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UN: Violence Against Afghan Women Largely Goes Unpunished

FILE - Victims of violence sew at a shelter operated by the Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan, an NGO, in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 5, 2017.

The United Nations says women in Afghanistan who are victims of violence have little or no judicial recourse, as perpetrators of the crimes usually go unpunished. The findings were published in a joint report by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Office and the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

The report is based on 237 documented cases of violence against women from August 2015 through December 2017. It also examines 280 cases of murder and so-called honor killings in 2016 and 2017.

U.N. Human Rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell says one of the disturbing findings is the widespread use of mediation by community leaders, Shuras, Ulemas and Jirgas, to resolve criminal acts against women.

"Now the concern that we have is that violence against women in Afghanistan, including so-called 'honor killings,' too often goes unpunished. Despite concrete efforts by the Afghan government to criminalize these practices, victims are often pressured into agreeing to mediation, instead of the alleged perpetrator being brought to trial," Throssell said.

It is hard to come by accurate figures on the number of rapes, honor killings and other acts of violence against women in Afghanistan. For example, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission reports it had investigated 5,575 cases of violence against women in 2016. But it adds that the number of violations was probably grossly underestimated, as most cases of violence go unreported.

Throssell says U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein believes mediation should generally not be used because it prevents women from receiving justice.

"The high commissioner has said that the wide use of mediation, when a woman or girl has been beaten, mutilated or murdered, or when she has been the victim of that awful concept of honor killing, normalizes such violence and makes it much more likely to recur," Throssell said.

The report calls on Afghan authorities to investigate and prosecute criminal offenses of violence against women. It says offenses should be expanded to include forced marriages and harmful traditional practices.