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Karzai orders changes to bill that outraged rights groups

image copyrightAFP
image captionCritics said the bill would reverse gains made since the end of Taliban rule

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered changes to draft legislation that critics said would severely limit justice for victims of domestic abuse.

A spokesman said he would insist that "necessary amendments" were made.

The bill - passed last year by parliament - bans relatives from testifying against alleged abusers.

Human rights groups said the draft law would make it almost impossible to secure a conviction in cases of violence against women.

The conservative-dominated Afghan parliament - both houses of which had already passed the law - is now expected to either agree to make amendments or begin discussions again.

In what appeared to be an 11th-hour decision by Mr Karzai, a cabinet meeting on Monday decided the legislation would have to be changed.

"We are not going to allow any such law to come into force unless the necessary amendments are made," Mr Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi told AP news agency.

Mr Faizi suggested there may have been a problem with how the legislation in question - Article 26 - was translated into English.

'Off the hook'

It will be down to the Ministry of Justice to decide on how to amend the text, but Mr Faizi stressed the resulting legislation would be clear.

"This law will not bar any relative or any family member to testify against each other or another member of family," he said.

"It will be up to them. They will have the freedom."

The move came amid growing concerns both from rights groups and partners abroad - with Human Rights Watch warning it would "effectively let batterers of women and girls off the hook".

Rights groups had argued that the new law would reverse some of the gains made for women since the end of Taliban rule - in particular in the field of child marriage, rape and domestic abuse - where often other family members are the only witnesses, reports the BBC's Karen Allen in Kabul.

There are growing concerns that once the numbers of foreign troops in Afghanistan reduce later this year, hard-won rights giving women more freedom may be reversed, she says.