Photo : Afghan women students at Kabul University, 1995.
Speaking to his fellow members of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights on Tuesday at a meeting which heard that the situation for Afghan women has deteriorated considerably over the past two years, Lib MP Mario Silva recounted his own conversations with womens groups in Afghanistan this past June :
"They told us when they were young, they had full freedom in terms of education, they didn't have to wear the head scarf, they could go out in public without any problem. It was more restricted with the Taliban but they did have more progressive attitudes towards women some time ago so I think when we in the West say we have to be culturally sensitive to them and it takes time - I think that is a false argument."
Silva stated that all the womens groups told him that Afghan government concessions to the Taliban were won on the backs of women, and that they strongly opposed the Karzai government but Canada's continued presence in Afghanistan was still important to them.
The only witness Tuesday was Reverend Majed El Shafie of the Christian Toronto-based human rights group, One Free World International.
He testified that while working in Afghanistan four years ago, he was able to connect with local human rights orgs and individuals through their networks, but in the last four years - and specifically in the last two - their reports indicated much deteriorated human rights conditions, so in June he returned with the delegation that included committee member Lib MP Mario Silva.
El Shafie outlined three main issues.
Number one - the severe abuse and shocking punishments meted out to women, abetted and sanctioned by the new laws passed by the Karzai government in 2009 before the last election.
Number two - Boy play or "bacha bazi" - sexual slavery in which boys are dressed up to dance as girls and afterwards whoever pays the most gets to rape the boy. Members of the government take part, says El Shafie, and some boys are raped six to eight times a day, including by the police if they complain. He submitted video which was shown to an obviously shocked committee the following day.
Number three - Persecution of 25 Afghans who have converted to Christianity, including calls for their deaths by members of parliament and backed up by Karzai's spokesman, the deputy secretary. El Shafie submitted to committee the Afghan government document authorizing their being stoned to death.
He recommended future Canadian aid be tied to strict preconditions on human rights improvements.
Although he noted that "our support of Karzai and the corruption of his family is what is negatively affecting our image" to the Afghan people, he made a passionate plea for Canada not to abandon them, to stay on in Afghanistan.
The committee met just hours before the defeat of the Bloc motion condemning the Conservative government's extension of the Afghanistan mission without a parliamentary vote.
There is a notable lack of partisan party bickering on this seven member committee - possibly because a majority of them also work together on the Steering Committee of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (CPCCA). Scott Reid is Chair of both, Mario Silva is Vice Chair of both, and Irwin Cotler and David Sweet are members of both. So the Steering Committee of the CPCCA holds a bi-party majority on the international human rights subcommittee.
This also perhaps explains why the human rights abuses perpetrated upon the people of Palestine/Gaza just do not show up anywhere on the committee's radar. Rather unusual for a human rights committee, don't you think?