The U.N. joined several rights groups in slamming Afghanistan for adopting a new law which curtails women's rights, describing it as a "huge step in the wrong direction." Several organisations saw in it an attempt by President Hamid Karzai to win votes in the upcoming elections. Not yet published, the law, which was passed by the two houses of Afghanistan's Parliament before being reportedly signed by Mr. Karzai earlier this month, regulates the personal status of the country's minority Shia community members, including relations between men and women, divorce and property rights. Asking for its repeal, U.N. High Commissioner for Human rights Navi Pillay sharply criticised the government for taking another step making human rights situation in the county worse. "Respect for women's rights and human rights in general is of paramount importance to Afghanistan's future security and development," she said. That such a law has been passed in 2009 targeting women in this manner is extraordinary, reprehensible and reminiscent of the decrees made by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the 1990s, she stressed. Shias in Afghanistan are mostly Hazaras and constitute of 10 per cent of total population. The new law has the strong support of the Hazaras male leadership. It denies Afghan Shia women the right to leave their homes except for "legitimate" purposes; forbids them from working or receiving education without their husband's express permission; weakens mother's rights in the event of a divorce; and makes it impossible for wives to inherit houses and land from their husbands, even if husbands can inherit property from their wives. The law has been vigorously opposed by others in the group as well as Afghan human rights campaigners. There are concerns that the law will set precedents adversely affecting all Afghan women. In addition to women's rights, there have been other setbacks to the country that have been undermining efforts to consolidate the rule of law in Afghanistan, such as both freedom of expression by the media and civil society activists being increasingly threatened, Ms. Pillay said.