Controversial Afghan family law halted: minister

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said he was informed Sunday by his counterpart in Afghanistan that a new family law, which critics say legalizes marital rape, has been halted and will be revised.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said he was informed Sunday by his counterpart in Afghanistan that a new family law, which critics say legalizes marital rape, has been halted and will be revised.

"A decision was made to halt this legislation, and at the same time send this package back to the minister of Justice so that the minister of Justice can put together a package that will abide, of course, by the constitution of Afghanistan and at the same time respect the rights of individuals — of course, the rights of women," Cannon said.

The decision was made after a Saturday cabinet meeting attended by Afghan Foreign Affairs Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta and President Hamid Karzai, Cannon said, adding he believes the Afghan law has now been halted.

The law gives husbands the right to sex every fourth night unless the wife is ill. It only affects Shia Muslims, who make up about 15 per cent of Afghanistan's population.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Peter Kent said in an earlier interview on Sunday that Canada expects the Afghan government to revise the new family law.

"We expect the law to be changed [and] certainly not the provisions that concern us to be enacted,"  Kent said in an interview with CBC News: Sunday.

The minister said it's premature to talk about consequences or a stronger response to what he called an "offensive" law, other than the reaction world leaders have already delivered.

"Canada has made it clear that it expects Afghanistan to fulfill its international treaty obligations, particularly with respect to human rights and the rights of women and girls," Kent said.

"This isn't a time for Canada to threaten to pull out, and we don't believe that it necessary to pull out," he added.

At Saturday's NATO summit in Strasbourg, France, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the equality of men and women "goes to the heart" of Canada's value system, its engagement in Afghanistan and its opposition to the Taliban.

He also indicated that NATO countries involved in Afghanistan want more than just a review of the controversial legislation, as Karzai promised on Saturday.

"If I can be blunt here, I'm not sure if the alliance is prepared to accept simply soothing reassurances," Harper said.

It has been reported that Karzai supported the legislation to curry favour with traditional Afghans ahead of the country's Aug. 20 elections. The new law, for example, also makes it illegal for women to leave their homes without the permission of their husbands.

U.S. President Barack Obama described the legislation as "abhorrent."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said his country "will not compromise" in the fight to uphold human rights in Afghanistan.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper the law "fundamentally violates the equal rights of men and women and does not reflect our ideals."