The former head of Afghanistan’s Football Federation Keramuddin Karim is yet to be detained despite an arrest warrant issued by the Ministry of Interior on June 9th. Members of Afghanistan’s National Women’s Football team accuse Karim and other Afghan Football Federation (AFF) officials of sexual assault. On June 8th, months after internal investigations and pressure from human rights activists, FIFA banned Karim from the football federation for sexually abusing female football players. The international governing body of football also fined Karim 1 million Swiss francs ($1 million).
When the accusations against Afghan Football Federation officials were brought to light by the Guardian in November 2018, the Ministry of Interior placed Karim and other high-ranking AFF officials under a travel ban. President Ashraf Ghani promised on December 4 to have the sexual assault allegations investigated.
“Even if mere allegations cause our people to stop sending their sons and daughters to sports, we need to act immediately and comprehensively. I do not tolerate sexual abuse,” said President Ghani affirmatively.
If Karim, who supposedly has a travel ban, is missing…. all his properties in Panjshir province and Kabul are not missing. The Afghan government holds the right to seize his properties. Karim is a wealthy man. He was the governor of Panjshir province during the Karzai administration and served as Chief of Staff at the Ministry of Defense for Mohammed Qasim Fahim. This man with government connections is not only wanted for raping Afghan girls but also for embezzling federation funds.
FIFA found Karim guilty and said he “abused position and sexually abused various female players, in violation of the FIFA Code of Ethics.” Karim repeated sexual abuse of female players, the majority of whom were minors, were from 2013 to 2018, according to FIFA’s investigation. The abuse continued in training camp held in Jordon, according to former team captain Khalida Popal. Nine team members were labeled as lesbians and kicked out of the team to prevent them from making sexual assault accusations public.
In November 2018, survivors of Karim’s sexual abuse told the Guardian that Karim had a fingerprint locked room with a bed in his AFF office. He would rape girls there. One rape survivor said “he took a gun, his gun, put it on my head and said: “See what I have done to you? I can shoot you in the head and everywhere will be your brain. And I can do the same with your family. If you want your family to be alive you should keep quiet.”
US Ambassador John Bass said in a tweet on June 9th, “We call on the Government of Afghanistan to complete its investigation, and ensure justice is served.” Justice cannot be an arrest warrant. The Afghan people do not seek justice only on paper. Justice needs to be delivered. Karim and other accused AFF officials must to be arrested and fully prosecuted.
Human Rights Watch calls Karim’s pending prosecution a litmus test. This is a test Afghanistan must pass and I know it can if it wants to. There is rule of law in Afghanistan, laws that do criminalize rape and violence against women. I believe these laws. I have defended these laws.
On February 5, 2019, I joined a roundtable talk on allegations surrounding women’s football in Afghanistan led by Prince Ali Bin A-Hussein of Jordon, the former Vice President of FIFA. This was a meeting organized by the Association Football Development Program (AFDP) Global. I participated as a Human Rights Watch employee and spoke as the only Afghan. I pushed back and reassure that there are Afghan laws against such abuses. I told Prince Ali what President Ghani told Afghans when he met with the girls’ team.
There will be accountability. The MoI had sent investigators after the girls for questioning when a few members escaped Afghanistan with their families – fearing their life if they did not abandon their homes. The case had gone international back in January. “FIFA needs to act first,” I remember saying. Prince Ali responded diplomatically and said he supports Afghanistan’s football. He previously championed lifting FIFA’s ban on hijab in women’s football, which contributed to Afghanistan having a national women’s team in the first place.
On July 3, the team’s coach Kelly Lindsey said that she and players had raised concerns to FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation much earlier but were rebuffed. “It’s disgusting that there is no structure to investigate something like this, that there’s no system yet,” Lindsey told Reuters referring to FIFA.
Embarrassingly, it took FIFA months to permanently ban Karim.
It has been one month since Afghan authorities issued an arrested warrant against Karim and he has not been arrested. Why the delay?
Many have instigated that Karim is being protected by his powerful political friends. How shameful!
“We are facing a serious problem in the rule of law,” said Nasir Timori of Integrity Watch Afghanistan regarding the delay in arresting Karim.
It is deeply troubling that the laws in Afghanistan cannot be implemented. No one is above the law but yet there is systematic impunity. There are enablers of injustice in Afghan society. Even in such a corrupt society, everyone must agree that there should be severe consequences for rapists. Right?
Today is the final game of FIFA’s Women’s World Cup and it is between the United State and Netherlands. I will watch the end of this tournament thinking of Afghan women football players. Afghan girls and women deserve to play football without the fear of getting sexually abused. Afghanistan can assure football is free of fear by first arresting Karim. As we wait for him to be ‘found,’ the government should seize all of Karim’s properties.
Mariam Amini is an Afghan columnist and human rights' activist.