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AFGHANISTAN: More executions scheduled amid growing calls for death penalty moratorium

KABUL, 17 October 2007 (IRIN) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to sign in the near future the death warrants of about 30 prisoners indicted for various crimes by the country's Supreme Court, Abdul Rasheed Rashid, a member of the Supreme Court Council, told IRIN in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on 17 October.

The prisoners in question, all male, have been sentenced to death for homicide, armed robbery and other crimes by the Supreme Court, Rashid said, adding that the executions would be carried out by firing squad in the eastern outskirts of Kabul once President Karzai gives his approval.

An aide of President Karzai, who preferred anonymity, said Karzai was currently reviewing the Supreme Court's rulings "one-by-one".

A three-year informal moratorium on capital punishment ended on 7 October when 15 prisoners - found guilty of murder, rape and armed attacks on civilians and government officials - were reportedly executed by firing squad outside a prison in Kabul.

The executions, however, have sparked international condemnation.

"I am deeply troubled by this sudden resort to executions, after three years of refraining from carrying out the death penalty… the circumstances of the executions may constitute a breach of Afghanistan's obligations under international law," read a statement issued by Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights, on 9 October.

The European Union (EU) has expressed its concern at the weak state of the Afghan judicial system and the lack of procedural guarantees for a fair trial in the cases of those executed on 7 October.

"Executions under these circumstances are contrary to internationally recognised human rights' norms and neglect the dignity and worth of the human person," the EU said in a statement on 11 October.

Judicial system in the spotlight

After decades of unrelenting armed conflict and turmoil, Afghanistan is still in the process of building up its judicial institutions, with international assistance.
At an international conference on the rule of law in Afghanistan on 3 July 2007, Karzai's government
vowed to reform, strengthen and improve the justice system.

Observers believe that, given the current circumstances in Afghanistan, the judiciary is ill-suited to ensuring that all standard judicial requirements are met, especially in cases of capital punishment.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the UN and many international rights' watchdogs have called on the Afghan government to reinstate the moratorium on capital punishment.

In the meantime, however, Afghan officials have given no indication that the government is about to suspend capital punishment: Executions would be a good lesson "for those who are committing crimes as murder, kidnapping, adultery and rape," said Humayun Hamidzada, Karzai's spokesman.

Prisoners on strike

Hundreds of inmates at the Pul-e Charkhi prison in eastern Kabul have gone on strike for several days in protest at possible future executions, several prisoners told IRIN on the phone.

"We want the government to stop executions," said one prisoner who cannot be named for security reasons.

The prisoners have locked some internal gates and defied orders inside the prison, officials at Pul-e Charkhi prison said.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2007

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