Halt Further Executions

(New York) – Afghanistan’s government should immediately halt further executions and impose a moratorium on the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said today. The executions by hanging of six Taliban prisoners on May 8, 2016, were the first capital sentences carried out by President Ashraf Ghani since he took office in 2014.

The six executions appear to be part of Ghani’s efforts to respond to critics who have demanded that the government take a harder line against the Taliban, Human Rights Watch said. Following the April 19 truck bomb attack in Kabul that killed at least 64 people, Ghani vowed to “deal severely with those who shed the blood of our innocent people and soldiers and… show no mercy when punishing them… including where it concerns capital punishment.”

“The Afghan government needs to recognize that the death penalty is not only an unacceptably cruel punishment, but ineffective and possibly counterproductive in tackling terrorist threats,” said Patricia Gossman, senior Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Delivering justice requires adhering to the highest standards, not flaunting a hanging for the purpose of revenge.”

All six men had been on death row for years for their alleged involvement in crimes that included the 2010 attack on a Finest supermarket in Kabul that killed eight; the 2011 assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, former president of Afghanistan and then head of the High Peace Council; the 2009 assassination of Abdullah Laghmani, deputy head of the National Directorate of Security; a 2011 attack on a military hospital in Kabul that killed six; the 2012 attack on the Spozhmai Hotel in Qargha that killed 20; and a 2009 attack in Paktia that killed six.

“Deep-seated weaknesses in the Afghan legal system and the routine failure of courts to meet international fair trial standards make Afghanistan’s use of the death penalty especially problematic,” Gossman said.

Announcing the executions, the president’s office stated that they were carried out “after a fair legal process and in accordance with the country’s constitution and Islamic laws.” However, no details of the trials have been released; Afghanistan’s judiciary is notoriously corrupt, and due process violations are rife, including in capital cases.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently cruel form of punishment. A majority of countries have abolished the practice. On December 18, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution by a wide margin calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.

“President Ghani should impose an immediate death penalty moratorium and eventually do away with the practice altogether,” Gossman said. “Afghanistan’s foreign donors who have bankrolled judicial reform for the past decade should make ending the death penalty a top priority.”