(New York) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai should suspend the death penalty and reject signing execution orders for about 100 prisoners whose death sentences were announced by the Supreme Court on April 16, Human Rights Watch said today.
Supreme Court officials told the media those sentenced to death had been convicted of serious crimes, such as kidnapping, hostage taking, armed robbery, murder, and rape. Legal experts and human rights organizations in Afghanistan have long expressed concerns that international due process and fair trial standards are generally not met in capital cases.
“The Supreme Court’s blanket confirmation of a hundred death sentences shows disturbing disregard for the right to life,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan justice system still has a long way to go to respect the basic rights of the accused.”
Under the Afghan criminal procedure code, death sentences handed down by local criminal courts are reviewed by an appeals court, and then, if the sentence stands, must be confirmed by the Supreme Court. Confirmed death sentences must then be endorsed by the Afghan president.
Legal experts in Afghanistan told Human Rights Watch that in a number of these criminal trials, the cases were not properly investigated and the courts did not disclose crucial evidence leading to convictions.
Previously, prisoners in Afghanistan have been executed with little or no warning. On October 7, 2007, the authorities executed by firing squad 15 prisoners who were on death row at Pule Charkhi prison. Neither the prisoners nor their relatives were informed in advance about the executions. All prisoners were on death row for crimes that had typically been commuted to prison sentences in the past.
Human Rights Watch urged President Hamid Karzai not to sign the execution orders, and instead to announce a moratorium on the death penalty.
“President Karzai should suspend the death penalty immediately,” said Pearson. “More mass executions will be a huge setback for the rule of law in Afghanistan.”
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently cruel and unusual form of punishment and a violation of fundamental human rights.