It’s a bitter irony that the latest blow to justice for Farkhunda Malikzada occurred on the eve of International Women’s Day.
This week, Afghanistan’s Supreme Court granted significant sentence reductions to 13 men convicted of Farkhunda’s brutal murder in March 2015. The men were part of a mob that beat Farkhunda to death in broad daylight in central Kabul while police stood by and watched. The Supreme Court confirmed a lower court’s decision to vacate four death sentences, reducing the prison terms to 20 years in three cases, and 10 years in the fourth, while also reducing the sentences of nine other defendants. The decision is a reminder of just how badly the Afghan justice system has failed Farkhunda and her family.
Commuting the four death sentences averts the further cruelty of capital punishment. But it does not bring justice for Farkhunda any closer. Thirty men were initially charged with a murder that was witnessed by scores of people and video recorded by her killers and bystanders alike. At every stage of this case the Afghan criminal justice system failed to adequately investigate, hold to account or appropriately punish those responsible. The trials of those originally accused were conducted in haste and riddled with procedural errors, with many defendants lacking legal counsel. Police also failed to arrest a number of attackers who are clearly identifiable in video footage of the killing. Of the 19 police prosecuted for failing to intervene to stop the mob, the court lightly disciplined only 11.
President Ashraf Ghani’s government could still do much more to track down those individuals implicated in Farkhunda’s killing who have so far evaded justice. The case also highlights the urgent need to tackle judicial and police reforms to give other women a better chance at justice. The government should develop robust mechanisms to hold police officers accountable for their behavior, and recruit more female police and provide them with safe, decent working conditions. Properly enforcing Afghanistan’s 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women will also offer some hope to the many women that the justice system is currently failing to protect.
“No violence against women is acceptable,” President Ghani said earlier this year at an event to help female victims of violence. He’s right, but now he needs to stick to his word and take meaningful steps to end impunity for such violence.