking punishments meted out to women, abetted and sanctioned by the new 2009 laws passed by the Karzai government before the last election.
Number two – Boy play or “bacha bazi” — sexual slavery in which boys are dressed up to dance as girls and afterwards whoever pays the most gets to rape the boy. Members of the government take part, says El Shafie, and some boys are raped six to eight times a day, including by the police if they complain. He has video.
Number three – Persecution of 25 Afghans converting to Christianity, including calls for their deaths by members of parliament, backed up by Karzai’s spokesman, the deputy secretary. El Shafie tabled the document authorizing them being stoned to death.
He recommended future Canadian aid be tied to preconditions on human rights improvements.
Although he testified that “our support of Karzai and the corruption of his family is what is negatively affecting our image” to the Afghan people, he made a passionate plea for Canada not to abandon them, to stay on in Afghanistan.
The committee met hours before the defeat of the Bloc motion condemning the Conservative government’s extension of the Afghanistan mission without a parliamentary vote.
There is a notable lack of partisan party bickering on this seven member committee — possibly because a majority of them also work together on the Steering Committee of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (CPCCA). Scott Reid is Chair of both, Mario Silva is Vice Chair of both, and Irwin Cotler and David Sweet are members of both. So the Steering Committee of the CPCCA holds a majority on the human rights committee.
This also perhaps explains why human rights abuses perpetrated on Palestine/Gaza do not show up anywhere on their radar. Rather unusual for a human rights committee, no?