Up to 200 people have been sentenced to death in Afghanistan over the past 15 months but President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign any execution orders, according to the Supreme Court.
“We have sent many execution verdicts to the president but he has not signed any for over a year,” Abdul Rasheed Rashid, a member of the Supreme Court’s High Council, told IRIN, adding that some of the convicted had committed “acts of terrorism”.
Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director, said over the past two years about 375 people had been sentenced to death but no executions had been reported in Afghanistan in 2009.
Some of the sentences are subject to appeal in higher courts but dozens of verdicts have already been upheld by the Supreme Court.
Afghanistan is among about 50 countries which still have the death penalty for ordinary crimes, according to Amnesty International.
Nine individuals convicted of rape, murder and kidnapping were hanged at a prison in Kabul in November 2008.
The executions were severely criticized by human rights groups, and the UN and the European Union called on Karzai to impose a moratorium on capital punishment.
Karzai has not formally confirmed a moratorium but an aide who preferred anonymity said: “The president has decided not to sign death warrants for a while.”
“Obviously the president is under a lot of pressure from foreigners not to allow executions,” Rashid of the Supreme Court said.
Death row agony
Those on death row live in a life-death limbo and do not have recourse to counselling or support. “Waiting to be executed is a terrifying experience,” Amnesty International’s Zarifi told IRIN, urging Karzai to abolish capital punishment.
“The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment,” said a 30 March Amnesty International report.
Under Afghan law, and traditional justice systems, the death penalty is an option for severe crimes such as murder and armed rebellion.
The execution of notorious criminals has also been justified as an effective way of curbing criminality and enhancing security in the war-ravaged country.
However, human rights activists say the death penalty is an irreversible act of violence and a simplistic response to complex human problems in which the poor and minorities tend to come off worse.
The judiciary is widely perceived as weak, corrupt and unable to provide fair and impartial justice. Afghanistan is ranked as the second worst country (after Somalia) on Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perception Index.
“Corruption’s damaging effects are numerous: weak public institutions, inequitable social services, lack of justice delivered by the justice institutions, no confidence in the State and widespread inefficiency,” the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a 30 March report.
Supreme Court officials said 370 judges involved in bribery and abuse of power had been arrested and sacked in the past three years.
Up to 3,000 Afghans have been sentenced to death in Iran, according to a parliamentary delegation which visited Tehran in February.
Iran executed at least 388 people, including juvenile offenders, in 2009, Amnesty International said.
“We are working with Iranian authorities to find out more about Afghans who are reportedly sentenced to death in Iran,” Abdul Zahir Faqiry, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told IRIN.
He said Afghanistan and Iran have signed an extradition treaty which will be enacted if approved by the Iranian parliament.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions