Afghan policewomen abuse: US and EU urge inquiry

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The US and EU are calling for an immediate investigation into the “shocking” claims of sexual harassment and rape of Afghan policewomen.

It follows a BBC investigation which revealed female officers faced widespread abuse by their colleagues.

A number of women told the BBC they were too scared to report the attacks, which were often by their superiors.

The Afghan government says it is committed to change, but rights groups say perpetrators are rarely punished.

“Afghan women who choose to serve their country as police officers are courageous patriots,” Ambassador Ross Wilson, the US Charge d’Affaires to Afghanistan, said in a statement.

“They face formidable cultural, social, political and security barriers, and we and all Afghans should honour and support their service. These reports​ are shocking, and we urge their prompt investigation by Afghan authorities.”

The US also said the women who waived their anonymity to speak in the documentary must be given protection from further mistreatment.

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The EU said it had “a zero tolerance policy for such cases” and “strongly advocates” for cases to be fully investigated when they arise.

The bloc had “intensified the work for a coherent reform of police anti-harassment policies”, Nabila Massrali, spokeswoman for the EU’s foreign affairs and security policy said.

She added that the bloc would “take stronger measures should the situation not improve in the near future”.

The introduction of female police officers is a relatively new phenomenon in Afghanistan, and was seen as a sign of progress in the deeply conservative country. There are now 3,900 female officers in its force.

However the BBC investigation found serious problems – from how women were treated, to how complaints were handled.

In some cases, women have been sexually assaulted while trying to report attacks, or trying to get to safety shelters, the BBC investigation found.

Momena Karbalayee said she was raped by a police chief after refusing an order to spend the night with officials. A court found the defendant not guilty.

In March 2020, she covered herself in petrol, determined to set herself alight in the middle of a city square.

“If I burn myself, at least the government might do better for others,” she said, moments before a crowd stopped Ms Karbalayee from igniting herself.

She is still working as a police officer, and has changed departments.

“Women need to see that a case has been handled successfully, and protection has been given to the victim after they have raised their voice,” Hosna Jalil, former deputy interior minister, told the BBC.

Ms Jalil believes she is no longer in the position because she had been “a loud voice” on the issue.

If you’ve been affected by the issues in this video, you can find help and support from BBC Action Line.

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