With the Woman’s World Cup setting a new record for TV audiences, among those cheering the loudest are members of the Afghan national women’s team, who have a victory of their own to celebrate. As the games began in France, FIFA, football’s governing body, issued a lifetime ban on Karemuddin Karim, the president of the Afghan Football Federation, because of credible allegations that he sexually assaulted women on the team over a period of at least two years. FIFA also fined Karim 1 million Swiss francs (about US$1 million).
Justice has been slow for the women who stepped forward to accuse Karim. Team members first made detailed allegations to FIFA in April 2017 about numerous cases of rape and sexual harassment, but it was only in November 2018 when the Guardian exposed the extent of the abuse that FIFA stepped up its own investigation. Most of Karim’s accusers had to flee Afghanistan as their own safety was in jeopardy after reporting him. Following media reports, the Afghan government began an investigation and a day after the FIFA ban, the Afghan attorney general issued an arrest warrant for Karim.
It’s not over yet, however. Afghans know too well the influence that strongmen like Karim have over Afghanistan’s justice system. All too often, powerful officials accused of rape and other abuses enjoy complete impunity from prosecution. For instance, in 2016 the attorney general’s office summoned Vice-President Abdul Rashid Dostum for questioning about allegations that he and his bodyguards kidnapped and sexually assaulted a rival politician. Dostum defied the summons, and while several of his bodyguards were charged, none has been prosecuted.
As yet, Karim has not been arrested. As the former governor of Panjshir province, Karim has considerable influence within the police and among other politicians. It will be a true litmus test of the Afghan government’s commitment to ending impunity for sexual violence if it can deliver justice this time. That would be a real win for Afghanistan and for the brave women who continue to seek justice despite the odds.