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Time to abolish the death penalty in Afghanistan!

Time to abolish the death penalty in Afghanistan!

The new Afghan Government has announced an impressive series of positive economic, judicial, and security sector reforms. These are courageous reforms that will reshape Afghanistan and move the nation forward.

Now the time has come for the government to be equally committed toward reform and improvements within the human rights sector. Establishing a moratorium on the death penalty, with the immediate suspension of the execution of death sentences, will send a strong signal to the world that the newly instated Afghan president and government are truly committed to setting new standards for human rights in Afghanistan.

October 10th was the European & World Day against the Death Penalty. It is worth taking note that 98 countries have fully abolished capital punishment. A further 35 countries, although not having abolished the death penalty, are not putting it into practice. Today, more than two-thirds of all countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Afghanistan should join their ranks.

For members of parliament, the decision to end capital punishment has been difficult and in most cases unpopular, frequently going against strong public opinion. In most countries where the death penalty still exists, public opinion supports the death penalty primarily because capital punishment is closely linked to people’s desire to be free from serious crimes.

Public support in favour of the death penalty, such as in Afghanistan, does not necessarily mean that the taking of a human life by the state is right. Furthermore, there is no historical evidence that the death penalty is an effective deterrent of crime.

On several occasions since 2007, the General Assembly of the United Nations has resolved that “there is no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty”. Other effective ways to prevent crime exist and can be used.

It has been historically recognised that when a country abolishes the death penalty, public opinion eventually turns in support of the political decision to end the right of the state to kill its own citizens as a form of criminal punishment.

Capital punishment can never be fully abolished. No matter how developed a justice system might be, it will always remain exposed to human failure. Additionally, the risk of executing an innocent man exists in every justice system. In a weak juridical system, such as that of Afghanistan, that risk is particularly high. There have been and always will be cases of executions of innocent people. However, unlike prison sentences, the death penalty is irreversible and irreparable.

The new government has promised to safeguard and promote human rights values and to secure a suitable and credible place for Afghanistan on a regional and world level. The death penalty is incompatible with human rights and human dignity. The death penalty violates the right to life, the most basic of all human rights. It also violates universally recognised human rights protecting people from subjection to torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment.

The European Union holds a strong and principled position against the death penalty. The abolition of the death penalty represents one of the main objectives of our Human Rights Policy – not only in Afghanistan, but worldwide.

Abolishing the death penalty in Afghanistan would serve as a clear and powerful signal to the world that the new government has the will and determination to join the large group of countries around the world which have abolished capital punishment. The European Union, as long term partner to Afghanistan and a friend of the Afghan people, calls on the Government of Afghanistan to establish a moratorium as a first and necessary step towards its abolition.

By the European Union Special Representative in Afghanistan, Ambassador Franz-Michael Mellbin

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