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Afghan women's rights in balance as pull-out looms: UN

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A burqa-clad woman sits on the roadside in Kabul on August 19, 2009. The fate of Afghanistan's women hangs in the balance as the 2014 withdrawal of international forces looms, a UN human rights watchdog warned Monday, denouncing a raft of abuses there. (AFP/File)

The fate of Afghanistan's women hangs in the balance as the 2014 withdrawal of international forces looms, a UN human rights watchdog warned Monday, denouncing a raft of abuses there.

"We are worried about Afghanistan because we're at a decisive moment," said Nicole Ameline, head of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

"If we don't manage to preserve the rights of women after having devoted so much energy, resources and support in all forms in this country, it will mark a failure by the international community," she told reporters.

Ameline's comments came after the committee examined Afghanistan's record under procedures for the regular review of UN member states.

During a review session, the Afghan government insisted that women's rights were "non-negotiable", she noted.

Ameline said the international community had a duty to keep Afghanistan under scrutiny to ensure women's rights are protected and extended.

The committee's report slammed the high level of violence faced by women in Afghanistan, including domestic abuse, rape and stoning, and the practice of making victims set themselves on fire.

It also condemned forced marriages, and the fact that women were sentenced for having tried to flee their homes.

"Afghanistan displays a concentration of forms of violence which for the most part are linked to patriarchal and ancestral systems, and which are exacerbated when they occur in zones which are not necessarily under direct state control," said Ameline.

The committee also criticised a failure to call perpetrators of violence to account, and the fact that relatives were able to stop victims from filing legal complaints.

It also protested against the low level of representation of women in political life, notably in a peace council set up by President Hamid Karzai to try to foster talks with the country's Taliban insurgents.

Improving the lot of Afghan women has been a watchword of the international community since the hardline Islamist Taliban was ousted by US-led forces in 2001.