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The mob killing of Farkhunda was a defining moment for women's rights in Afghanistan

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Afghan men gather, as Farkhunda's body is set on fire (AP)

Surrounded by hundreds of men, the 27-year old-woman begged for her life.  Her pleas were ignored.

 

 In March this year, a 27-year-old woman was beaten to death in Kabul. Here, the lawyer who represented her family in court explains why this landmark case could change the future for ordinary Afghan women

Farkhunda was beaten, run over with a car and set alight, in the centre of Kabul, in March this year.

The men surrounded her; kicking, jumping and stamping on her, while onlookers shouted "Allahu Akbar" ("God is greatest"). They hit her with wooden poles and dragged her on to a nearby rooftop, before throwing her into a dry river bank. Her charred remains were later found there.

What made this horrendous crime – carried out after Farkhunda was wrongly accused of burning a copy of the Koran – even more shocking, was that it was filmed by members of the crowd. They eagerly made it available on social media.

Afghan men gather, as Farkhunda's body is set on fire (AP)

As the attorney who represented Farkhunda’s family in court, I - along with millions of others in the first televised trial in Afghanistan’s history - silently sat and watched multiple videos that documented the vicious mob violence that killed this young woman.

It was shocking.

Video after video showed how the crowd slowly gathered, while police casually strolled around, doing nothing to quell the mounting violence.

Many were seen bragging about their footage. A handful of people tried to calm the mob as Farkhunda attempted to fight off her assailants. They failed miserably.

President Ashraf Ghani condemned Farkhunda’s murder as a "heinous attack." She was buried and laid to rest by women amid a huge public outcry and her funeral drew hundreds onto the streets.

In Afghanistan and beyond many valiantly demanded justice for Farkhunda.  Now, we know the result of that justice.

Forty-nine people were brought to trial. Twenty-seven were found not guilty: 18 civilians and 9 police officers.  Twelve convictions have been handed down to civilians, including four death sentences.  Ten police officers have been convicted for their failure in protecting Farkhunda.  There can be little doubt that this case was a defining moment for Afghanistan, women’s rights, and a rigorous test of Afghanistan’s legal system.

How it has been prosecuted will show the world what Afghanistan is really made of and what the legacy of billions of dollars investment - and a 13 year international intervention that recently came to an end - has resulted in.  I am hopeful that the decisions made by the court will stand, and that political pressures will not undermine the convictions handed down.

And in convicting the police involved – those who failed to act on their moral and legal duty – Afghanistan has taken the first step in showing it understands the need to protect and value its women.

In March, President Ghani promised to work towards a commitment to woman's rights, a transformation of the legal system, and a pledge to defeat terrorism.

All of this has now been put to the test.

Punishing the officials involved is key for setting precedent in Afghanistan; key for setting a precedent in the Middle East; and it is key for setting a precedent across the world.

It is right that they be held criminally responsible for their failure to act.

This represents much more than a community policing issue. It is a societal issue, a global issue, which goes to the core of how a disenfranchised country continues to silently support, through their inaction, the repeated degradation and demise of its women.

They remain viciously abused, ignored, and shut down.

But, by convicting those officers who passively watched the mob, ironically Afghanistan has become a frontrunner in punishing those officials who fail to fulfil their roles.

This is as a global precedent. Afghanistan has taken responsibility for demonstrating that we all have a duty to protect each other.

It has set an example and showed the public that wild attacks against women under the guide of ‘community’ will not be tolerated.

I know that Farkhunda’s family are unhappy with the legal process.

Her brother, Mujibullah, told Associated Press that her family was angered by the leniency of the court.

"The outcome of the trial is not fair and we do not accept it – you saw just four people sentenced to death but everybody knows that more than 40 people were involved in martyring and burning and beating my sister," said Mujibullah, who like many Afghans, only uses one name.

But, professionally, I applaud the willingness of the prosecutors in Afghanistan in taking a bold step forward in the successful conviction of police officers.

Personally, as a citizen of the U.S. - a country that has, of late has had its struggles prosecuting police for aggressive often fatal police tactics that has resulted in unjustified murders, the U.S. should take note of Afghanistan on this one.

Afghanistan’s courts cannot sweep what happened to Farkhunda under the rug. They need to draw a line in the sand and put a stop to the deeply rooted culture of misogyny that has permeated much of Afghanistan's social fabric.

A 2012 Oxfam report found that 87 per cent of woman will be victims of some form of physical, sexual, psychological violence, or forced marriage in their lifetimes.

Punishing perpetrators –however powerful - sends a strong message that every Afghan is accountable for the protection of its women.

With this case and its subsequent convictions, Afghanistan has a chance to decide who it really is.

Millions of Afghan citizens, millions of women like Farkhunda, deserve a country that respects their rights and protects their safety. They deserve a country that upholds its moral and legal obligations and will punish those who seek to violate them.

What the community now does is crucial.

Will it passively sit back and watch as women, are viciously attacked time and again? Or will it recognise a moral and legal obligation, take a stand and forge a new global path of accountability and responsibility?

I can only hope we have learned something from the brutal and unnecessary death of this young woman.
 


Kimberley Motley, 23/05/2015

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