Afghanistan: Commute ‘Green on Blue’ Death Sentence

France Should Urge Government Not to Execute Killer of French Soldiers
July 18, 2012

At the time of writing, the Afghan government had identified the man convicted killing the French soldiers as Abdul Saboor (or Sabor). The government later announced that his name is in fact Abdul Basir. 

(Kabul) – The Afghan government should commute the death sentence imposed on an Afghan soldier convicted of killing four French soldiers in January 2012. France, which has abolished the death penalty and as a member of the European Union campaigns for its abolition globally, should make a formal request to the Afghan government to commute the sentence.

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense announced on July 17 that an Afghan soldier, Abdul Saboor, was convicted of the killings by a military court and sentenced to death by hanging. In January 2012 five French soldiers serving in Afghanistan’s Kapisa province as part of NATO forces were killed and fourteen other soldiers were wounded. The incident reportedly took place following a verbal altercation.

“The death penalty is an act of cruelty that should not be imposed even in a heinous crime like this,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “President Hamid Karzai should commute the death sentence in this and all other cases in Afghanistan.”  

The killings in Kapisa were one of a growing number of incidents of Afghan soldiers killing international soldiers deployed alongside them in so-called “green on blue” incidents. The killings in Kapisa prompted a strong protest by the French government and a decision by then French President Nicolas Sarkozy to accelerate the withdrawal of all French combat troops from Afghanistan by a year. France had previously planned to withdraw its combat troops by the end of 2014 when the broader NATO mission plans to complete transition of responsibility to Afghan forces. France’s recently elected president, Francois Hollande, has since moved the date up again, planning to withdraw combat troops by the end of 2012, with non-combat troops set to remain longer. 

While the death penalty is permitted under Afghan law, and death sentences have been handed down by courts with some frequency, executions have been infrequent since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. A single execution was carried out in 2004, followed by a three-year unofficial moratorium that ended in 2007 with the execution by gunfire of 15 people at Pul-i-Charkhi prison in Kabul. At that time, the government announced that it intended to continue executing those on death row, and further executions were held in 2008, sparking condemnation from the United Nations and the European Union. In recent years there appears to have again been a lull in executions, with the exception of the rapid execution in June 2011 of two men convicted of participating in a February 2011 attack on a bank in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan that resulted in 38 deaths. President Hamid Karzai holds the final say over whether executions ordered by Afghan courts will be carried out.

The military court trial of Abdul Saboor was not covered by the media, and no details about the trial process are available. Afghanistan’s justice system in both military and civilian trials remains weak and compromised, in spite of over 10 years of donor assistance. It relies heavily on confessions, including some obtained through torture. Use of physical evidence is rudimentary. The independence and impartiality of judges is often undermined, especially in high-profile cases such as this one. Effective defense representation is often absent. Studies by the United Nations and others have shown prosecutors and judges to be among the most corrupt officials in Afghanistan. The Afghan justice system is also often opaque, with information about court dates not easily available. 

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment. A majority of countries in the world 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.

“The French government abolished the death penalty in 1981,” said Adams. “France should embrace the same principles in this case despite of the tragic loss of four soldiers as it demonstrates within France by urging President Karzai to commute Saboor’s sentence.”