[JURIST] Afghan President Hamid Karzai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] said Saturday that he has ordered the review of a law which severely limits the rights of married Shi'ite women in the country. The Shi'ite Personal Status Law was enacted last month [JURIST report] and has not yet been published, but opponents say the law requires a woman to seek her husband's permission before leaving the house, and effectively condones rape [NYT report] within a marriage. Karzai said the bill has been misunderstood [VOA report] by Western media, but that he has ordered the country's Ministry of Justice [official website] to review the law. Karzai that the law would be returned to the Afghan parliament if changes need to be made. Among those calling for changes to the law were UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown [Guardian report], US President Barack Obama, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [press releases]. The Afghanistan constitution [text, PDF] requires equal rights for both both men and women, but allows for the country's Shia [BBC backgrounder] population to observe some of its own religious laws.
Signing the law was one of several actions that Karzai has been criticized for since his appointment as Afghanistan's interim president in 2002. In early March, the UN reported that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is worsening [JURIST report], one week after a similar US report rebuked Afghanistan for, among other problems, continued use of child labor [JURIST report]. In November, the UN urged Afghanistan to discontinue use of the death penalty [JURIST report], which Karzai had reinstated following a four-year moratorium [JURIST report]. In April 2008, the Taliban attempted to assassinate Karzai [Guardian report] during a military parade, the third attempt on his life since 2001.