At a news conference in Strasbourg, France, this morning, President Obama discussed NATO efforts in Afghanistan and secured the commitment of NATO allies to send 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Fox News’ Major Garrett asked Obama what he thinks of a new Afghanistan law that legalizes rape. The legislation, which applies to the country’s Shia population, contains this provision:
“As long as the husband is not traveling, he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night,” Article 132 of the law says. “Unless the wife is ill or has any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband.”
In a written statement, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said the law “legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband. … The law violates women’s rights and human rights in numerous ways.”
This morning, Obama said, “I think this law is abhorrent” and that his administration’s views are being communicated to the Karzai government. “We have stated very clearly that we object to this law.” But Obama added, the priority for the U.S. right now is al Qaeda. “But I want everybody to understand that our focus is to defeat al Qaeda and ensure that they do not have safe havens from which they can launch attacks against the Alliance.” Watch it:
The Afghanistan law poses a difficult diplomatic challenge for Obama and for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said recently, “Women’s rights are a central part of American foreign policy in the Obama Administration; they are not marginal; they are not an add-on or an afterthought.”
President Karzai said he ordered his Justice Ministry to review the law, and if anything in it contravenes the country’s constitution or Shariah law, “measures will be taken.” But he added that he had studied the law earlier in the day and, “I don’t see any problems with it.”
Q Thank you, Mr. President, and good afternoon. I’d like to ask you about a law that’s recently been passed in Afghanistan that affects the 10 percent of the Shia population there. A summary of it says it negates the need for sexual consent between married couples, tacitly approves child marriage, and restricts a woman’s right to leave the home. The United Nations Development Fund for Women says this legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband. I’d like your assessment of this law, number one. Number two, will you condition future troop movements of the U.S. to Afghanistan on the basis of this law being retracted or rewritten? And if not, sir, what about the character of this law ought to motivate U.S. forces to fight and possibly die in Afghanistan?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, this was actually a topic of conversation among all the allies. And in our communication — communiqué, you will see that we specifically state that part of this comprehensive approach is encouraging the respect of human rights. I think this law is abhorrent. Certainly the views of the administration have been, and will be, communicated to the Karzai government. And we think that it is very important for us to be sensitive to local culture, but we also think that there are certain basic principles that all nations should uphold, and respect for women and respect for their freedom and integrity is an important principle.
Now, I just want to remind people, though, why our troops are fighting, because I think the notion that you laid out, Major, was that our troops might be less motivated. Our troops are highly motivated to protect the United States, just as troops from NATO are highly motivated to protect their own individual countries and NATO allies collectively. So we want to do everything we can to encourage and promote rule of law, human rights, the education of women and girls in Afghanistan, economic development, infrastructure development, but I also want people to understand that the first reason we are there is to root out al Qaeda so that they cannot attack members of the Alliance.
Now, I don’t — those two things aren’t contradictory, I think they’re complementary. And that’s what’s reflected in the communiqué.
Q But do you object to the law —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We have stated very clearly that we object to this law. But I want everybody to understand that our focus is to defeat al Qaeda and ensure that they do not have safe havens from which they can launch attacks against the Alliance.