UN human rights chief urges stay of execution in Kabul death-penalty case

7 Oct 2014

UN human rights chief urges stay of execution in Kabul death-penalty case

KABUL - The most senior United Nations human rights official has asked Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani to stay the executions of five men sentenced to death following charges of armed robbery and adultery in the Paghman district of Kabul.

The Appeals Court of Kabul handed down the death sentence to five of the seven defendants in the case. The Supreme Court of Afghanistan, on 24 September, approved the death penalty, and President Ghani’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai, signed the death warrants. This week, the Attorney-General's office announced that the executions would be carried out Wednesday.

In requesting the stay of execution, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights , Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, urged President Ghani to allow enough time for a judicial review and a reconsideration of the case to ensure that the right to a fair trial would be upheld.

“There is no question this was an appalling crime, and we appreciate the fact that state authorities acted quickly to arrest individuals suspected of committing it,” a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, said at a news briefing in Geneva.

“However, the High Commissioner informed President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah that he has grave concerns that the legal process that led to these convictions failed to comply with national and international fair-trial standards,” he added.

Mr. Colville indicated that OHCHR has credible information that the convicted men not only were ill-treated while in pre-trial detention, but also were denied adequate legal representation, making the legal basis for the conviction unclear. The charged men had two trial hearings followed by the Supreme Court’s review of the appeal.

Afghanistan is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6 of which stipulates that the death sentence may be imposed only for the most serious crimes in countries that have not yet abolished the practice. In such cases, according to the covenant, those accused of capital offences must be effectively assisted by a lawyer at all stages of the proceedings. According to OHCHR, Imposing a death sentence following a trial in which the due-process standards outlined in the ICCPR have not been respected constitutes a right-to-life violation.

At today’s news briefing, the OHCHR spokesperson restated Mr. Zeid’s observations that following through on the death penalty order not only risks denying adequate justice to the victims of the crime and to those accused, but also undermines efforts to strengthen Afghanistan’s rule of law and justice institutions.

Mr. Colville called, once again, on President Ghani to refer the case back to the courts, given the due-process concerns, and said the High Commissioner urges the president to consider exercising his constitutional power to commute the death sentences to a suitable term of imprisonment.

Today’s remarks follow an earlier call by OHCHR, made on 26 September, urging the Government of Afghanistan to avoid moving forward precipitously on the death penalty sentences for the five men.

In September, at a high-level event held at UN Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other senior officials called the continuing application of capital punishment a “primitive” practice. The officials pressed global leaders to abolish the death penalty and advance a more progressive judicial agenda in their respective states.

Participating in the meeting, the High Commissioner underscored the need to reform judicial systems around the world, noting that only then would a practice based on vengeance truly be defeated.