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At the Chicago NATO summit in May, I discussed with NATO colleagues our continuing support for the fundamental human rights of all Afghan citizens and full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The final summit communiqué reaffirmed our commitments in these areas.
We have encouraged the Afghan Government to implement the elimination of violence against women law that has been agreed in principle, and to bring into practice the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of violence against women. We bring these matters up with the Afghan Government regularly and work with many people in the Afghan Parliament to encourage that agenda. I am pleased to say that women now hold 69 of the 249 seats in the lower House of the Afghan Parliament, which bares favourable comparison with some European countries.
What is the Foreign Secretary’s response to President Karzai’s endorsement of the code of conduct published by the ulema council of clerics, which permits men in Afghanistan to beat their wives? Will the Foreign Secretary guarantee that women’s rights will not be sold down the river in negotiations on the future of Afghanistan?
The hon. Lady can gather from what I have said how strongly the Government are committed to making further progress on those issues, as she obviously is. One reason we want to encourage the implementation of the laws I mentioned in response to the previous question is the statement and the code of conduct to which she refers. We have discussed the code of conduct with representatives of Afghan civil society. Their advice is to concentrate—parallel to whatever the code says—on the good work that they and we are doing to improve women’s rights in Afghanistan in other ways.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that fighting for women’s rights in Afghanistan has been an incredibly important part of the role so brilliantly carried out by, most recently, 20 Armoured Brigade, 120 of whose soldiers will march through Carriage Gates this afternoon at precisely 3.30 pm, to be met by as many hon. Members as I hope can find time to be there?
If we were to pull our troops out of combat prematurely and cease many of the other efforts we are making in Afghanistan, the position would be much more difficult, because through this period, when our and other forces are present, and when we are working closely with the Afghan Government, the prospects for women’s rights are improving. I am sure the timetable we have set is right—our troops will cease to be in combat after the end of 2014—but I hope the concepts of women’s rights are becoming more entrenched in Afghan society and politics all the time.
Does the Secretary of State agree that women’s rights in Afghanistan are a fundamental part of the security agenda, and that they must be protected in any settlement? That will require the involvement of women in peace and transition talks, to protect the gains made over recent years. Does he therefore recognise that time is rapidly moving on in those discussions? What will he do to try to inject some urgency into the process?
This country makes a constant effort to ensure that urgency is part of the process. I was in both Pakistan and Afghanistan last week, talking to the Governments of both countries about reconciliation and their relations with each other in promoting a political settlement and reconciliation in Afghanistan. Of course, we will continue with all those efforts, bearing it in mind that the process must be Afghan led, and that Afghans must determine their own future. We are trying to support that process rather than dictate to them the future terms of their settlement.
We believe that this issue should have massively more attention in the international community, which is why, on