January 30, 2012


[After Storai’s death, in a village called Mafali in the Khanabad district in southeast Kunduz, the mother-in-law put a rope in the window of her daughter-in-law’s room to give the impression that she had killed herself, Ms. Geya said. But there were signs of torture, Ms. Geya said, that led to the suspicions that Storai had been killed, Ms. Geya said.]
By Graham Bowley
KABUL, Afghanistan — The young Afghan woman gave birth to a third girl three months ago — to a husband, the authorities say, who had been demanding a boy.
Last week, the man and his mother in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz put a rope around the woman’s neck and strangled her, the police said.
The body of the woman, known as Storai, 22, was found by the police a few hours later in her room, and she was buried a day later, on Jan. 26.
Storai’s death was a chilling reminder of the low status of women’s rights in Afghanistan.
Also unsettling was the revelation that the husband, identified as Sher Mohammad, 30, was suspected of being a member of a local militia that, the police and government officials said, has proliferated in the region and emboldened lawlessness and violence, including in the home.
According to the police, Storai was married four years ago, when she was 18, and the had two other children: a 3-year-old and a 2-year-old.
But in the months after the birth of Storai’s third daughter, her husband and mother-in-law had been nagging and arguing with her about her having had yet another girl, said Nadera Geya, head of the Directorate of Women’s Affairs in Kunduz.
After Storai’s death, in a village called Mafali in the Khanabad district in southeast Kunduz, the mother-in-law put a rope in the window of her daughter-in-law’s room to give the impression that she had killed herself, Ms. Geya said. But there were signs of torture, Ms. Geya said, that led to the suspicions that Storai had been killed, Ms. Geya said.
“Her mother-in-law strangled her with a rope and said she committed suicide herself, which is not true,” she said. “They killed her because they did not want her to bear any more girls. They had disputes with her even before this.”
Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, a spokesman for the Kunduz chief of police, said the mother-in-law, Wali Hazrata, had been arrested but Mr. Mohammad, the husband, had fled.
Ms. Hazrata is in police custody in Kunduz city. She has denied that she and her son killed Storai or that her son was a member of the militia, called arbakai, the police spokesman said.
Kunduz is no stranger to domestic violence. In December, four gunmen, also believed to be arbakai members, broke into a house and threw acid on three school-age girls and their mother in revenge after one of the girls, 18, spurned one of the attacker’s advances.
Manizha Naderi, executive director of Women for Afghan Women, which runs shelters for abused women, said that while she had seen cases where women were bullied by their husbands through pregnancy, and sometimes a husband even took a second or third wife if the wife continued to have girls, murder was unusual.
“Girls are looked down upon in Afghanistan,” Ms. Naderi said. “I have heard of many cases where the wife is threatened with violence and beaten up, but I have never heard of a woman being killed for having a girl.”
Heather Barr, a researcher for Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch, said that there was a cultural tolerance for violence against women and impunity for men who committed it, and that recent efforts to protect women had had scant effect.
“What is most disappointing,” Ms. Barr said, “is that the 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women law was supposed to change this, and it has had very little impact so far.”
She said that there were rules in the penal code specifying that a husband can kill his wife for having had sex outside of marriage; even in the civil code, there are rules allowing a husband to take a second wife if the first one is not procreating satisfactorily, Ms. Barr said.
The police said that Sher Mohammad was now being protected in Khanabad by a local arbakai commander called Qaderak.
The north of Afghanistan has had a proliferation of groups of irregular gunmen in the last two years. They work locally, sometimes protecting their neighborhoods and villages, but often terrorizing residents, extorting money and goods.
Kunduz has experienced a particular problem with these militias.
Only a small percentage of the militiamen were in a program run by American Special Forces to train them as neighborhood watchmen for their communities — a program, the coalition says, that is now being wound down and transferred to full Afghan authority. The others often receive weapons and some financial support from the government as a buffer against Taliban insurgents.
The arbakai are suspected of being responsible for other killings, as well as kidnappings and thefts, in Kunduz Province, said Shah Zaman Waziri, the commander of the Second Brigade of the National Army in Kunduz. There are about 3,000 such militiamen in the province, but their numbers are decreasing, he said.
The Khanabad police said there were about 1,000 militiamen in the Khanabad district alone.
In other recent cases of brutality against women, Ms. Geya said three girls were killed this year in the Imam Sahib district by prospective husbands after the girls’ families would not allow them to marry.
She said that in two other cases this year, two women were killed by their husbands.
Jawad Sukhanyar contributed reporting from Kabul and an Afghan employee of The New York Times from Kunduz, Afghanistan.


[The trip, only her fourth outside Yangon since her release from years of house arrest in November 2010, demonstrates the growing prominence of the Nobel Peace laureate as the Southeast Asian state emerges from half a century of isolation.]
Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters
A crowd thronged the motorcade of the opposition leader 
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as she campaigned on Sunday for 
by-elections scheduled in April.

DAWEI, Myanmar (Reuters) - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called on Sunday for changes to the military-drafted constitution, on her first political trip since ending a boycott of the country's political system last year and announcing plans to run for parliament.

Thousands of supporters lined the roads, many shouting "Long live mother Suu," as her motorcade wound through the rural coastal region of Dawei, about 615 km (380 miles) south of her home city, Yangon, the main business centre.

The trip, only her fourth outside Yangon since her release from years of house arrest in November 2010, demonstrates the growing prominence of the Nobel Peace laureate as the Southeast Asian state emerges from half a century of isolation.

"There are certain laws which are obstacles to the freedom of the people and we will strive to abolish these laws within the framework of the parliament," Suu Kyi said to cheers from supporters, after meeting officials of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party in Dawei.

The NLD, though well known in the country, has limited political experience. It won an election by a landslide in 1990, a year after Suu Kyi began a lengthy period of incarceration, but the then rulers ignored the result and detained many party members and supporters.

The NLD boycotted the next election, held in 2010 and won by a military-backed party after opposition complaints of rigging.
Her address on Sunday offered the most extensive detail yet of the policies she would bring to parliament.
She said she wants to revise a 2008 army-drafted constitution that gives the military wide-ranging powers, including the ability to appoint key cabinet members, take control of the country in a state of emergency and occupy a quarter of the seats in parliament.
"We need to amend certain parts of the constitution," she said, adding the international community was poised to help Myanmar "once we are on an irreversible road to democracy."
Although campaigning for the April 1 by-elections has not formally begun, her speeches in villages and cities near Dawei on Sunday had the unmistakable feel of a campaign. Many cheering supporters waved red-and-white party flags. Some wore "Suu Kyi" t-shirts. Others painted their faces in her party's colours.
Suu Kyi said the elections must be "free and fair," and that any government that lies must be removed.
"Will never cheat the people. If we cannot do, we will tell you frankly that we cannot do. And if we can do it, we will do it," she at Maungmagan beach near Dawei. "For the NLD to do its duty, please vote for the NLD."
Khin Maung Win/Associated Press
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi's campaign highlights
 how quickly and drastically politics is changing 
in the nation once known as Burma.
She also addressed Myanmar's long history of ethnic conflicts, particularly fighting that has raged since June between government soldiers and ethnic Kachins. Rebellions have simmered in other regions since independence from Britain in 1948.
"Diversity is not something to be afraid of, it can be enjoyed," Suu Kyi said. "If there is a person who remains without independence, it means the entire country lacks independence."
One diplomat in the crowd praised Sunday's speeches as her best yet. "She's becoming more and more explicitly political and talking about the importance of policies," he said.
Suu Kyi and her allies are contesting 48 seats in various legislatures including the 440-seat lower house in by-elections that could give political credibility to Myanmar and help advance the end of Western sanctions.
Business executives, mostly from Asia, have swarmed into Yangon in recent weeks to hunt for investment opportunities in one of the last frontier markets in Asia, after European Union and U.S. officials said that sanctions could be lifted if voters were able to vote freely in April's elections.
Myanmar is also at the centre of a struggle for strategic influence as the United States sees a chance to expand its ties there and balance China's fast-growing economic and political sway in the region.
The visit to Dawei gave rural voters a rare glimpse of 66-year-old Suu Kyi, a symbol of defiance whose past trips outside Yangon were met with suspicion and violence by the former junta, which handed power to a nominally civilian parliament in March.
Since then, the government has embarked on a dramatic reform drive, freeing hundreds of political prisoners, loosening media controls, calling for peace with ethnic insurgents and openly engaging with Suu Kyi and other opposition figures.
Those and other changes make this trip vastly different from a July 5 visit to Bagan north of Yangon, where she was trailed by undercover police and kept a low profile, fearful of a repeat of an attack on her motorcade in 2003 in which 70 supporters were killed.
Many Burmese speculate that a senior government role, possibly even a cabinet post, awaits Suu Kyi, the daughter of assassinated independence hero General Aung San.
But to get there, much work lies ahead.
Her party has limited resources. Its headquarters are cramped and crumbling. Its senior ranks are filled with ageing activists. And there are questions over how much influence it can wield in a year-old parliament stacked with military appointees and former generals.
Her supporters, however, say her presence would bring a powerful pro-democracy voice to a chamber where many members remain reluctant to speak their mind.
"She will be able to do more inside the parliament than if she remained on the outside. There are some crucial things to do urgently concerning ethnic issues and political changes," said Ko Htin Kyaw, a dissident who was arrested in 2007 and freed in an amnesty this month.
(Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Tim Pearce)