Delegate denounces Afghanistan warlords

Los Angeles Times and The Seattle Times, December 18, 2003
By Paul Watson

KABUL, Afghanistan A female delegate was temporarily tossed out of Afghanistan's constitutional convention yesterday when she stood up and declared that the country's warlords, some of them participants in the historic meeting, are criminals.

The loya jirga, or traditional grand assembly that is debating a draft constitution, erupted into shouting and shoving when Malalai Joya, a delegate from the isolated western province of Farah, complained that militia leaders who participated in the nation's brutal civil war of the early 1990s now dominate committees debating the constitution.

"They were the ones who destroyed our country," Joya shouted from the floor as hecklers denounced her. "They should be tried in international and national courts. If our poor people forgive these criminals, history will never forgive them, their criminal activities have all been recorded in history."

Joya's microphone was cut off and chaos ensued when dozens of men rushed toward the chairman's platform.

"Down to Communism! Death to Communism!" one delegate bellowed as the chair called for order. "Kick the Communists out of the tent, out of the jirga."

"What's happening? Sit down!" assembly chairman Sibghatullah Mojaddidi appealed.

Mojaddidi, who was briefly Afghan president on the eve of the country's civil war in 1992, called for someone in charge of security to intervene, and at least one guard escorted Joya from the assembly.

During a news conference later, Mojaddidi said Joya was removed for her own safety and because she had been impolite during the debate.

"In order to make her secure, I told her to get out of the tent," he said. "As you know, our mujahedeen (holy warriors) are a different kind of people. Once they become upset, it's very difficult to control them."

The furor over Joya's brief speech and the hostile reaction dominated questions from Afghan reporters, and one suggested the loya jirga was actually a loya jagla, or grand fight.

Mojaddidi, who helped lead the mujahedeen war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s, replied that "Afghanistan has passed through many years of war, so if they don't fight this much in the loya jirga, then we can't call them fighters. It's impossible."

"I tell you there was no big fight," he insisted. "It was just a simple discussion that happened. A lady said a few words that most of the men didn't like and they reacted. But there never was a fistfight and no one was killed or punched in the face."

On the eve of the convention, a United Nations report warned that widespread abuses Afghan women suffer are among many problems the country faces as it tries to recover from nearly a quarter-century of wars.

"Intimidation, restrictions on movement, forced marriage, honor killings and 'protective' incarceration are realities, particularly in rural areas, where conservative social attitudes prevail," the report said.

"Women are also threatened in these areas by local (militia) commanders who violate women's rights and commit sexual abuse with impunity," the report added.

Most Afghan men are so reluctant to give women any voice in government and politics that organizers reserved at least 89 seats for female delegates. If ratified, the new constitution will guarantee that women sit in the country's legislature.

The draft says women should get a minimum of one seat a province, or at least 32 seats, in the national assembly's lower house. When future presidents appoint one-third of the upper house, at least half of those members must be women.

The new constitution also would guarantee the right of girls and women to an education.

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