Strasbourg Court shows itself sensitive to the plight of Afghan women

The status of Afghan women has been high up on the agenda of the international human rights community in the past few years. Today the European Court of Human Rights joined the chorus of the concerned. The Court rendered a judgment that recognizes the extremely problematic status of women’s rights in Afghanistan and will hopefully provide firm support to Afghan women seeking asylum from gender persecution.

In N. v. Sweden, the applicant is a forty year old Afghan woman who applied for asylum in Sweden in 2004. She entered Sweden with her husband, but a year later, in 2005, she notified the authorities that she had separated from her husband and that she wanted a divorce. She alleged that she would face a serious risk of ill-treatment, contrary to art. 3 of the Convention, if she were to be returned to Afghanistan, essentially because she had transgressed established gender norms by seeking a divorce from her husband and living with a Swedish man. She claimed that she had no social network left in Afghanistan and no male support, which she needed in order to survive there. The Court finds that the general information regarding women’s rights in Afghanistan is not enough on its own, to find a violation of the Convention if the applicant were returned, but that the applicant’s personal situation is such that “the applicant faces various cumulative risks of reprisals which fall under Article 3 of the Convention from her husband X, his family, her own family and from the Afghan society.” (par. 62)

This judgment is striking because of its extensive documentation of the human rights abuses women face in Afghanistan. Continue reading